Time magazine has chosen “The Guardians” as its Person of the Year for 2018, spotlighting a handful of journalists around the world linked by the fact that their work has been targeted not because it’s “fake news,” as it has been characterized by authoritarian leaders, but because it is dedicated to reporting the truth.
Consider the context: In 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 46 journalists were killed doing their jobs. In the first nine months of 2018, 53 journalists have been killed. Globally, as of this writing, 251 are in prison.
Those selected by Time magazine are:
Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and resident of the U.S. who, as an expatriate Saudi, penned columns critical of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). He was brutally killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last October.
Four journalists and a sales associate, working for the Capital Gazette based in Maryland, were gunned down in a mass shooting last June. They were John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, Rob Hiassen, Gerald Fischman and Wendi Winters.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, reporting for Rueters in Yangon, Myanmar, have been in prison since December of 2017. They were recently convicted of breaking a colonial-era law regarding using state secrets while reporting on the military’s scorched earth mass killing of Rohingya Muslims. Their sentence is seven years.
Maria Ressa, the CEO and Executive Editor of Rappler, an online news site that is based in the Philippines. She has critically reported on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s street executions of drug dealers. Last month she was charged with multiple counts of tax fraud and could face up to ten years in prison.
Time editor, Edward Felsenthal, commenting on the magazine’s choice, stated, “As we looked at choices, it became clear that the manipulation and abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories — from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley.”
Time’s selection is a tribute to those individuals who take extraordinary risks to report the news in all its forms.
We have only to examine the role that the press — also known as the Fourth Estate — has played over the last two years in the U.S., reporting on and providing analysis of the current Trump administration. For ink on paper, for the electronic media, it’s been a vital and essential Renaissance for journalism. Of all the institutions that bind our democracy together, I would argue that none has played a more critical role regarding checks and balances of the executive branch than the press. Certainly the Republican controlled Congress has abdicated its constitutional responsibility as a co-equal branch of government; instead, early on, it struck a Faustian bargain with Trump and as a result has remained silent as our democratic norms and institutions have been attacked.
The press has carried out this function despite an unrelenting denigration by Trump, not only during the presidential campaign but during the two years since his inauguration. He has alleged, from rally podium and dais, that reporters are awful, dishonest, and “enemies of the people,” his hostility, and that of his incited supporters, palpable.
Clearly, Trump did not originate the term “fake news,” (“enemy of the people” belongs to Joseph Stalin). The phrase has, however, been echoed by authoritarian leaders worldwide. Nor am I sure if he explicitly provided these heads of state with cover when targeting the press with seeming impunity. Regardless, the results globally have been censorious and chilling.
Perhaps it was inevitable that at a Trump rally a man was photographed wearing a black T-shirt (sold at Walmart) with white block letters: ROPE. TREE. JOURNALIST. ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.
And yet, as Time’s cover points out, those who tenaciously report the news refuse to yield. America and the world are in their debt.
Chris Honoré is a Daily Tidings columnist.