On March 23, journalist Miroslava Breach was killed in Mexico for being a “tattletale” – the epithet reportedly scrawled on a piece of cardboard left next to her body.
Shot to death in front of her son, in her own driveway in Chihuahua. Killed for doing what journalists do – holding the powerful, even the dangerous, accountable. For speaking out on behalf of the oppressed. For investigating corruption and organized crime.
Ironically, reports said, Breach had been reporting in recent days on a spate of murders, including the assassination of an environmental activist.
Reports by the Los Angeles Times, NPR, the Committee to Protect Journalists and others said the murder of Breach, of the national newspaper La Jornada, was the third time in just a few weeks that a journalist was killed in Mexico in retaliation for their work.
El Sol de Cordoba columnist Ricardo Monlui was killed March 19 as he left a restaurant with his wife and son in the state of Veracruz. On March 2, freelancer Cecilio Pineda Birto, was reported shot and killed at a car wash in the state of Guerrero.
A number of other journalists in that nation have survived attacks this year, and Mexico is rated among the three leading countries in which journalists face attack, injury and death – with more than 100 journalists and news media staff killed or missing since 2000, according to international groups that track threats to journalists.
In protest of these most recent killings – and as a protest against of a lack of support for a free press by the Mexican government – Norte, a newspaper in Juarez, is closing down. Breach was a contributing journalist to Norte.
“For me, a free press is a pillar of democracy,” said Oscar A. Cantú Murguía, director of Norte, in an interview with The Washington Post. “If I can no longer do the type of journalism that I want to do … I cannot accept it anymore. Enough.”
He also was direct with the newspaper’s readers. In a front page article titled “Adios!” he wrote, “Dear reader, I am writing to inform you that I have taken the decision to close because, among other things, there are no guarantees nor the security to exercise critical, counterweight journalism.”
Cantú Murguía’s words – and the bravery of Breach, Monlui and Birto – ring out against the cynicism of a person who wrote to me recently on social media, decrying my reference in an earlier column to a group of slain journalists as heroes.
This critic – self-described as a “first-responder” – said no journalist should be considered a hero, particularly when compared to those in his own profession who risk their lives regularly. I would sum up his view of journalists as being motivated only by the venal pursuit of controversial stories and headlines.
In the end, I Ieft that brief online conversation by saying that having heroes in his line of work didn’t rule out heroes elsewhere, including in the press.
I should have been more direct – and I should have cited hundreds of stories through the years of people like Breach, doing extraordinary things with amazing courage.
I should have said that working with colleagues on the rededication each June of the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial – which lists the names of more than 2,200 killed in the pursuit of news since 1837 – has shown me any number of press “heroes,” from the U.S. and worldwide. I should have retold the stories of several journalists from recent years whose obituaries note that they were killed on the same spot where months or a few years earlier they had been wounded.
I should have said that that the failure by a few in the profession to be fair or accurate or unbiased is not representative of the work of the thousands of journalists – who are not elitists, who have spouses and children, who live in cities and towns across the nation, and who share the core values of this nation; who go to work each day to gather the news we need as citizens in a democracy, to speak for those without a voice, and to hold our elected officials accountable.
I should have said all of this to that casual critic, and to those who denigrate journalism for the purpose of political gain, and who attack the messenger for bringing news they don’t like.
In the memory of Breach, Monlui and Birto – and all those who have died and will die this year while bringing us the news – I am saying it now.
Newseum Institute. He can be reached at gpolicinski[at]newseum.org. Follow him on Twitter:@genefac.
This article was published by the Newseum Institute.