May 16, 2017

It’s hard to pay your respects to someone without making it all about yourself. Please forgive me, I don’t intend to sound indulgent.

Mexican journalist Javier Valdez was killed yesterday. I didn’t know him. I’d never heard of him until he died. I don’t have his balls. I’ve never had a day on the job so dangerous that I legitimately feared for my life.

But news of a journalist killed for doing his job is always a dark, oily feeling for me. It’s not so much that I worry for myself, but a journalist killed for being a journalist reminds me how dangerous the truth is.

I think we’ve gotten a little used to truth-spin here in the states. People who go into high-office politics or become corporate leaders usually take courses in how to deflect truth through denial, distraction with shiny jingly keys, counterpunches, or, of course, money.

Reporters here in the U.S. often have an opposite problem in exposing hard truths than our international counterparts: either the subject of that truth here finds a way to spin it or worm out of it with a sincere-sounding apology or a slick, well-funded PR campaign, or people who hear a particular truth just don’t care.

It’s hard to care about telling the truth when people don’t care to hear it. But the one advantage for an individual reporter in this dynamic like we have in the United States is, apathy and mistrust towards the press will very likely never get you killed.

As is typical in America, we think how things affect us is how they affect everybody. So I don’t think we give much thought to how dangerous truth is where people rely on the press to get truth out. In Mexico, Javier Valdez’s truths about drug wars and narcotrafficking shined a bright light on crime in a notoriously corrupt country.

You’d think that in a country with a reputation for being so corrupt that even politicians from my home state of New Jersey think, “Wow, that’s seriously corrupt,” no one would care. You’d think the people would feel helpless hearing the truth. You’d think the criminals would consider their standing in the country bought and paid for among the powerful.

And maybe that’s really how everybody felt. But even if that were true, the guys who killed Javier Valdez were afraid of what he said. Why? Maybe because his stories exposed wrongdoing. Maybe because his stories brought official action against cartels who didn’t so much fear him, but found him an annoyance to get out of the way.

I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters whether I know. What I do know matters is, Javier Valdez died because he did the righteous thing. He died for truth.

We all talk a lot about the people who put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of society. But we always, at least in this country, stop at soldiers and firemen and cops. Keep talking about them and their willingness to die for doing the right thing.

But we owe it to Javier Valdez and the eight other journalists murdered so far this year (Maximo Rodriguez, Miroslava Breach Velducea, and Cecilio Pineda Birto, who were killed in Mexico; Joaquin Briones, who was killed in Phillipines; Mohamed Abazied, who was killed in Syria; Zifa Gardo, who was killed in Iraq; Taimoor Khan, who was killed in Pakistan; and Abdul Hakim Shimul, who was killed in Bangladesh), and every journalist ever killed for trying to tell the world it needs to care that journalists, the real ones, matter too.