A panoramic view of the crowd during the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' 2015 Washington Forum media panel on April 16. (Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory/MEDILL NSJI)

Jamie Dettmer: Obama, Congress must be better advocates for journalists’ safety

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

WASHINGTON — A reporter’s job is to  pursue the truth, but the U.S. could do more to make the cost of that pursuit less steep, one journalist says.

The U.S. government has been negligent in advocating for journalists’ safety in the wake of the Islamic State’s executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, according to Jamie Dettmer, a contracted Mideast correspondent for the Daily Beast and Voice of America.

“I know from personal conversation I’ve had with an administration official and Capitol Hill staffers that they almost consider us an irritant,” Dettmer said at an April 16 panel that was held as part of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ 2015 Washington Forum. The event focused on the media’s ability to report on jihadists and Islamists safely and ethically.

According to Dettmer, these parties’ frustration with the press chiefly stems from the simple fact that “they don’t like our coverage.”  But, regardless of whether or not they’re fond of our story angles, he said, the press does “an essential job” that forms a key component of America’s liberal ideology.

“I believe the administration and Capitol Hill should be far more outspoken about the importance of press freedom, and far more outspoken when American or Western journalists go missing or are killed,” he said.

Dettmer appeared on the panel alongside former New York Times Iran correspondent Nazila Fathi and The New Yorker staff writer Dexter Filkins. FDD President Clifford D. May moderated the discussion.

“The convention for journalism” of yore allowed for a reporter to interview with “hard men,” takes notes and use them to tell these individuals’ stories without a fear of potentially fatal physical retribution, May explained.

However, May said, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder in 2001 triggered a journalistic shift wherein story subjects began to believe they could reclaim control over their narratives through violence.

We caught up with Dettmer after the panel to have a candid conversation about the state of press protections for American journalists working out of conflict zones.

Check out audio snapshots from Dettmer’s conversation with NSJI Digital Fellow Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory below:

Meet Jamie Dettmer:

Dettmer on how the Obama administration – and whoever takes the reigns in 2016 – should work to improve protections for American journalists:

Dettmer on ransoms for journalists and the bullying of captive reporters’ families:

Dettmer on the responsibility of news organizations to their freelance reporters in conflict zones:

Dettmer on the pros and cons of using regional reporters for conflict coverage:

Dettmer’s advice for conflict journalists (beyond Hostile Environment Training):

Watch video of the FDD Washington Forum panel here: