No, this isn’t an Onion headline. That’s the conclusion of Reporters Without Borders, who added the United States to its list of deadliest countries for reporters after six journalists died here in 2018. News outlets across the country seized on this data to malign the United States alongside Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Yemen, and India as a dangerous place for journalists.
But the facts behind these deaths call into question the rational behind the ranking. The worst incident was, of course, the murder of four journalists and a sales assistant at the Capitol Gazette in June. The shooting was not politically motivated: the gunman had a personal grievance with the newspaper. While horrific, the Committee to Protect Journalists concluded this was one of only two deadly attacks on journalists in the United States since 1992.
So what deadly incident put the United States into the top ranking for most dangerous countries for journalists in 2018? I’m not kidding you, it was the death of a reporter and his cameraman who were killed when a tree fell on them in a storm. How in the world does this random tragedy put the US in the same league as countries like Syria and Afghanistan when it comes to being a dangerous environment for journalists?
Being a journalist is probably among the safest professions in the United States. In fact, no white collar job even appears among the top 25 most dangerous jobs in the US.
Of course, the purpose of including the United States on this list of deadliest places for reporters was to generate negative headlines and contribute to the narrative of the “War on Journalism.” They know most people will run with the headline and conclude that America in the “Age of Trump” has become uniquely dangerous for journalists.
To hit home that point, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire blamed “unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders, and businessmen” for “violations against journalists.” … “Amplified by social networks… these expressions of hatred legitimize violence, thereby undermining journalism, and democracy itself, a bit more every day.”
But Donald Trump’s attacks on media outlets like CNN didn’t motivate a shooter to bring a shotgun into the Capitol Gazette, and they certainly had nothing to do with a freak accident during a rainstorm. That won’t stop unscrupulous individuals from using this list to malign their political opponents, or even the United States itself.