05 Oct Statement of Ms. Barbara Cochran
President, Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation to the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Chairman May and members of the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, thank you for the opportunity to present our site selection study for the Fallen Journalists Memorial.
The Fallen Journalists Memorial Act was unanimously enacted by Congress to commemorate America’s commitment to a free press by honoring journalists who have sacrificed their lives for that cause. We are honored to be entrusted with fulfilling that dual mission by working with all of you to build a memorial that commemorates journalists, inspires visitors from around the world and educates current and future generations about the critical role of the free press as a key pillar of a vibrant democracy.
I appreciate the opportunity to provide additional background to accompany the site selection study. This includes commentaries submitted by historians, academic scholars, prominent journalists and other experts in the field of journalism on why the memorial merits a location in Area I designated for works of “preeminent and lasting historical significance to the United States.”
I especially want to highlight some key factors that we believe justify a prominent site location that is in close proximity to our government institutions and other memorials of preeminent and lasting historical significance. These factors include the following:
Congress intended the memorial to be a prominent national symbol – As Senator Ben Cardin, the lead Senate sponsor of the Fallen Journalists Memorial Act, stated upon its enactment: “The free media, one of the pillars of our nation, is under attack figuratively and literally across America. Too many, including five innocent souls lost in the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, gave everything they had in defense of democracy, transparency and freedom. This new memorial will honor the lives of those who died reporting the news and supporting the media on behalf of the American people. It will be a steadfast symbol of their sacrifice and the fragility of our democracy. Those who personify the First Amendment rights granted to every citizen have made our nation stronger.”
The Founding Fathers recognized the crucial role of the press by enshrining freedom of the press in the First Amendment – By establishing that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press,” the Founding Fathers deemed a free press to be independent of, and
on par with, our government institutions. Around the world, this is a defining characteristic of American democracy. Locating the memorial near each of the three branches of government will underscore the essential role that journalists play in holding those institutions accountable to their citizens and in providing a public service by sharing information.
Throughout our history, journalists have served on the front lines during the most defining moments shaped American institutions and people’s everyday lives – Journalism has been called the first rough draft of history. From daily reports on local leaders to explosive investigations that exposed the likes of the Watergate scandal; from anti-slavery editorials in the 1800s to live coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020; from scenes of floods, fires and hurricanes across the U.S. to the front lines of combat around the world, journalists have served a vital, and often dangerous, role as witnesses to history. Many have died doing so. A memorial that commemorates such a prominent role and profession deserves to stand at the center of our Nation’s Capital.
The visibility of the U.S. Capitol underscores the relationship between government and the press – The First Amendment makes clear that the press is independent of the government, which allows the press to act as a watchdog to hold government accountable on behalf of the public. Placing the memorial with a view of a powerful symbol of democratic government gives physical expression to the relationship between the free press and self-governance. It demonstrates that a monument to the Fourth Estate belongs near the three branches of government.
To effectively educate and inspire, the memorial needs to be accessible to as many visitors to the Nation’s Capital as possible – The attacks we see today on individual journalists and journalism in general highlight the necessity for a memorial that serves to educate and inspire current and future generations around the world about the essential role of a free press in a civil society. This is especially important against the backdrop of increasing authoritarianism around the world. By placing the memorial where visitors will readily encounter it, the public will be reminded of the risks that journalists take to protect the freedom of all.
The Fallen Journalists Memorial Act (Public Law 116-253) passed unanimously in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate and was signed into law on December 23, 2020. It authorizes the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation to establish a memorial on federal land in Washington, DC, in compliance with the Commemorative Works Act. The law states the memorial will “commemorate America’s commitment to a free press by honoring journalists who sacrificed their lives in service to that cause.”
Congress intends the memorial to serve two equally important objectives: (1) commemorate one of America’s greatest historical achievements – the establishment of a free and independent press; and (2) recognize the sacrifices of those who risked their lives in support of that commitment at home and abroad.
The need for a memorial that embraces both objectives is compelling. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 30 journalists were killed worldwide in 2020, and 21 killings were carried out as a direct response to the work being done by those journalists. As of last year, 235 journalists were in prison because of their work, according to International Federation of Journalists.
For context, let me share with you examples of journalists killed in the U.S.:
- On June 28, 2018, the deadliest attack on journalism in modern U.S. history occurred when a gunman who was angered by an article killed five employees of the Capital Gazette newspaper and injured two others in their Annapolis, Maryland, newsroom.
- Local television reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were shot dead during a live broadcast in Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia in August 2015.
- In 2011, photo editor Robert Stevens for The Sun died from inhaling anthrax that was mailed to him and other journalists, including NBC’s Tom Brokaw.
