There’s a difference between journalists dying and journalists being killed

Six journalists were killed in the United States between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2018. 

Of those six, four were murdered in a terrifying attack by a deranged gunman who harbored a years-long grudge against their Annapolis newsroom, the Capital Gazette. The remaining two journalists were killed when they were struck by a falling tree during a hurricane. 

These deaths are devastating, as all untimely deaths are. They are not, however, evidence that the United States is one of the “deadliest countries” for journalists, as the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders absurdly claims in its annual report. 

“The hatred of journalists that is voiced … by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists,” the group’s secretary-general and executive director Christophe Deloire said this week in a statement. 

He’s not wrong. Violence against journalists is a real and fatal problem in certain parts of the world. And numerically speaking, 2018 was indeed a deadly year for reporters in America. But those deaths cannot be attributed to a culture of government- or religious-instigated intimidation and violence, which are the themes of the rest of the report. Nevertheless, and despite the absurdity of lumping the U.S. alongside Syria, American newsrooms have been quick to highlight the report’s conclusion that America is basically as dangerous as a civil war-torn country. 

“United States added to list of most dangerous countries for journalists for first time,” read a headline published by NBC News. 

It reported, “The world’s five deadliest countries for journalists include three — India, Mexico and, for the first time, the United States — where journalists were killed in cold blood, even though those countries weren’t at war or in conflict, the group said.” 

The Hill published a headline separately that read, “Report: US joins ranks of world’s most dangerous places for journalists for first time.” 

Time magazine also published a report titled, “The U.S. Has Been Named as One of the Deadliest Places in the World for Journalists.” 

Now, it’d be one thing if RWB’s report were merely misleading. But it’s worse than that. It undercuts the seriousness of the issue. Government-led violence against the press is real and it’s serious. But by jiggering the figures to include deaths that had nothing to do with targeted political killings, RWB muddies the truth. 

The U.S. is not, for example, in the same league as Syria, where violence against journalists is a way of life, not a one-off, tragic occurrence. The U.S. is not like Mexico, where journalists are murdered regularly for their attempts to expose the cartels. The U.S. is not like Russia, where reporters live in constant fear of imprisonment and “accidental” death. Speaking of Russia, it did not even make RWB’s annual list of “deadliest countries,” in case you wanted a better idea of just how seriously you should take the group’s findings. 

It’s absolute nonsense to declare a country one of the “deadliest” for journalists based only on numbers and not on culture. As it turns out, there’s a great deal of daylight between the dangers faced daily by the Kevlar-clad reporter in Afghanistan and the reporter tweeting angrily from a New York City-bound Acela train. 

The amount of self-regard required to see this RWB’s report as anything but an insult to the journalists who live day-to-day in fear of murder or imprisonment is astounding. Then again, no one is more impressed with the U.S. press than the U.S. press.

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