Saturday, May 21, 2011

Watch your back, Eddie

   Note: The following is from, "Notes on Journalism/Detritus," in the new bonus chapters I've recently published on my web-site. The "G.H. stories" mentioned in the first sentence is a reference to stories on G.H. (for, Goat Hill) Construction.
   Here is a link to my web-site, which contains a description of and link to the bonus chapters:
     After the G.H. stories (and even still), I frequently received melodramatic warnings from friends and well-wishers urging me to “watch my back,” stay out of dark alleys, that kind of thing.
       I appreciated the sentiment, but not for one second was I worried for my safety, nor did I have cause to be. Not in my most paranoid moment did I believe that Siegelman or anyone associated with him would physically harm me or engage someone to do so.
        Lie about me and spread rumors? No question.
        Lay a finger on me? No.
        Journalists in America, even those reporting on white supremacists, drug gangs and the mafia, face almost zero risk of death or injury from reprisal.
        Carpal tunnel syndrome? Stress-related heart diseases? Yes and often.
         A bullet to the head, a car exploding with the turn of the key, or a plain old ass beating – in movies, yes, in real life, no.
         This isn’t to say that I minded people crediting me with actual physical courage. Feel free to stick a cape on me. I knew, though, that the only part of me at risk was my reputation. Sticks and stones, no, words, yes.
         ( I will note that Eddie Smith, a subject of a series of stories I wrote, placed me on a list of those he wished to have killed and which he gave to a fellow jail inmate. I seriously doubt, though, that Smith could have pulled off any of the "hits," which included a federal judge and prosecutor. In fact, he couldn't, was caught, and prosecuted.)
          You can count on one hand the American journalists killed on American soil and for reasons directly attributable to their reporting.
          By far the best known case is that of Don Bolles, a reporter with theArizona Republic at the time of his death, in 1976. As described on the web-site of the Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), Bolles "was called to a meeting in a downtown Phoenix hotel by a source promising him information about land fraud involving organized crime."
             "The source didn't show up. Bolles left the hotel, got into his car parked outside and turned the key. A powerful bomb ripped through the car, leaving Bolles mortally injured."
             Bolles died ten days later, despite attempts to save him that including amputating both his legs and an arm.

    Don Bolles                   Chauncey Bailey
        It would be more than 30 years before another reporter was killed in this country because of his or her work. In August 2007, Chauncey Bailey, a black journalist who primarily reported on African-American issues, was shot to death in Oakland. Chauncey, the editor of the Oakland Post, had written critically about activities of a group of radical Muslims who operated, "Your Black Muslim Bakery."
        His shooter had connections to the group.
        In the early 1970s, a Mobile Press-Register reporter, Arch McKay, was murdered in his car, across the street from the paper. Though the so-called "Dixie Mafia" has often been accused of the murder, the truth is, no one knows who killed McKay; and there's little evidence he was working on anything that would have prompted someone to kill him.
        Obviously, many American journalists -- reporters and photographers -- have been killed, injured, and, in one recent case, even raped, while covering wars.
            To my mind, the most courageous journalists are those who live in countries -- Mexico, Columbia, Algeria, Russia, to name but a few -- and who report on government corruption, drug dealers and other criminal organizations. They put not just themselves but their families in peril. For them, there really is no escape. They can't ship out and return to a home country.
            In war, death and injury seems to come by chance. I believe that, were I to cover a war, I would follow other reporters, soldiers, etc., to dangerous areas. If nothing else, my reporting instincts would draw me to the action. Then again, maybe not, or if so, perhaps not for a second time. But having never been there, it's impossible to know.
             I cannot say the same about living in a country like Columbia and writing hard-hitting stories identifying drug kingpins and politicians, police and military leaders in their service. I think I'd opt for covering sports, or writing movie reviews.
            Those people -- reporters who write the truth in such countries -- have every ounce of my respect.

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