James Foley, Journalist

James Foley, freelance reporter for the Global Post and Agence France0-Presse, taken before his capture in Libya in 2011. He was eventually released, and went to Syria, where he was abducted the next year. Photo from Global Post site.

James Foley, American teacher-turned-journalist, was abducted in Syria in November, 2012. He reportedly died this week after extremists dressed him up in an orange suit like the ones Americans put on prisoners at Guantánamo, and a man with a British accent cut off his head. His killers videotaped the murder and put it up on YouTube. 

The self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which claimed responsibility for Foley’s murder, reportedly threatened to kill another American journalist kidnapped in Syria, Steven Sotloff, unless United States President Barack Obama ends air strikes in Iraq. (Obama responded today with a denunciation of ISIS.)

Journalists are abducted, wounded or killed regularly in the world’s hot spots. The nature of Foley’s grotesque and public murder pushed this reality into stark relief, and perhaps startled Westerners into awareness.

Since 2011, 39 professional journalists including 12 foreigners, and 122 Syrian citizen-journalists, were killed in connection with their work in Syria, points out Reporters sans Frontieres. “Three foreign journalists are still being held hostage in Syria, while four others are missing there. Armed groups are currently holding around 20 Syrian (professional and non-professional) journalists, while the Syrian authorities are holding more than 30 Syrian news providers despite the amnesty announced in June.”

Photo courtesy of FindJamesFoley.org
Photo by Nicole Tung, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org.

Threats to journalists and press freedoms are documented annually by Reporters sans Frontiers’ Press Freedom Index. While the beheading of James Foley is the most graphic and extreme transgression against journalism, violations range from murder to the ongoing arrests of numerous journalists this month in Ferguson, Missouri. In the United States, the self-styled leader of the “free” world, New York Times journalist James Risen currently risks a jail sentence for refusing to reveal sources in his book about the Central Intelligence Agency; his case has highlighted the crackdown on press rights by the administration of Barack Obama, who entered office with the hopeful award of a Nobel Peace Prize that seems increasingly bizarre. Taking a page from Obama’s book, Afghanistan’s government recently interrogated and this week expelled and banned Matthew Rosenberg, another New York Times journalist.

Journalism matters not least because it informs us, of events in war zones that hit us in our homes in shocking and unexpected ways, and of our own immediate and local vulnerabilities, from health and environmental threats to the 2008 financial crisis, which the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned as  “a story of mass ignorance.”

Nothing can justify or redeem the murder of James Foley, who reported for Global Post, Agence France-Presse and other media, and who was only 40 years old when he died. The least we can do in his name is give some thought to the nature of his work, and why it might matter.

Photo by Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org

Selected reactions to Foley’s murder: 

Statement by James Foley’s mother on Facebook page, Find James Foley:

We have never been prouder of our son Jim. He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.

We implore the kidnappers to spare the lives of the remaining hostages. Like Jim, they are innocents. They have no control over American government policy in Iraq, Syria or anywhere in the world.

We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.

Reporters sans Frontieres/Reporters Without Borders

“Foley did not work for the US government. He was an experienced international reporter whose sole interest was to report the news, not represent his nation. We express our heartfelt condolences to his family, his mother, his father, who we know, and his friends. And we pay tribute to a man who helped us to provide support to the family of one of his friends, a photographer killed in Libya” — secretary-general Christophe Deloire.

Society of Professional Journalists:

Foley and thousands of other journalists risk their lives every day to seek truth and report it, and it is unconscionable they would face intimidation and violence by those who kill innocents for political gain.

Committee to Protect Journalists:

“Foley went to Syria to show the plight of the Syrian people, to bear witness to their fight, and in so doing to fight for press freedom” — CPJ Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe.

Statement by the family of James Foley on his reported killing, reported by Global Post: 

He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people … We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person.

Agence France-Presse roundup about homage to James Foley by AFP chief and world leaders

“L’inacceptable et la honte s’abattent une fois de plus et une fois de trop sur le métier d’informer dont James Foley avait fait sa raison de vivre et non de mourir. Ce n’est pas seulement une tragédie, c’est avant tout une barbarie. La dénoncer n’est pas seulement un devoir, c’est aussi un combat pour tous ceux qui pensent que la liberté d’informer est une valeur suprême de nos sociétés démocratiques,” — Président-Directeur général de l’AFP, Emmanuel Hoog. 

There are countless sites showing the video of James Foley being beheaded. I have not watched it, and I don’t want to. We absolutely do need to know what happened. I do not — perhaps no one does — need the videotaped horror of his murder in my head and heart, a piece of propaganda titled “A message to America.” Instead, here’s a video of Foley speaking at his journalism school alma mater, Medill in 2011, after being freed from a Libyan prison. “He wanted to be a conflict reporter,” said his introducer.


BBC profile of James Foley http://www.bbc.com/news/world-28865508
RSF Press Freedom Index, 2014: http://en.rsf.org/reporters-without-borders-releases-12-02-2014,45849.html
Find James Foley Journalist: http://www.freejamesfoley.org
The Men Who Killed James Foley, by Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker

The response by the activist Kafranbel Media Center in Syria (see related New York Times feature) to James Foley’s murder.


 Further reading on F&O:

Al-Qaida Jihadists Suspicious of Iraq-Syria Caliphate, by Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

Half a dozen so-called Islamic states have been created out of countries in crisis in the last 20 years, and each new one is more brutal and bloodthirsty than the last. The latest is the “caliphate” created by the messianic descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, soldier and Islamic scholar Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the territory he and his followers control in the border region of Syria and Iraq.

Bin Laden’s disciples move to realize his dream, by Jonathan Manthorpe (paywall)

There has never been a satisfactory explanation why George W. Bush and his Praetorian Guard nursed such a visceral hatred of Saddam Hussein. Blitzkriegs built on lies never end well. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in over a decade of warfare in Iraq. But now it gets even worse. It is beginning to look as though the Bush coven has created the conditions for bin Laden’s heirs to realize their master’s dream. Well armed fighters of the fanatical Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an al-Qaida spin-off group, are marching on the Iraqi capital Baghdad after capturing the central towns of Tikrit and Mosul.

The Cold War 2.0, by Jim McNiven (paywall)

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek.


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