Friday, January 09, 2015

We are all Charlie

Having done small-town news for the entirety of my news career, I sometimes forget what a dangerous profession it can be.

Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked in Ashland, Mansfield and Shelby, Ohio; as well as Cheektowaga, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, and Lockport. In that time, I’ve had a few threats — mostly of the non-violent kind — and I did have a pair of semi-automatic rifles pointed at me one night last March, but I’ve never actually been worried about going to work.

Some journalists, however, live under the constant threat of violence and even death. They do their job anyway.

You may not see my job as a noble profession. In fact, maybe to you I’m just a rabble rouser. But I’ve always looked at journalism as a necessary cog in the machine of freedom. And I’d like to think I do my part.

This past week offered two examples of the importance and danger of journalism.

The first was more humorous than anything, frankly, when a councilman in Maryland threatened to sue a newspaper for printing his name without permission. Kirby Delauter got a very public lesson in the First Amendment, later offering an apology along with a statement that he knew that it was the reporter’s job to print his name when it concerned county government.

The second was the Wednesday terrorist attack in Paris of the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satire magazine that dared to print cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed despite threats against their lives and a prior attack in 2011.

Eight members of the Charlie Hebdo staff, two police officers and two bystanders were killed in the attack when three radical Muslims shot them during a weekly staff meeting.

In response, editorial cartoonists around the world proclaimed “Je Suis Charlie,” in one manner or another, including Adam Zyglis of the Buffalo News, whose illustration on Wednesday showed a depiction of the Statue of Liberty with an ink pen in place of the torch, along with the statement “Our sacred gift from France.”

Even though I work in Lockport, New York, I, too, am Charlie. I hold the responsibility of standing up for freedom through my pen … or keyboard, as they case may be. The tragedy in France served as a humble reminder of that.

The staff of Charlie Hebdo, which in French means “Charlie Weekly,” continued on this week, vowing to put out a new edition on time and increasing the planned circulation of their magazine more than tenfold. A bold move in the wake of the senseless tragedy and in light of the fact that the terrorist suspects were still at large when they made that declaration.

Some people may want to politicize the tragedy, using it to condemn Islam. Others got on their high horse, upset that President Barack Obama didn’t use the right phrasology (“terrorist attack”) fast enough. In their pettiness, they lose sight of the fact that 12 people died defending free speech everywhere.

Just as first responders across the country stood in solidarity with their fallen New York City brethren on Sept. 11, 2001, I stand in solidarity with the slain journalists who senselessly died on Wednesday. As an American — and a defender of free speech — I hope you would, too.

Scott Leffler is the news editor of East Niagara Post. He is Charlie. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler. 


This column was originally published on East Niagara Post.