In the 1960s, Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe created the so-called "new journalism" by actively becoming part the dynamic stories they were "reporting" on. But they were novelists, not hard news reporters. Journalists representing news agencies are not supposed to violently interrupt a news conference to demonstrate contempt for a head of state. That would be crossing into crazed Keith Olbermann territory or perhaps Michael Moore boorishness -- not the place for a respectable professional chronicler of the news.
So when Muntadhar al-Zeidi hurled two shoes at U.S. President George Bush at a press conference in Iraq, he crossed a line of journalistic professionalism that underscored societal differences in defining a journalist's role, particularly in places with less than full protection of free expression.
The shoe-hurlling journo quickly became a hero in much of the Arab world where he was seen as honorably expressing disgust for Bush and American intervention in Iraq. All the more demonstrating that in much of the world, journalists do not necessarily aspire to stay apart from the fray but may in fact revel in it. And it underscores the dangers Western-style journalists face in trying to report in lands where press freedom is not held sacred - you begin to understand a bit how it can be that professional journalists find themselves accused of spying or anti-government activism. Indeed, the degree that al-Zeidi's tantrum is legitimized undercuts the ability of dispassionate journalists to get free access to the stories they need to cover.
And so it is that the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization I have long admired and often written about since the early days of this blog, remains silent on al-Zeidi even as accusations grow that he was beaten by Iraqi police, reportedly breaking a rib and sustaining other injuries. Sticking up for al-Zeidi and calling for his release would chip away at CPJ's commitment to journalistic sanctuary based on neutrality.
- Jon Harmon