Jessica Sieff: Lee and Ling just the latest players in journalism’s mission

Published 10:10 am Thursday, August 13, 2009

sieffstarJust before boarding a plane to London, bound for a connecting flight to Dublin and a vacation that is still so ingrained in my mind I can’t yet write about it with the degree of appreciation it deserves, I caught sight of a newsflash on the television screen hanging over our crowded gate area.

Reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee had been pardoned by the North Korean government in a sentence of 12 years of hard labor and were on their way back home, with Bill Clinton.

My chest swelled as I boarded the plane, with connection, a seven hour flight, followed by a four hour bus ride to the town of Rosslare Harbour, a town virtually on the edge of the world (well, the country anyway).

It would be another day before I would be able to grab a newspaper and see images of Lee and Ling as they arrived back on United States soil and described being escorted through a doorway and seeing the former president standing before them.

I don’t know what it is about that guy…

Word to the wise, I wouldn’t ask his wife what she thinks about the whole thing.
Regardless of the circumstances that led to Clinton’s arrival in North Korea, regardless of what he had to say to win the release of the two journalists taken into custody by North Korean officials after they crossed into the country from China – something that, according to Ling’s sister CNN reporter Lisa Ling was an accident – sending the former president, the former ‘Bubba,’ to secure their release was a smart move on behalf of the United States government.

Clinton’s relative detachment from the workings of the White House, an issue that was visited and revisited repeatedly by analysts and White House officials alike when his wife was set to be named Secretary of State allowed for a little, ‘play nicey nicey’ that was going to be needed to appease the deplorable Kim Jong Il. It was a way for someone to say whatever it was that needed to be said without feeling the weight of position.
And either way – it achieved the objective. And one can only hope that Lee and Ling continue to recover from their experiences in a North Korean labor camp for 141 days.
While in Ireland, I regret to say I didn’t get a chance to visit one specific spot in the country that I long to see – and will see when I return (as I most certainly will).

It is the Naas Dual Carriageway, a motorway just outside of Dublin. There, at a traffic light, Irish journalist Veronica Guerin was gunned down as she sat in her car. Her death rocked the country, creating outrage. Many remember where they were when they heard she’d been killed. A monument in honor of her can be found at the site of her death today.
Guerin was a reporter for the Irish newspaper the Sunday Independent. In the mid 90s, the country was living through a nightmarish infestation of drug use. Guerin stepped out of the comfort of her home, stepped away from reporting about softer subjects and stepped into the country’s drug controlled underworld.

She made drug lords nervous, though its said she published pseudonyms in order to avoid libel lawsuits.

As her work became more and more damaging for the criminals she was trying to bring to justice, it became more and more dangerous for she and her family. Guerin was threatened, shot in the leg, attacked and brutally beaten and her child threatened as well.
She was a recipient of the International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Though freedom of the press is a gift that can only be granted by governments, and though our gift doesn’t necessarily resonate with others the mission of a journalist never changes. It is to expose injustices, to tell the stories of both criminals and victims, governments and citizens, friends, family and strangers. And with every passing day, with ever inappropriate commentary by so called journalists on network television, that mission is discounted.

Sad, for a craft that boasts heroes such as Guerin.

As I read of Lee and Ling’s release, I thought about the countless journalists that have gone missing in their attempts to tell the stories of the world around them. Those who have lost their lives. The Committee to Protect Journalists report 19 reporters confirmed killed in 2009 so far.

I bet a lot of people would be quick to criticize. Wonder just whether or not it’s worth such a sacrifice to tell a story.

I can’t really answer that. Though I can say to those who try to silence reporters they are not nearly as valuable as the lives they take away in pursuit of their own criminal activity.
Guerin’s voice is now silenced. It lives on only in her articles and the people who continue to keep her in mind as they go after the next story.

Now, the rest of us who yearn to understand the world we live in, both good and evil, will wait to hear what Lee and Ling have to say about what they have endured over the past 141 days.

The mission continues.

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at