This year, 22 journalists have been killed and 162 have been imprisoned. These numbers used to seem distant to me. Stories of journalists being captured and killed for doing their jobs don’t always register in places with a civil society and a free press. For me, this changed with Austin Tice.
Tice was captured in Syria in 2012 while working as a freelance journalist for McClatchy Newspapers, The Washington Post and others. A graduate of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Tice traveled to Syria to tell stories of the human toll of civil war.
As an undergraduate at Georgetown, I covered demonstrators outside the White House calling for his release in April, and I found myself imagining him on campus, just a few years before me. I walk the cobblestone paths to class and congregate with friends in Red Square, just as Tice did. And as I think about him being imprisoned by the Syrian government or Islamic State, it terrifies me when I consider the possibility of becoming a foreign correspondent like him.
I found myself unsettled to think that Tice could be reduced to a number or another statistic. At the April protest, Georgetown students alongside activists asked President Barack Obama to use his power to negotiate Tice’s freedom. The demonstrators donned blindfolds to show that without journalists, the world is blind to the news and deprived of information.
Earlier that month, Tice’s parents, Marc and Debra, had visited our campus and urged students to assist in the effort to bring him home.
“Whatever influence you have, however many friends you can get, if you want to go stand outside the White House with posters,” Debra Tice said. “It is our government that needs to have the will to get him home.”
At his final White House correspondents’ dinner in April, Obama pledged “to fight for the release of American journalists held against their will,” without mentioning Tice by name, even though he is the only known American journalist being held against his will.
Rightly so, the president was chastised for not speaking Tice’s name. Family members of other American journalists and aid workers who were taken hostage and killed – James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller – criticized the omission in a letter to the president.
By not saying Tice’s name, Obama seemed to distance himself from the issue. While calling for action, the president simultaneously failed to give the 35-year-old Tice an identity, a face, a family.
Reporters working in dangerous areas are critically important to an informed society. They bring us information about war and death, but also they show the dramatic toll on ordinary people, like you and me.
It’s our duty to think of Tice as more than just another number, another journalist capture. He is someone with a mother and father, and a family. Honoring that is the least we can do.