Today, I cried at the gym, while sweating away on the cross-trainer because the TV news showed the emotional homecoming of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee as they landed at 5:50 a.m. in Burbank, CA. (Happiness note: they came to the Bob Hope airport, which is so appropriate, since Hope was one happy guy!)
Journalists tend to flock together as a tribe, and only those who have done the alternately exhilarating/mind-numbingly boring job of reporting can truly relate. When you are on the trail of a good story, as Ling and Lee were, everything is great. When you’re sitting through the fifth hour at a boring school board meeting, you want to plunge an ice pick through your head to escape the tedium. And when one of your own is trapped inside a hostile country facing 12 years in one of the hidden gulags, you find yourself holding your breath until they come home.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, more than 1,100 journalists and media staff have been killed in the line of duty over the past 12 years. If Lee and Ling had not been released through the “humanitarian mission” of former President Bill Clinton, they surely would have died in the North Korea gulag, since conditions there are hard labor, a diet of mostly corn and water, and more hard labor. Human-rights groups report that conditions at some camps are so harsh that 20-25 per cent of prisoners die annually.
Journalists are people that the public likes to hate. We get blamed for everything, it seems, and yet … did you read a paper this morning? Listen to radio news or watch a television broadcast? When 9-11 happened, if you weren’t in New York, how did you find out what was going on? When the atrocities of the Iraq war and the lies behind our involvement were discovered, who did that discovering? Closer to home, when tax-payer-supported public officials or local icons say one thing and then do another, who brings that to your attention? And every time you look something up on “the Google“, chances are, you’re going to find something written by a journalist.
Journalists in foreign countries (and even very close to home) are especially at risk in their attempt to bring world news to people sitting safely in their living rooms or at their kitchen tables. They get killed, kidnapped or arrested for two reasons: someone did not like what they wrote or said, or because they were in the wrong place in the wrong time. They suffer defending freedom through freedom of speech and the values of an open Democracy; they die for telling the truth.
So when those who are being held captive are released, we should all rejoice. Today, when Lee ran down the stairs of the airplane to her husband and then knelt in front of her daughter, the universal language of Mommies everywhere was spoken: I’m home, honey, I’m right here, you don’t have to be afraid anymore. And it was truly a happy day.