Why the quest for facts? So you can know.

UPDATE: (11/16/2018) Yr’s Truly posted this observation six and a half years ago, when Marie Colvin died. A year and a half ago, when Sean Spicer (remember him?) was berating reporters, I had to drag it out to join with those who defend journalists, real journalists, who seek and report the truth. Today, there are a couple of reasons to drag it out again — a current movie about Colvin, and a court victory for a CNN journalist, Jim Acosta. It’s noteworthy, I think, that a reviewer of the film is struck by its director’s desire to depict Colvin’s drive to “see these things so that the rest of us will, too.” And, it’s noteworthy also that Acosta’s ability to question authority — ripped away from him by a cornered president in the throes of a frightening meltdown — has been restored, at least temporarily, by our system of justice.

UPDATE: (2/19/2017) About time to revisit the sacrifices of Marie Colvin and her peers, in light of the steaming handfuls of worthless b.s. that are being thrown at hardworking, responsible, professional journalists by the clueless children who have infested the White House. I hope you’ll take a moment to read this and consider it the next time a flabby-minded sycophantic White House flak named Sean Spicer — who couldn’t have carried Marie Colvin’s ballpoint pen — deigns to scold a roomful of reporters for actually doing their job.

ORIGINAL POST (2/22/2012)

& Today I’m thinking about the brave lady with the eye patch. Marie Colvin.

I assume that by now her 56-year-old body has been dragged from the dust and detritus of a bomb-crumbled building in Syria and is on its way home to New York, where it will be buried by mourners proclaiming her bravery and that of thousands of other dead and injured war correspondents who preceded her and will follow her onto precarious fields of battle, armed only with a pen and penchant to know.

I’m thinking about how she sneaked over walls and through mud to go into the middle of a massacre, how she watched walls crumble and babies die and mothers cower behind mattresses in dank, cold basements to escape the onslaught of a Hitlerian-style holocaust in the Syrian city of Homs. How she stayed an extra day — one day too long — to finish getting the facts she thought the world should know.

“I entered Homs on a smugglers’ route, which I promised not to reveal, climbing over walls in the dark and slipping into muddy trenches,” she wrote in her final dispatch to the London Sunday Times. “Arriving in the darkened city in the early hours, I was met by a welcoming party keen for foreign journalists to reveal the city’s plight to the world.” The danger, she wrote, was “palpable.”

Why was she there, asked CNN’s Anderson Cooper in a phone interview a day before her death, after she had watched a little boy die of a shrapnel wound in his chest, suffered when his house was hit by a shell. She was there, she said, so people far removed from the horror will know what the Syrian government is doing to its citizens. As she spoke to Cooper, a video of the mortally wounded child was shown.

“I feel very strongly that [pictures of the dead and dying] should be shown,” she said, “…for someone who is not here, for an audience for which the conflict… is very far away. That’s the reality. These are 28,000 civilians, men, women and children, hiding, being shelled, defenseless….That baby probably will move more people to think, ‘What is going on, and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening everyday?’

In the neighborhood where she was holed up, she told Cooper, “every civilian house on this street has been hit…there are no military targets here…it’s a complete and utter lie [of the Syrian government] that they are only going after terrorists….the Syrian army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving, civilians.”

Not long after that interview, Marie Colvin too was dead, lying in the rubble beside the body of a young French photographer; two more journalists who gave their lives so that we may know.

& But what is it about this need to know? What is it that drives certain people to seek out  treacherous situations filled with suffering and death? What is it that motivates them to ask uncomfortable, even dangerous questions of the powerful and arrogant? What is it that drives them to expose horror, and corruption, and deceit and then tell the unpleasant facts to a mostly comfortable society?

And what is it that took Marie Colvin from one war zone to another, year after year, even after a grenade blast in Sri Lanka took the sight from one of her eyes? What was it that would not allow her, as she said, to “hang up my flak jacket”?

Because, an acquaintance told Newsday,  “it just pissed her off that someone somewhere was getting kicked around.”

And although many journalists, most whom have never been near a war zone, may give you many reasons for what motivates them, I have no doubt that a good number of them — myself included — got into, and stayed in the business of finding and telling facts because it just pisses us off that someone, somewhere — usually those who have power gained by climbing over others — is kicking somebody else around, or is ripping somebody else off, or is arrogantly disrespecting the rights of others or the rules of society.

Journalists, unfortunately, will always be able to find fodder for their stories. There is always somebody — some bomb-dropping tyrant, some scurrilous soul, some greedy, petty politician —  doing something to inhumanely, illegally or arrogantly afflict others, to deny them their rights and the respect they deserve. Journalists will always be there, as it has been said, to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.

They will be there in settings as diverse as the front lines of war zones and the chambers of county commissioners, trying to ferret out the facts that they, like Marie Colvin, think that others should know. News has been described as being “anything that anyone at any time does NOT want printed in the newspaper.” That is particularly true of despots, the governmentally corrupt, and the petty manipulators of others.

The facts are often unpleasant. On a dark and stormy night, say, it is unpleasant to come across a road sign —


That sign means either a detour or a night in a cheap motel room, it means time will be lost, it means plans will have to be changed, schedules will have to be rearranged. But: It is far better to be informed of that unpleasant fact — the bridge is out — than it is to drive off into an abyss.

Think about that the next time you get mad at a journalist for telling you facts you don’t want to hear. And think about all those journalists who are out there, not in a battlefield of bombs and bullets and blood, but waging a constant battle to bring you often-unpleasant facts — of your governments, your elected leaders, your non-elected manipulators, your crime rates, on and on — so that you may know.

And, when you think about — and honor — the price paid by Marie Colvin and hundreds of others who have died in a quest to get the facts, give just a slight moment of regard for those who daily do battle, and often put up with threats, anger, confrontation and scores of other unpleasantries, to get you the facts that others don’t want printed in the newspaper.

& Factually, I’m outta here.

UPDATE: (7/9/2016) Marie Colvin may not have died as a collateral victim of warfare. She may have had a target on her back, placed there by the Syrian government — a government that did not want her telling the story of the slaughter of its civilians. See: War reporter Marie Colvin was tracked, targeted and killed by Assad’s forces, family says.

2 thoughts on “Why the quest for facts? So you can know.

  1. excellent report on the dangerous, necessary nature of what reporters such as colvin do. this is at the heart of it:

    << “I feel very strongly that [pictures of the dead and dying] should be shown,” she said, “…for someone who is not here, for an audience for which the conflict… is very far away. That’s the reality.”

    bingo! and yet again and again, we hear from newspapers and tv stations and other outlets: 'this is a FAMILY outfit!' horse hockey. all we see on tv are pictures of blood on the street where what’s left of of a body had been. we don’t see the severed heads or the baby’s guts hanging out or more of the gore of war. we get a sanitized version from the media, so that demagogues can justify the wars they start. I think EVERYTHING in war should be made public, so that people can see the full horror of it. and furthermore, I think all executions should be public events – make it a picnic like they used to do!if people want to kill people, let EVERYBODY see the results. we are such sterilized souls.


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