Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Fitz - Journalists matter

In today’s Daily Star, cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons tells us Why the death of Jamal Khashoggi matters. The editorial is reprinted here.

I was recently asked why the death of Jamal Khashoggi is such a big deal.

I have participated in many relevant discussions this year about the tenuous future of journalism . On Oct. 1, I moderated a panel of local journalists and political leaders at The Loft entitled, “Why a Free Press is Essential to Democracy” where I heard my fellow citizens express profound concern over the endangered status of journalism. Daily, from around the world, we have all heard the growing reports of reporters, editors and cartoonists threatened with violence, oppression, imprisonment or death.

The first week of September, I attended a conference of cartoonists in Mexico City hosted by Cartón Club, a global association formed by cartoonist Angel Boligán. The central feature of the gathering was a gallery show, “La linea de fuego” (The line of fire) which focused on the threatened status of the press around the globe and in Latin America in particular, where journalists continue to do their work at great peril.

Last week, a colleague, friend and neighbor of mine, political cartoonist Chris Britt, drew a political cartoon about Brett Kavanaugh that unleashed a firestorm of hate. Within hours he received thousands of posts and threatening emails. He’s thinking of moving. He closed his online presence. He’s had to hire security. A stranger with a gun was seen outside his home when he was not there.

At rallies, our president ridicules the press as a cabal of partisan liars and encourages his supporters to join in the lynch mob fun.

As an “enemy of the people,” I continue to suffer threats and insults that today far exceed any vitriol I ever received in the past in scale, fevered rage and threatening ugliness. In polls we know a terrifying number of our fellow Americans would welcome a muzzling of the free press. You will not find more patriotic citizens of a free republic than her journalists, citizens working tirelessly to preserve our democratic ideals of transparency, accountability and justice.

When I visit classrooms, I tell horror stories to capture the attention of students. I describe the lives of essayists, pamphleteers, cartoonists and fearless journalists who were drawn and quartered, crucified, burned alive, shot, poisoned, guillotined or tossed in gulags by monsters who fear inquiry. And now a bone saw is part of the litany of horror.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi is an international turning point for our world. We are at a crossroads. Will we turn away from our democratic ideals? Will we turn our backs on the watchdog journalists who are the natural foes of authoritarian dictatorships in every dark corner of the globe? Will the president who calls the press “the enemy of the people” side with the enemies of liberty and freedom?

Every journalist daring to question authority in this grim age of rising fascism is watching this crime drama unfold as pathetic rationalizations ooze from our craven White House. Every dictator and despot wringing their hands over the journalists who dare to question their absolute authority is watching our president’s cowardly response closely. They must be encouraged that the leader of the Free World is giving Saudi Arabia, the vile murderers of Jamal Khashoggi, a free pass.

And why? Because of lucrative financial ties.

The nation that once was the beacon for human rights around the globe is dimming its torch for 30 pieces of Saudi silver. The nation that once was the beacon for human rights is making it clear to despots and dictators they are free to butcher their critics because we just don’t care anymore or perhaps because our economic partnership is sufficiently profitable to buy our souls.

Enough is enough. Sanction Saudi Arabia. America must send a clear message to the world. Journalists matter. Democratic ideals matter. Jamal Khashoggi matters.

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