- Editor Chauncey Bailey was murdered in California on his way to work in 2007 by a man who was reportedly angered by Chauncey and his team’s coverage of his business.
- In 1993, Dona St. Plite was the third Haitian-born journalist to be killed in Miami in three years. He was murdered at a benefit for a colleague killed two years earlier.
- In 1992, editor Manuel de Dios Unanue was shot in New York City by drug traffickers and businessmen retaliating for hard-hitting stories that de Dios had written.
And some examples of murdered U.S. journalists working abroad, as well as foreign journalists supporting U.S. media organizations, include:
- Following the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. by Al-Qaeda, Daniel Pearl traveled to Pakistan as The Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief to report on militant extremist groups during the U.S. War on Terrorism. He was kidnapped and killed by his terrorist captors during what he thought was an interview with a prominent Muslim leader on February 1, 2002.
- James Foley was a freelance American journalist and video reporter who covered conflict in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. In 2011, he was taken prisoner in Libya alongside fellow journalists covering the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi and quickly returned to reporting after enduring 44 days in detention. While reporting for GlobalPost during the Syrian Civil War, Foley was kidnapped in Northern Syria in 2012 and killed by his ISIL captors in 2014 as retribution for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq.
- Delhi-based photo-journalist Danish Siddiqui led the national Reuters Multimedia team and was a member of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis. During the pandemic, Siddiqui shed light on the mass cremations of COVID-19 fatalities in India. He was killed in an ambush-crossfire while embedded with a senior Afghan officer during a clash between Afghan Special Forces and Taliban insurgents in Kandahar in July 2021.
- Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian journalist, dissident, author, Global Opinions contributing columnist for The Washington Post, and a general manager and editor in chief of Al-Arab News Channel. Khashoggi was known for his critical reporting on the Saudi government’s ultra-conservative policies, ruling Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and the conservative interpretation of Islam. In 2018, he was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which the CIA later determined was at the direction of Mohammed Bin Salman.
I also want to emphasize that physical attacks on journalists even in the U.S. are not rare or isolated incidents. So far in 2021, U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented 129 assaults of 96 journalists. Appendix C highlights some of the headlines from just a two-month period this summer.
The Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation envisions a memorial that inspires visitors to celebrate a free and independent press as a worthy cause while educating current and future generations about the essential role of journalism in a thriving democracy. While no formal decisions have been made, we are considering a modestly sized, non-intrusive memorial without names or definitions that represents the full breadth of the news media – past, present and future. The memorial will serve as a commemorative landscape that is a place for reflection and appreciation for those who lost their lives, a focal point for learning about the First Amendment and the role of journalism to a functioning democracy, and a convening space for commemorative moments.
The types of convenings that could take place at the memorial include class trips and lectures (elementary through graduate school) where groups of students can learn about the importance of a free press and the history of journalists and journalism; group ceremonies (20-100 people) commemorating specific fallen journalists’ anniversaries; and small gatherings (20-100 people) around matters related to a free press or in honor of annual days of recognition like World Press Freedom Day.
We believe that a site of approximately 1/3 acre would be sufficient to construct a commemorative landscape feature that can accommodate a program that advances the goals of the memorial.
ABOUT THE FALLEN JOURNALISTS MEMORIAL FOUNDATION
The Foundation currently operates under the auspices of the National Press Club Journalism Institute (NPCJI), the non-profit educational affiliate of the National Press Club. The Foundation is supported by numerous leaders from all segments of the journalism community who serve on its Board of Advisors. They include editors and publishers such as Dean Baquet of the New York Times, Sally Buzbee of the Washington Post and Kevin Merida of the Los Angeles Times, news anchors such as Tom Brokaw, Judy Woodruff, Andrea Mitchell, Bret Baier and Wolf Blitzer, and photojournalists such as David Hume Kennerly and Lynsey Addario (see Appendix A for the entire list). Major funders of the Foundation include the Annenberg Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Michael and Jacky Ferro Foundation and the Donald Graham.
The Foundation has been working with AECOM, the world’s leading infrastructure consulting firm, on the site selection process, and with Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic and consultant Paul Goldberger, on architect and design selection. AECOM is well-known to the Commission and requires no further introduction. Paul Goldberger brings a lifetime of experience with architectural design and a consulting portfolio, which includes the new Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station in New York and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He also serves as a design consultant to the Port Authority of New York on the new LaGuardia Airport and worked as an advisor on architect selection and design for Glenstone, a museum of modern and contemporary art in Potomac, Maryland.
The Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation appreciates the Commission’s consideration of our site selection study, including our priority locations in Area I. We stand ready to provide any additional information that the Commission requests.