- Thursday, March 17, 2022

Some of us in political communications, or those of us who may also write commentary, frequently express our frustrations with certain members of the corporate news media — the way they choose and frame their stories or the way many of them clearly favor one political party over another. If you’re on the Republican side of politics, this is just one part of the daily skirmish: the notion that you are not only fighting battles against opposing candidates, but you’re also clashing one-on-one with numerous individual reporters and entire institutions.

But the war brought by Russian President Vladimir Putin into Ukraine reminded us that there are some real-life conflicts that go well beyond just the domestic politics of the day, no matter how great the stakes may be in our elections. News from Ukraine in just the last week brought that reality into sharp focus.

In Ukraine, soldiers and civilians — men, women and children — are dying under the Russian onslaught as they defend their country. The Russian invaders are suffering unexpectedly high casualties as well, but through the haze of boasting, misinformation and propaganda, it is difficult to tell what the real numbers are on either side.

That’s where the journalists come in. 

An unknown number of reporters, network-affiliated or independent, have the war zone as their newsroom. And some now have lost their lives through their efforts to inform the world of what has been happening there.

Brent Renaud, 50, an American filmmaker and journalist, was killed Sunday in Irpin, Ukraine after Russian soldiers fired on his vehicle at a checkpoint. Though he previously had worked for The New York Times, NBC and HBO, when he was killed, he was pursuing a piece for Time Studios about the massive refugee crisis the war has created.

On Monday, two Fox News journalists were killed, and another was seriously wounded when their vehicle also fell under assault. 

Pierre Zakrzewski, 55, an Irishman working out of London, had been a longtime videographer for Fox News and had covered hostilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria in past assignments. He won an award for helping freelance journalists and their families escape from Afghanistan following the chaotic American withdrawal last year.

Oleksandra “Sasha” Kuvshynova, 24, was a Ukrainian known as a “fixer,” or a consultant who helped Fox News personnel with the local area, cultivating sources and collecting information for stories. She has been described as bright and talented and as someone who was working tirelessly to tell the true story about the invasion of her home country.

Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall, a British and American dual citizen, was traveling in the same vehicle as Mr. Zakrzewski and Ms. Kuvshynova and was seriously injured. Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported that part of one of Mr. Hall’s legs had to be amputated. He has a wife and three young daughters in London.

Dozens upon dozens of journalists — Americans and many from other countries — have been killed covering wars around the world, including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, World War II, and wars on various continents where the United States was not involved at all. Sadly, terrible stories like the ones from Ukraine are not new, but they are the most recent.

These journalists deserve recognition and reverence for giving their lives, or in Mr. Hall’s case, a limb, so that this war can be faithfully chronicled. One would hope that the malice that pervades Washington would take a holiday out of respect for their sacrifices.

But for some, that was too much to ask.

Susan Glasser, a writer for The New Yorker and an analyst for CNN, noticed that Fox News was Mr. Zakrzewski’s employer and was unable to contain her disdain for that network.

“What a tragedy,” she tweeted. “A cameraman died covering the war for a TV network that airs a pro-Putin propagandist as its top-rated primetime host.”

She didn’t specify which Fox News host she was referencing, but there was no mistaking her insinuation that the network was somehow complicit in Mr. Zakrzewski’s death. As of Thursday morning, that tweet was still visible on Ms. Glasser’s Twitter page.

Wanting to get in on the action, Margaret Sullivan, a media columnist for The Washington Post, quote-tweeted Ms. Glasser’s message, approving it as “Summing it up succinctly.” Ms. Sullivan has since deleted her observation.

So, this past week has taught us a series of lessons. 

Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is exacting a staggering human toll. 

There are journalists who are bravely putting themselves in mortal danger to accurately cover the story. 

And there are some in the American media who simply cannot recognize a moment that calls for stifling their ideological bitterness.

• Tim Murtaugh is a Washington Times columnist and the founder and principal of Line Drive Public Affairs, a communication consulting firm.

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