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President Obama Misses Opportunity on World Press Freedom Day

May 4, 2010

President Obama has called attention to restrictions placed on the media and threats to journalists on World Press Freedom Day (http://tiny.cc/yrib4). Indeed journalists around the world have been threatened for writing stories about corruption or wrongdoing. Some have been killed just for asking questions. Mr. Obama used Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey as an example of a reporter killed for working on a story. He said Bailey’s alleged killer will go on trial this summer. This part of the statement caught my attention.

“…for every media worker who has been targeted there are countless more who continue to inform their communities despite risks of reprisal.  On World Press Freedom Day, we honor those who carry out these vital tasks despite the many challenges and threats they face as well as the principle that a free and independent press is central to a vibrant and well-functioning democracy.”

Mr. Obama missed a chance to acknowledge reporters in Oakland, California who ignored potential danger to look into Bailey’s death and to make sure the police investigation was complete and thorough.

No one is surprised when a reporter dies in a war zone. It gets our attention when journalists are murdered in Iraq, Russia, Somalia or Mexico. What makes Bailey’s case significant is he was the first American journalist killed on U-S soil for a story he was writing since Don Bolles was killed in Arizona in 1976. Bolles had been investigating alleged ties between organized crime and Arizona political and business leaders. His death brought members of the new group, Investigative Reporters and Editors, to Arizona. It became known as the “Arizona Project”and published a series of stories that prompted tougher laws on land fraud and exposed the Mafia’s presence in Arizona.

Bailey’s killing led to the creation of the Chauncey Bailey Project (http://tiny.cc/d5slf), which finished his story and, along the way, exposed a conspiracy that police failed to document. (http://tiny.cc/krwl6)

The project published a series of stories detailing how members of a bakery that were the subject of Bailey’s investigation allegedly stalked and killed him.

20 months after Bailey’s death, the alleged killer, Devaughndre Broussard, pleaded guilty in exchange for a 25 year sentence. Broussard must also testify against two other men subsequently charged in Bailey’s death: the one accused of driving him to the crime scene and the one who police believe ordered the hit. Broussard’s lawyer — and sources in law enforcement — say the indictments would never have happened without the stories published by the project.

I’m glad the President honored the press but you can’t ignore the contributions to press freedom in the United States that began with IRE and the Arizona Project and continues today with the Chauncey Bailey Project.

Bob Butler

Reporter, Chauncey Bailey Project

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