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Murdered Journalists

Murder took a heavy toll of journalists last year. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, by December 2009, 71 had been slain worldwide. The committee described the year as the deadliest in over four decades. The previous record of 67 journalists’ deaths was set in 1967, when violence was widespread in Iraq. The Nigerian reporter Bayo Ohu, for example, was shot at the front door of his house in a suburb of Lagos. Fellow reporters believe he was killed because he was investigating allegations of fraud in the government’s customs office. Still more recently, on Jan. 8, 2010, Valentín Valdés Espinosa was abducted and found the next morning bound and tortured in Saltillo, Mexico. He had been reporting on a Mexican army drug raid that led to the arrest of a cartel leader. Twenty-nine of the murders took place in a single incident in November in the Philippines, in a politically related ambush of local reporters. The deaths of some two dozen reporters are still under investigation as to whether they were linked to their reporting.

Besides murders, imprisonment also enters the report’s dark picture. As of Dec. 1, 2009, several governments were holding reporters, editors, bloggers and photojournalists behind bars, with China jailing 26, the most of any nation. Since then Iran has moved to the top of the list. As of February of this year, Iran’s government was holding at least 47 journalists, more than any other country since 1996, and the numbers of journalists jailed in China, Cuba, Eritrea and Myanmar remain high. The C.P.J.’s deputy director has appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to speak out more forcefully on freedom of the press. Too many intrepid journalists have paid a high price for highlighting human rights abuses that otherwise would have remained hidden behind a blanket of impunity.

Women and Parents Needed

“We can hypothesize that a greater female presence, not at a subordinate level, would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered the denunciation of these misdeeds with silence,” wrote Lucetta Scaraffia, an Italian journalist and historian, in a hard-hitting article on sexual abuse by members of the clergy. “Women, in fact, both religious and lay, by nature would have been more likely to defend young people in cases of sexual abuse, allowing the church to avoid the grave damage brought by these sinful acts,” she wrote.

Many commentators (both men and women) have made similar observations since the abuse scandals broke in the United States in 2002. The surprise is that this article appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper. Germany and Ireland have lately been convulsed by clergy abuse scandals, and the Vatican is taking note. Scaraffia pointedly used the Italian word omertà, usually applied to the Mafia’s rigid code of silence, to describe the secrecy around abuse cases.

The L’Osservatore article explicitly called for more women in leadership roles in the church. The inclusion of lay men and women in decision-making roles in local dioceses, archdioceses and in the Vatican would be a way to combat the clerical culture that led to the abuse. Parents, in particular, would have been far less likely to downplay abuses against children. Groupthink is a danger for any organization, including the Catholic Church.

Historian’s Progress

Tony Judt is a widely respected historian of Europe whose incisive political analysis appears regularly in The New York Review of Books. Postwar, his survey of Europe after World War II, demonstrates both scholarly rigor and clear writing, a rare combination of traits. Like any public intellectual worth reading, Judt can also be pugnacious and contrarian, and his criticism of Israel, in particular, has been unflinching.

Judt recently announced that he suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a neurological disorder that has left him a quadriplegic. His essay “Night” for the New York Review (1/14) chronicled the quick onset of his illness and the “cockroach-like existence” he has been forced to endure in the hours he lies alone in bed, unable to sleep. Judt is unsentimental about his condition. “There is no saving grace in being confined to an iron suit, cold and unforgiving,” he writes. “The pleasures of mental agility are much overstated, inevitably…by those not exclusively dependent on them.”

Nonetheless, one can admire the agility of Judt’s mind without indulging in the romanticism he warns against. That nimble intelligence is on full display in a series of first-person reflections now appearing in the Review. Written with the assistance of an aide, who takes dictation, the series covers subjects as diverse as the “bedders” who tidied up after students at the University of Cambridge to the author’s time on a kibbutz in the 1960s. In each essay Judt trains his critical faculties on the circumstances of his own life. The results are remarkable: a memoir grounded in a lifetime of learning, a confession set to the rhythms of history.

Comments

Philip Williams | 3/26/2010 - 12:28pm

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Philip Williams | 3/26/2010 - 11:46am

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peggie thorp | 3/25/2010 - 7:25pm
Everywhere I read about continuing revelations of clergy sexual abuse in our Church I am hearing the language, often verbatim, used by Voice of the Faithful when we organized in 2002. We spoke about the many factors contributing to the abuse and its coverup: clericalism, a culture of secrecy, the institutionalized absence of female voices in decision-making positions, etc. VOTF, made up of the Eucharistic ministers, lectors and other volunteers who collectively lent vibrancy and longevity to the Church for decades, was banned from meeting on Church property. That was the parish and/or diocesan response across the US. The organization has been vilified in one way and another one blog after another and frequently abetted by ordained members of our Church. I think it is important for readers to take note: the laity do have a voice and have used it. It is time for the laity to listen to each other and hope that sooner than later the patriarchy will do the same. Peggie L. Thorp, VOTF founding editor
OBI OBIEKWE | 3/20/2010 - 10:49pm

“We can hypothesize that a greater female presence, not at a subordinate level, would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered the denunciation of these misdeeds with silence,” 

The problem with this hypothesis is that most of the abuses occurred over 50 years ago.  50 years ago, things were not seen exactly the way they are perceived today.  Many comments on these abuses do not take this into consideration.  They treat the abuses as if they occurred last week or last year.

THOMAS FARRELLY | 3/20/2010 - 12:27pm

“We can hypothesize that a greater female presence, not at a subordinate level, would have been able to rip the veil of masculine secrecy that in the past often covered the denunciation of these misdeeds with silence,”  <

It is impossible to test such assertions, but I find them of doubtful validity. Women in power have shown themselves no more virtuous than men.  Church government need serious reform, beginning with decentralization of authority along the lines of the Orthodox churches, but women bishops, for example, would behave very much like men bishops.

Ann Prendergast | 3/19/2010 - 8:56pm

I am a long-time reader and admirer of Tony Judt's work.  How wonderful of the magazine to recognize his most recent work in the NYRB.  I do not know which article is more worthwhile, "Night"  or "Postwar," but both reflect a moving, authentic human voice, and one we are the richer for having made available to us.

Richard Salvucci | 3/19/2010 - 1:41pm

I started reading Postwar under the prodding of my son. I finished it because its remarkable range and compelling vision really gave me no other choice but to do so. Judt's support for his younger colleagues is equally admirable, if not more so. How wonderful that you should recognize him in this way.

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