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We Are All Potentially Dead Journalists
Humanity is your family and they deserve to live.
You don’t need a license to be a journalist. That is one of the best things about it—even better than the low pay and frequent layoffs. Everyone loves the First Amendment because it lets them speak, but my favorite part of it is that it lets you tell. It implies that you—yes you—can stride out into the world with a pen and pad and take some notes and write them up and publish them and you are every bit as much a journalist as the haughty guy from the New York Times. Do not be fooled by all the press credentials on lanyards and self-important TV reporters fixing their hair in ring lights. Journalism is not a private club. Journalism is an action. When you do it, you are a journalist. This may produce some not particularly polished journalism, but it also keeps society open.
This is why, as a general rule, the members of the press who are most concerned with being Official Members of the White House Press Club and with making sure they are seated prominently in the official press sections and with being afforded official access to every exclusive space as a result of their status also tend to be the people who are least valuable when it comes to communicating the true state of the world. Luxuriating inside of a bubble of status has the automatic effect of cutting you off from the regular world, which is, lest you forget, what you are supposed to be writing about. Go outside. Talk to people. Go to public meetings. Write down what happens. Go up to politicians. Ask them stuff. Go to an event. Look at it. Think about it. Then tell people about it. This is the substance of journalism. It is a tool for the public. It is a tool for an open society. It is a tool to preserve a functional democracy. It is the act of talking about true things. Some people get paid for it, but they do not own it. It is yours also, because you live in the free world.
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The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that, as of yesterday, at least 39 journalists and media workers have been killed in Gaza since October 7. Thirty four of those people are Palestinian, four are Israeli, and one is Lebanese. CPJ now ranks this as the deadliest month for journalists on the face of the earth since the organization began keeping records in 1992. A striking number of these journalists were killed not while running down a public street covering a war, but instead in their homes, with their families, by Israeli air strikes. “Mohamed Abu Hassira, a journalist for the Palestinian Authority-run Wafa news agency, was killed in an airstrike on his home in Gaza along with 42 family members.” “Mohamed Al Jaja, a media worker and the organizational development consultant at Press House-Palestine… was killed in an airstrike on his home along with his wife and two daughters.” “Mohammed Abu Hatab, a journalist and correspondent for the Palestinian Authority-funded broadcaster Palestine TV… was killed along with 11 members of his family in an Israeli airstrike on their home in Khan Yunis.” It goes on like this. On and on. If you assumed that killing all of these journalists and their families would have prompted Israel to cower in chagrin, you would be incorrect. Yesterday, Israeli officials publicly declared that they plan to kill every single person who they consider to have participated in the Hamas attacks of October 7, including the freelance photographers who covered the attack, and who work for organizations like the AP and the New York Times.
Over the past seven or eight years, thousands of us have worked to unionize the media industry here in the US. We have had a good deal of success. Part of the proposition when you do this is telling people: We are not just individuals who have to look out for ourselves in this cold world. We are all part of a whole. We are all in the same boat. We are brothers and sisters. We are going to help one another. I will support you, and you will support me, and we will both support people in other places who we don’t even know, because we recognize that we are all, in an important way, the same. When you can get large groups of people to accept this premise, they can accomplish amazing things. This is the power of solidarity. It is what fuels the labor movement, but really, it is what fuels all morality. It is the golden rule in action. We are all family, and we will flourish together. Never apart.
So when I see the trade union for Palestinian journalists asking for solidarity, I know that I owe them solidarity. And press organizations around the world and groups of journalists here in the US have spoken up for them, and have called for more honest coverage of what is happening in Gaza. I know that, if I were born in Gaza, I could very well be one of those dead journalists, and I could very well be crushed to death in my home by rubble, next to the dead bodies of my family, and it is only the random spin of life’s slot machine that saw me born over here rather than over there, and this helps me to think more clearly about the awfulness of the atrocities that are being perpetrated over there right now. I do what they do, so it is easy for me to imagine myself in their predicament.
But this commonality is not the most important thing here. This is just one of many mental tricks that we, flawed and distracted humans, use to help ourselves focus. When you see reports of how many journalists have been killed, or how many medical workers have been killed, or how many UN aid workers have been killed, these deaths are highlighted because their special status as essential parts of civil society lends some extra sense of moral weight to their killings. These reports are attempts to use particularly pointed incidents to penetrate our stubborn moral consciousness. The kind of solidarity that being in a union, for example, opens your mind to is—you soon realize—just one step down the path that culminates in the understanding that we all owe this kind of solidarity to one another. Everyone is your brother and everyone is your sister and all of humanity is due the same respect and consideration that you yourself are. This basic little insight is the foundation of all human rights. I think that we all can recognize this intellectually. The hard part is getting it into our hearts.
So those of us who are journalists can more easily feel the anguish of the dead journalists. And you? You are a journalist too. They are you as well. And the dead mothers, and the dead fathers, and the dead brothers and sisters? They are you as well. They are me, and you, born in a different place, and trying to live our lives in that place the same way that we live our lives here. The man who was sitting in the courtyard of Al-Shifa hospital yesterday when a missile streaked down out of the sky and blew his leg off is just a man like me. The thousands of children who have been killed in Gaza are just like you. You were a child. I was a child. We did not deserve to die. Neither do they. The weight of the atrocity of their deaths is the same weight as your own death. Or your child’s death.
You can go out today and write a news story, or take photos. That makes you a journalist. Imagine being killed. Do you have a family? Imagine the ceiling of your home collapsing on their heads, crushing them. Do you have a child? Imagine your child being killed. Can you find a justification for that? There is no justification for that. The politics of the situation retreat into absurdity when you are able to imagine yourself there. The politics that purport to protect civilization collapse as soon as a child dies. What is a civilization that kills children? It is not a civilization at all.
Some of us need to use the mental tool of solidarity, or of human rights, or of international law in order to be able to mentally situate ourselves in the position of those people in Gaza who are being killed from above right now. Use any tool that works for you. All that matters is that it leads you to the sickening realization of how abominable this slaughter is. If it is you there, and your family, and your children, all exposed to the merciless bombs, it affords you perfect clarity. I, and you, and all of us, would all say the same thing: Stop.
I apologize for being slow to publish this week. I’ve been writing a feature story about labor that will be in In These Times some time soon. The war has been monopolizing my thoughts and the news in general, but the rest of the world goes on as well. Yesterday I had a piece in In These Times about the surprisingly plausible potential of a General Strike in 2028. And I had this much less important thing in Defector on Monday. For a list of charities serving Palestine, see here.
As I have mentioned here from time to time, the media business model that has reigned for the past decade is rapidly collapsing. RIP, Jezebel. The only silver lining of this chaos is that it is spawning a lot of new projects from smart people who are trying to build the next media ecosystem. One project that I am involved in is Flaming Hydra, which is going to bring together something like 60 writers for a new group site. Another cool new site is Aftermath, a new publication about video games by some of my former Gawker Media colleagues who worked at Kotaku. Both of these sites are worker-owned. The way of the future, I hope.
Another worker-owned independent media site is: How Things Work, which you are reading now. Thank you to everyone who subscribes. This site is able to exist because of the support of paid subscribers. If you are in favor of this site remaining paywall-free and, in general, continuing to exist, please consider becoming a paid subscriber as well. This is the solidarity we need to get where we need to go.