Politics & Policy

Killing Journalists

What's so special about Danny Pearl?

 Danny Pearl’s execution is a recruitment video for savages. According to CBS News, the film is being distributed out of Saudi Arabia, our strategic partner for peace and the war on terrorism. The footage is titled “The Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl.” It must trip off the tongue better in Arabic.

Apparently the footage is very popular with Saudi college kids, high-school students, and other folks whose idea of downloading porn from the Internet involves getting the latest pictures of Americans and Jews being carved up like animals. So much for the idea that education is the solution to all social problems.

Dan Rather introduced the footage by saying, “Enemies of this country are spreading on the Internet a gruesome piece of propaganda: It is videotape of the execution of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.”

Now, I realize I’m at least a week late in writing about this, but Dan Rather and the rest of the media are years behind schedule.

I think Rather and CBS were right for airing the video and I think the rest of the media is wrong for not following suit.

But what’s so special about Danny Pearl?

Is it because he was an American civilian? No, over 3,000 American civilians were murdered on September 11 and it’s very difficult to see footage of that any more (See “Bring Back the Horror.”). American tourists were killed in Cairo by fanatics, six people were murdered in the first World Trade Center attack, a prison guard was stabbed in the eye by al Qaeda member Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. Do you know any of their names? How many of their husbands or wives have you seen on Larry King Live? Is it because Danny Pearl was Jewish? Hardly, Jews — many of them American citizens — are slaughtered for sport and fun almost every day, and we don’t spend much time dwelling on the details or wringing our hands about whether the press should show the gruesome details. The nightly news doesn’t show the maimed children or the decapitated old men piled on the streets of Israel partly because to devote so much time to such images would distract from stressing the need for Israeli restraint.

So, was it because Danny Pearl had a family? Lots of people have families. Because he was murdered in cold blood? Of course not. Murdering in cold blood is the norm for Islamic radicals, not the exception.

No, the only thing that makes Danny Pearl’s death special in the eyes of those colleagues — that did not know him personally — is that he was a journalist.

This doesn’t mean that Pearl’s murder wasn’t barbaric. It does illustrate, however, how the press makes excuses for barbarity when it’s directed at non-journalists.

As Ralph Peters recently noted in the New York Post, American military personnel have been getting killed by Islamic fanatics for decades. Recall Lt. Col. William Higgins. Recall the men killed in action or beaten while wounded in Somalia. Recall the men killed in the Khobar Towers, the East Africa Embassies, the U.S.S. Cole.

Even CBS’s justification for airing the footage — that the snuff film is being used for terrorist recruitment — is a lark. Video of Higgins, Khobar, the Cole, etc. has been used in al Qaeda tapes and on Arab television almost from the moments the events happened.

The image of an American soldier being dragged, naked, through the streets of Mogadishu is a particular favorite on the Arab street’s greatest hits video. The humiliation and desecration of an American fighter is an al Jazeera sweeps-week perennial. Third-world mobs tearing apart our machines and men just gets the juices going in some corners of the globe far more than the gore of the Danny Pearl video.

When David Westin, president of ABC News, was asked if the Pentagon was a legitimate target on Sept. 11 he got into trouble when he replied:

I actually don’t have an opinion on that as I sit here in my capacity right now. The way I conceive my job … and the way I would like all the journalists at ABC News to perceive it, is there is a big difference between a normative position and a positive position.”

I can say the Pentagon got hit. I can say this is what their position is, this is what our position is, but for me to take a position this was right or wrong, I mean that’s perhaps for me in my private life. . . . But as a journalist I feel strongly that’s something that I should not be taking a position on.

Well, that’s fine. But why doesn’t this suspension of judgment apply to Danny Pearl? It’s an obvious fact that the murderers who butchered Pearl believe he was a legitimate target. If they thought he wasn’t, why would they be using the footage as a recruitment video?

I’m not saying that military personnel don’t qualify as a different category than civilians. Soldiers assume risks. They choose a career that puts them in harm’s way. But the military is in harm’s way for a reason and that reason is a moral one — something we should keep in mind this Memorial Day weekend. We do get lots of pabulum about the need to generically support our troops, whether their orders are right or wrong. But we don’t get much acknowledgement of the fact that their orders are right. A soldier killed in the war on terrorism is morally indistinguishable from a cop killed in the line of duty because, just like cops, our soldiers are fighting criminals, murderers, and barbarians. And these murderers, criminals, and barbarians would not hesitate to have Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and David Westin beheaded in the village square if they thought it would help their cause. Should they ever gain the power they seek, they would surely do just that.

And yet, some journalists seem to want it both ways. They choke on the word “terrorist,” whining in their defense that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. But then they go off and call anybody who kills one of their own terrorists.

If you’re going to play the moral agnosticism game, you’ve got to be in for a pound if you’re in for a penny. Despite the fact they call themselves freedom fighters, the bad guys don’t see a huge philosophical difference between killing a soldier at the Pentagon and killing an American journalist in Pakistan or an American stockbroker at the World Trade Center. Of course, they may see a Jew or a Christian or a woman or a civilian. But conveniently for them, they don’t think such distinctions matter much because all of the above are targets.

Some journalists don’t think this is fair because, as Mike Wallace once said, “I’m not an American first, I’m a reporter first.”

In other words: Killing American soldiers? Well, that’s news. Killing reporters? That’s tragedy.

When Peter Jennings reported Danny Pearl was dead, he said, “Very sad news for everybody in the journalist community, of course. Sad news for Americans at large.” At least he was honest about the order.


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