In light of the political climate and the rabid social media chaos following the shooting at a synagogue this weekend in Pittsburgh, commentators responded to what they believe to be attacks on free press in the United States. One of those people was Julia Ioffe, a correspondent at GQ magazine who was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States as a child.
I have to say, I feel less safe as a journalist in America these days than I ever did in Russia. A lot less safe.— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) October 29, 2018
While Ioffe may well feel attacked here in the United States and have been threatened physically or verbally working here, her personal anecdotes and feelings differ greatly from statistics about the safety of journalists worldwide. She isn’t the only journalist who has expressed similar exasperated feelings about how difficult it is to work in the United States — or how stifled their work must be because President Trump doesn’t care for the media.
Still, proper perspective is necessary here: There are far more dangerous places to be a journalist.
There are dozens of journalists who worked in unsafe environments and have been threatened or murdered simply for trying to communicate a story — particularly one hostile to their government. Less than one dozen of those have been killed in the United States in the last two decades. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index 2018, countries like India, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Russia are far more dangerous places to work than even places like Syria, much less the United States.
Russia, Ioffe’s country of origin, is particularly hostile to journalists, especially if those writers happen to disagree with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. It’s difficult to determine the number of Russian journalists who were opposed to the Kremlin and who have been killed — motive is often hard to prove. Some say it’s only been a few dozen, others say it’s in the hundreds. In 2009, the International Federation of Journalists looked into the deaths of journalists in Russia and published their findings. They documented more than 300 deaths and disappearances since 1993. The Committee to Protect Journalists believes Russia has been one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists, and the mystery of those deaths only adds to the ominous nature. According to them, 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992; 38 of those killings are confirmed murders. The Remembrance Day of Journalists Killed in the Line of Duty in Russia is observed on Dec. 15 every year because there are so many instances of violent hostility.
Just a few days ago, threats were made against one of Russia’s most reputable independent newspapers, Novaya Gazeta. “A funeral wreath, a severed goat's head, and threatening notes were sent to the newspaper's Moscow office this week in what the paper said in an editorial statement were the latest threats against its journalists,” according to the CPJ. This is the same paper that featured the investigations and reports of the murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya. A dual citizen of Russia and the U.S., she was murdered in Moscow in 2006 after receiving national renown for her investigative reports and criticism of Vladimir Putin. Although several men were arrested for her murder, it has never become clear who ordered it.
In comparison, eight journalists have been murdered in the U.S. since 1992. Four of those journalists were murdered this year at the Capital Gazette at the hands of a deranged terrorist — it was not a government-ordered hit on free speech, and it had nothing to do with politics.
Social media abuse against journalists is real, and real-life threats should be condemned. But it’s worthwhile to note the U.S. has always championed a free press. Dialogue and disagreement, whether online or in real life, are not equal to being jailed, poisoned, or murdered. Saying it’s more hostile to be a journalist here compared to other countries is disingenuous and wrong.
Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota.