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Lynching Journalists

Washington Post Global Opinions correspondent, Jamal Khashoggi, who is Saudi, entered his country’s consulate in Istanbul Tuesday of last week and hasn’t been seen since. Worse, Turkish officials say that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, his body dismembered, and then sneaked out of the building—lynched, you might say, and then disappeared, instead of hanged from a tree. The journalist had written articles critical of his country’s young leader, Mohammad bin Salman, the 33-year-old crown prince, who considers himself something of a liberal or at least as a reformer. How ironic that this barbarian act happened in Turkey, where in recent years more journalists have disappeared than in any other country (245 as of earlier this year, though, far as we know, none have been murdered).

Almost simultaneously with the incident in Istanbul, a 30-year-old Bulgarian journalist, Viktoria Marinova, was brutally raped and killed in Ruse, in the northeast of the country, where she was employed as a TV commentator. She had been a political investigator. Nor was she the only European journalist murdered during the past year. Daphne Caruana Galizia, similarly reporting on political issues (corruption in the government), was killed in Malta by a car bomb. And Jan Kuciak, a Slovakian journalist also working on government corruption, was shot and killed along with his fiancée.

Killing journalists has become a growth industry. In April, Jason Rezaian (another Global Opinions writer for the Washington Post, who was held captive in Iran for 544 days) described the deaths of journalists in Nicaragua, India, Brazil and Mexico during the past year. He cites President Rodrigo Duterte, of the Philippines, as saying, “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son-of-a-bitch.” In words, perhaps less colorful, Donald Trump has unloaded on journalists (and the fake media) ever since he became president. It’s surprising that an American journalist in our country hasn’t been murdered for criticizing this administration (the killing in June of five journalists who worked at the Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, MD, although horrible, falls into a slightly different category: the killer had a lengthy feud with the paper).

Still—and this is especially true in our country—opinions considered contrary to one’s own have led to a resurgence of death threats, often directed at people in the opposite political camp. I attribute the rise of such threats as one of the results of President Trump’s ugly bombast, statements made at his political rallies seemingly making such violence—beat the hell out of him—permissible. Think of Trump’s on-going diatribe against immigrants and minorities. We all know that hate crimes against minorities (or perceived minorities) have dramatically increased. So much to be thankful for.

The worrisome escalation of death threats has been most visible during the past couple of weeks during the hearings involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. We listened in outrage to Dr. Christine Blassey Ford’s account of what happened to her after her accusation of Judge Kavanaugh became public. She and her family have had to move out of their home because of death threats. In all fairness to Kavanaugh, I suspect that he and his family have also experienced similar death threats. I know from my reading in the past couple of years that death threats against many, many people (such as the Parkland Florida students who have spoken in favor of gun control) are now commonplace. You don’t like someone, well, threaten to kill them. We also know that most threats are hollow statements, but if one is made against you, you had better take it seriously. So disrupt you and your family’s life and destabilize your finances by paying for security.

I began by writing about journalists dying from despicable violence in many parts of the world and then segued to the increasing number of death threats that people thrown into the limelight have been experiencing in America. Both are disgusting, but the latter, I suspect, is likely to be more benign than the former. (One famous person’s recent account of his death threats described the fractured writing in those messages, implying a rather minimal educational background of the person making the threat.) Many of them may be letting off steam, pumping themselves up, or so they believe.

This cannot be said of people who kill journalists or hire professionals to do their dirty work. Their power has been threatened, their wrongdoings exposed, their corrupt accusation of wealth curtailed. Hence, the blatant violence (rape, torture, physical dismemberment) against others. I regard these acts (because there is no attempt to cover them up) as today’s lynchings. Warnings. Stop writing, or you will be next.

It’s journalism that is being decapitated.

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Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

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