I know we're enmeshed in the drama of newspaper necropsy lately, with friends who are also valuable professional contributors to the fabric of society walking out the door of newsrooms. But we must have at least enough gumption left over for some collective journalistic interest, concern and howling over the two Al Gore-TV reporters snatched by North Korea.
When the Chronicle's BALCO watchdogs, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, were facing 18 months in jail each for refusing to hand over confidential sources to the government, the paper's owner, Hearst, spent two years and I'm guessing around a million dollars, both to keep them out of the slammer and fight the larger battle between the press and the ravenous, prying Bush Justice Department over our ability to do our job.
And that was home town hard time involved, not the prospect of dungeons in one of the most dysfunctional, isolated and irrational places on earth.
Internationally, when reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped in Iraq a few years ago, not only her employer, the Christian Science Monitor, but her family and just about everyone else participated in a campaign for her release. Before she did ultimately get freed, there were giant posters of her on Rome's city hall, white balloons released in Paris, 25 organizations calling for her to be let go and front page newspaper banners in Baghdad saying, "She loves Iraq. Now she needs your help."
In between spasms of international adoption and rescuing the rest of the world, even some celebrities gave their time to the cause.
So where's the love for U.S. citizens Laura Ling and Euna Lee, arrested two weeks ago by North Korea? Except for a few short, fact-sparse stories in the media about the Current TV correspondents, there's been barely a ripple. Even after officials in Pyongyang announced the women would be tried for "hostile acts." That's 10 years, hard labor.
I take it back. Gawker wrote a piece saying they sure wouldn't want the former Vice President or his "everybody report now" TV operation covering their asses if they were in a similar situation (which will never happen, no matter how sassy they are.)
And State Department spokesman, Gordon Duguid, did say authoritatively that "of course we would like to see our citizens released and returned home." Wow. I'm not sure what good that's going to do, Mr. Duguid, master of the obvious.
I know in the nine years I covered conflicts in other countries, we all understood that if we got in trouble doing journalism, it was like "Mission Impossible": hope for a hand but don't count on being acknowledged for your good intentions, never mind rescued. It was a lonely feeling then but, in today's world of video decapitations, it has to be terrifying.
Where is Mr. Gore, Nobel winner and formerly the second most powerful person in the world in all this? How about anything from SF-based Current TV, say maybe even just a public expression of concern? At the moment I wrote this, the big story on their web site is, "Top 10 Sexting Acronyms For Adults." A call to their chief flack, Brent Marcus, went unreturned. What Current VC2 "pod" does this one fit into?
That silence has raised the notion that perhaps old liberals just sit back and let the young impressionables do their dirty work. Prison is hard.
Seeking out the story, SF Weekly glimpsed the security guard hired by Current TV to keep the media out, and Gawker is still on the case. Bless their snide, slapping, snappy sense of style, which gave them another opening. They came back after that first post and seem to have busted Current for actually censoring stories about the incident. The blackout of information has not gone unnoticed.
But all that still leaves the women out on their own.
Is this what happens when information becomes more democratic? No one's willing to step up? If you work for a viewer-supplied TV cable network, does that mean no one has your back?
This does not help the argument that the value of large news organizations is dwindling to nothing in favor of small entrepreneurs. There's no encouragement for 2.0 reporting when its practitioners can disappear into the gulag with no one to fight for them.
Maybe there are furious back door efforts going on and these two reporters aren"t just pawns in the overarching political drama of North Korea's imminent launch of a long-range missile. CNN, where Wikipedia says Ms. Ling's sister works as a reporter, and other news outlets report that a Swedish diplomat is hot on the case.
But that shouldn't stop some public uproar. Do we have to ask Google to go in there and flex a little muscle on behalf of the free flow of information?