POSTSCRIPT: MARIE COLVIN, 1956-2012
It is not yet clear if the Syrian government deliberately targeted the building in which Colvin and Ochlik, and a number of other journalists, were working. (The Times described it as a “makeshift media center.”) At least three other journalists were apparently injured in the same attack. All this suggests that the Assad regime may have begun a direct assault on the media, though that remains unclear. Many of the foreign reporters filing from Syria have done so after sneaking across the border.
Colvin would be the first to demand that we concentrate less on her own death than on the outrage of the Syrian Army, under the command of a tyrant too often described as a “mild-mannered” eye doctor, slaughtering its own people. And it is all being carried out with arms and diplomatic cover from Vladimir Putin.
Like Shadid, Colvin devoted her life—and gave her life—for the proposition that the truth of history demands witnesses. Her death, like Shadid’s, like that of so many others, is yet another reminder, as if any more were needed, that experience in the field is no shelter from disaster. In November 2010, at St. Bride’s Church in London, Colvin was one of the speakers at a service called Truth At All Costs to honor the hundreds of journalists who have died in war zones over the years. The Duchess of Cornwall was there. As ever, Colvin spoke best for herself as she described the essential place of war reporting and the inner calculus of risk. Here are a few paragraphs, but I would hope you will read it all:
Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen, I am honored and humbled to be speaking to you at this service tonight to remember the journalists and their support staff who gave their lives to report from the war zones of the twenty-first century. I have been a war correspondent for most of my professional life. It has always been a hard calling. But the need for frontline, objective reporting has never been more compelling.
Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you.
Despite all the videos you see from the Ministry of Defense or the Pentagon, and all the sanitized language describing smart bombs and pinpoint strikes, the scene on the ground has remained remarkably the same for hundreds of years. Craters. Burned houses. Mutilated bodies. Women weeping for children and husbands. Men for their wives, mothers children.
Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?