Press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) released on Tuesday the 2018 edition of its annual “Worldwide Round-up of Journalists Killed, Detained, Held Hostage, or Missing in 2018.”
The media immediately went crazy with the presence of the United States for the first time ever on the list of five most dangerous countries, even though the slain American journalists in question were killed by a deranged gunman and a falling tree, not agents of the government or a terrorist organization.
Reporters Without Borders introduced its report as a “round-up of abusive treatment and deadly violence against journalists” in which pains are taken to distinguish between “journalists who were deliberately targeted and those who were killed while reporting in the field.”
These guidelines make it difficult to understand why RSF would announce with great fanfare that the United States “joined the ranks of the world’s deadliest countries for the media this year,” discussing that dubious distinction immediately after talking about journalists deliberately murdered by oppressive forces such as criminal gangs and extremist groups in Mexico and India.
The report promptly and unambiguously explained that none of the six American victims were killed as a result of oppressive government action, organized terrorist violence, or any sort of “climate of hatred” whipped up against journalists since the 2016 election:
Four journalists were among the five employees of the Capital Gazette, a local newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, who were killed on 28 June when a man walked in and opened fire with a shotgun. He had been harassing the newspaper for six years on Twitter about a 2011 article that named him. It was the deadliest attack on a media outlet in the US in modern history. Two other journalists, a local TV anchor and cameraman, were killed by a falling tree while covering Subtropical Storm Alberto’s extreme weather in North Carolina in May.
This did not stop NBC News from reporting on the RSF publication in a way that created a false linkage between the American deaths and journalists killed for political reasons – most prominently Jamal Khashoggi, of course:
The world’s five deadliest countries for journalists include three — India, Mexico and, for the first time, the United States — where journalists were killed in cold blood, even though those countries weren’t at war or in conflict, the group said.
“The hatred of journalists that is voiced … by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists,” Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
Khashoggi, a royal insider who became a critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and began writing for The Washington Post after moving to the United States last year, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October.
Part of the problem is that the number of journalists killed around the world is relatively small, reprehensible as those killings are. “At least 63 professional journalists were killed doing their jobs in 2018, a 15 percent increase over last year,” as NBC put it. That means nine more journalists were killed in 2018 than 2017. Six fatalities were enough to vault the United States into the top five list of the world’s most dangerous locations.
Massive social and political trends cannot be extrapolated from such a tiny dataset. The U.S. would not be on the top five list if a tree had not fallen on two people in North Carolina while they were driving between shooting locations in a company car. If deranged murderer Jarrod Ramos, a longtime paranoid convinced the entire world was out to get him, had not decided to open fire on people he had been stalking and harassing since 2011, no journalists would have died in the United States at all.
The number of Americans killed and injured by illegal aliens every year is vastly higher under even the most cautious estimates, but the media can scarcely be bothered to report on that number at all, except when dashing off “pants on fire” fact-checking screeds against anyone who cites a number that seems too high or arguing that immigrants have lower crime rates overall than native-born Americans.
None of the six journalist deaths in 2018 had anything whatsoever to do with widespread public distaste for the media, President Donald Trump’s attacks on “fake news,” the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, or any other significant trend, but many in the media are deeply wedded to the narrative that Trump is making the world exceptionally difficult and dangerous for their profession by insulting and criticizing them.
Reporters Without Borders would doubtless say their objective is to chronicle the dangers of the journalistic profession, so they must include deaths by misadventure and random criminal attacks. The problem is that much of their report talks about the deliberate murder and persecution of journalists by oppressive governments, so throwing in people killed and injured for other reasons distorts the message they are trying to send, or helps sloppy and politicized members of the media distort it for them.
Proclaiming the United States has become one of the five most dangerous nations in the world for reporters based on the six deaths RSF presented is clickbait, not insightful analysis. In a media environment where many readers see little but the headlines bouncing through their social media feeds, the truth must be presented with care, as carelessness is the gateway to lying.