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posted: 9/4/2014 1:01 AM

Slusher: In memoriam, again, for brave journalists

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When we took the unusual step two weeks ago of publishing an editorial with no words, only the headline "A moment of silence for a brave journalist" and a picture of slain photojournalist James Foley, we sought not just to present a show of solidarity with a person from our field but also to emphasize the brutal injustice he suffered.

Now, it appears we could be on the cusp of a horrific litany of wordless editorials for brave journalists whose only sin is their nationality and whose chief misfortune is that they seek to tell the stories of a dangerous part of the world with almost no means of self protection.

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But no, such a device gets its power from its rarity, so Foley's silent memorial will have to stand as our expression of honor for all those reporters and photographers who, before him as well as after him, endure the hardships of soldiers, and sometimes suffer their consequences, not so much in the name of freedom or justice as in the much-less-inspiring name of simple communication.

The latest such, as you know, is Steven Sotloff, 31-year-old freelancer for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, who apparently was killed -- I recoil from the barbaric but accurate term beheaded -- on an isolated desert plain in or near Syria.

The website for the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit international organization devoted to press freedom, lists 34 journalists killed so far in 2014 covering events in 16 countries from Brazil to Ukraine. Most of them, slightly less than half, died in combat or crossfire, the CPJ says. Nearly a third were, like Sotloff and Foley, murdered.

Are these shocking numbers? By some comparisons, perhaps not. As many innocent bystanders may die in a single drone strike or a routine missile attack. Their deaths too are tragedies rightly to be mourned. But there is something pointedly sinister about the public execution of a journalist. It is a statement about soulless brutality, to be sure, but also a demonstration of the murderer's contempt for -- and likely fear of -- candid truth.

It is by no means new, indeed hauntingly repetitious. Then-CBS reporter Bob Simon was captured and beaten along with several colleagues during the first Iraq War in 1991, and he described scenes of cruelty that are not easily forgotten. His wishes for his captors after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev engineered his release was that they "die soon and painfully."

Simon said afterward that before his ordeal, he had developed a "certain childlike sense of invulnerability" and perhaps the cloak of such a presumption helps steel reporters and photographers against the horrors they risk. Whatever it is, we should be grateful for it. Journalists like these bring telling, human stories to the world in a way that cannot be duplicated and with a measure of reliability, untainted by personal or political ideology.

Our editorial page may not be able to memorialize each reporter who dies brutally and publicly, but as colleagues, however distant and well protected, and as citizens, we certainly recognize and honor them all.

Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald.com, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.

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