Today let’s briefly discuss Tetyana Chornovol, Sanderson, Texas, Clint, what we all have in common and why we should care. It has to do with the press and newspapers, just like the one you are holding right now. We shall start with Tetyana Chornovol, but we can’t really talk to her. She’s under heavy medication in a hospital in Kiev, Ukraine, having been savagely beaten by some government thugs who get delight in smashing 34-year-old female journalists with fists and clubs. She became famous last year after documenting the opulence of the heavily guarded residential compound of Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovich. Photographs taken in a hospital where Chornovol was said to be undergoing surgery showed her lying on a bed, her face battered and bloodied, with one eye blackened and shut, and her lips hugely swollen and cut. A well-deserved fix, don’t you agree?
Next we have the dusty West Texas town of Sanderson (pop. 900 and dropping). It is 67 miles south of Fort Stockton, which, itself, is not close to anything. Sanderson lost most stores, including Kerr Mercantile, and the Ford dealership. Its 11-man football team became 6-man. Then its local newspaper, the Terrell County News-Leader, shut down in July, leaving only a public bulletin board for local news. That was too much for the Sandersonians. Some of them got together and created the Terrell County Sun, which hit the streets in early December. (The newspaper is non-profit, just like General Motors and BlackBerry.) “When I saw that first edition, I said, ‘This a collector’s item, this is historical.’ I dang near cried,” said County Commissioner Kenn Norris. “You miss it because a newspaper creates some buzz in town.” So the buzz is back in Sanderson.
This brings us to one of my reader(s), Clint. He wrote me a letter much like those received by accountants, pediatricians and violinists: “Want to print something virtuous? Write an article pointing out that it is biased, inaccurate and agenda-based letters written by people like yourself. . . . All you guys would have to do is do your job instead of lie… And you would be rolling in the huge ratings and practically be heroes to the country instead of its enemies, always screaming ‘it’s my first amendment right to say what I want!’ then championing the public persecution of Phil Robertson for doing the exact dame (sic) thing you hypocrites.” I side with Clint rather than the people of Sanderson. Who needs newspapers?
As for Tetyana Chornovol, she shouldn’t feel special. At least she’s alive and not even in jail. The Committee to Protect Journalists or CPJ said in a recent report that a record-number 232 journalists are imprisoned worldwide and that Turkey has the highest number with 49 journalists behind bars. The total is 53 more than the tally last year and is the highest number since the organization began conducting worldwide surveys in 1990. The census of journalists behind bars on Dec. 1 found that anti-state charges such as terrorism, treason and subversion were the most common brought against journalists in 2013. At least 132 journalists are being held around the world on such charges, CPJ said. Good, lock ’em up and throw away their curiosity.
Among the worst jailers of the press is Iran, with 45 behind bars. The group cited news reports that said Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti was arrested in October and died after being beaten and hung by his limbs from the ceiling. The overwhelming majority of the 232 detainees are local journalists being held by their own governments. Just three foreign journalists were on the list. Who said the pen is mightier than the sword? Hehehe.
The saga of jailed journalist is not limited to the dungeons of tyrannies. Vanessa Leggett was a writer who, in 1996, investigated a Houston murder case to write a book about it. She refused to hand over her notes to the FBI and she spent a record (then) 168 days in a federal prison. During that time there were three journalists in prison in the Western Hemisphere for doing their jobs. Two were in Cuba. The third was in Houston, Texas.
Then there are those who reached their own deadlines. The CPJ reports that70 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2013. In 2012 the number was 74. In past years it’s reached 117. I don’t know of any other civilian profession that keeps such death totals — or needs to. Next time you are in Washington visiting your money, drop by the Newseum, an exhibition given over to journalism. It’s a fun place filled with the Fourth Estates’ mistakes, stupid stories and bad headlines: “Dewey Defeats Truman.” There are also less-funny items like the eyeglasses, pencil and notebook of Mark Kellogg. He was an AP reporter assigned to cover Custer at Littlebig Horn, and, no, he didn’t side with the Indians. There is also a wall covered with the names of journalists killed in the line of duty. But the name of William Cowper Brann isn’t there. He was a Waco newspaper editor. In 1898 he was gunned down on a street corner by an irate reader. After he was buried, someone fired a bullet into his tombstone.
Yes, the world would be a better place without reporters, editors and the press in general. They keep telling us things we’d rather not know. Don’t take my word for it. Consider this observation by one of the major players of the 20th Century. “Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government which is doing what it believes to be right allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?” – Nicolai Vladmir Lenin. Hey, Nick, meet Clint. Y’all have a lot in common.
Ashby hides at email@example.com