Why they kill journalists

It's not just Khashoggi; a big move at NPR; PEN America sues Trump

For 14 years, Kathleen Carroll ran The Associated Press with the clear, direct, grounded language for which the news service is known. As chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists, she still doesn't mince words.

Asked about Jamal Khashoggi and the slayings of other journalists in recent years, Carroll answered simply: “Someone feels they have the right to kill someone because they disagree with them. … If these murders go unanswered, the killers are further empowered."

Carroll praised the Washington Post's "multi-pronged approach" in covering the assassination of Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and Post columnist. She also credited Reuters with its sustained effort to keep the public focused on the imprisonment in Myanmar of two of its reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who documented the nation's genocide of its minority Rohingya population.

The stakes are high. “If somebody doesn’t create a fuss, then it doesn’t matter,” Carroll said.

Protesting the death of Jamal Khashoggi
A protester outside the Saudi Embassy in Washington on Oct. 10. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Khashoggi's family on Tuesday called for an independent international inquiry into the death of the Saudi journalist, who had been critical of the nation's impulsive, volatile 33-year-old crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The reported killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul prompted media partners and business leaders to skip a Saudi business conference, and at least three U.S. public relations firms and a think tank have cut ties with the Saudi government.

The Post launched an ad campaign urging authorities and readers to demand answers into the Khashoggi slaying. That's the right focus, Carroll said. Everyone, she said, should be asking: “What happened to him? And what will happen to those who did what they did to them?”

Powerful figures in the past year have silenced a host of investigative reporters, including Daphne Caruana Galizia of Malta, Viktoria Marinova of Bulgaria, Ján Kuciak of Slovakia and Mario Gomez Sanchez, one of many journalists slain in Mexico.

Transparency International says 9 of 10 journalists slain since 2012 have died in nations it deems very corrupt. The contract killing of Kuciak and his fiancée, both 27, prompted Slovakia's prime minister to step down. 

"When a journalist is murdered, all of society suffers," Margaret Atwood wrote Tuesday, the first anniversary of Caruana Galizia's assassination in a car bomb in Malta. "We lose our right to know, to speak, to learn."

Post columnist Anne Applebaum said changes in technology have increased pressure on corrupt politicians — and on journalists who expose wrongdoing. Those changes make it easier for the officials to stash money overseas, but also can enable journalists to track the funds. Autocrats used to be able to muzzle the dissemination of news in their own country, but technology allows anyone with a smartphone in Saudi Arabia to read what Khashoggi wrote in the Post.

Years ago, the Committee to Protect Journalists would train reporters in trouble spots how to evade kidnappers, Carroll said. These days, trainings are just as likely to focus on government spyware trying to infect your phone and computer, or gain access to your online accounts.

The root of the violence against journalists, Carroll said, is the mentality that people think they can kill another — and wager that they can get away with it. 

Before Caruana Galizia was slain, not only did she get death threats, her bank account was frozen; her house was set on fire; her family’s pet dogs were killed. Even in death, the Maltese journalist's memory has been sabotaged, her reputation tarnished, her heirs sued, Atwood wrote in The Guardian.

"Since her assassination," Atwood wrote, "a memorial that was erected as a protest for justice in her case has been repeatedly demolished by government workers." Activists guarded the memorial Saturday night and Sunday, when hundreds of people turned out to honor the journalist.

Quick hits

BIG CHANGE AT NPR: Houston Chronicle executive editor Nancy Barnes is moving to the public broadcaster as its new senior vice president of news and editorial director. "Nancy has the news judgment to guide our storytelling, believes in the power of the NPR mission, sees the tremendous opportunity in unifying NPR and member station newsrooms, and has the business acumen to think creatively about how we can bring our journalism to even more eyes and ears," said Jarl Mohn, NPR’s president and CEO. Michael Oreskes, NPR’s former SVP for news, quit in November following sexual harassment allegations. The interim news head, Chris Turpin, will become vice president for editorial innovation and newsroom development. In Houston, Chronicle president and publisher John McKeon said a national search will be conducted to replace Barnes, who also was executive vice president and editor of Hearst Texas Newspapers. Barnes told her paper that she was approached by NPR in May and accepted the job last week.

STIFLING: The literary group PEN America has sued President Trump, claiming that he has stifled First Amendment rights — and that is hurting America’s writers. So far, the group is not asking news publishers to get involved, the AP’s Hillel Italie reports.

CHEROKEE NATION NOT PLEASED: Let’s just say Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test didn’t go down well. “It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven,” Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.

ONCE BURNED: This is agony season for FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, watching midterm election predictions abound. “Media understanding about probability, margin of error and uncertainty is very poor,” he tells Margaret Sullivan.

PUTTING THE $ in READER$: BuzzFeed is starting a monthly book club, connecting its 160,000-person book newsletter list with a Facebook chat group and a deal from Amazon. Here’s the pitch. The Atlantic and New York Magazine also have bulked up their book verticals. (h/t Shan Wang)

IF AT FIRST: So the blockchain cryptocurrency-based journalism platform Civil failed to reach its goal for capitalization, but said it would try for another, less complicated token sale. Meanwhile, none of the 14 newsrooms seeded by the company would lose any investment, officials told Nieman Lab's Laura Hazard Owen.

LOBBYIST/OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR: The Washington Post opinion pages told GOP lobbyist-columnist Ed Rogers to stop representing Saudi Arabia or lose his gig as op-ed contributor, Politico reports. On Monday, the company Rogers heads stopped representing Saudi Arabia, but it still lobbies for Bahrain and Azerbaijan. Last year, New York magazine's Jonathan Chait said of Rogers: "Literally everything he writes suffers from crippling conflicts of interest."

MOVES: Julie Tucker, who developed and ran the “Truth” marketing campaign for The New York Times, is joining the AP as its global marketing director, a new position.

THE READ: Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the Black Power salute by two Olympic medalists. Here is what happened afterward to John Carlos and Tommie Smith. By Rick Maese.

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