Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I'll Kill You for This Column

If it's Wednesday it must be Morford, coming to you today from HuffPo, on the deaths of journalists in Mexico.

I've won a few wonderful awards and accolades for my work so far. I've been, in turns, hugely proud and quickly humbled, honored beyond belief, thrilled when someone tells me my work has inspired change or induced a profound realization. In my line, this is all you can really ask for.

I've also been reviled by the Christian right, called the anti-Christ more times than I can count; I've been verbally spat upon by extreme right-wing knuckle draggers, threatened with lawsuit by Mormonism and Scientology, had the head of SF's Catholic archdiocese complain, multiple times, to Chronicle HQ about my ongoing and enthusiastic condemnation of the church. High badges of honor, all.

And yes, I've even had a couple straight-up death threats, but they came from neck-deep in the heartland muck, from sub-humans who are, I'm convinced, far too terrified to come anywhere near San Francisco lest they turn instantly liberal or gay. So it's never been a serious concern.

But then again, I've never been involved in the kind of reportage that has you dodging bullets while interviewing surviving family members of a decapitated police captain, or that has you hiding out in a cave to write your report on the Chinese military beating monks in Tibet, all for little pay, for the sheer need to get the story out to a numb and wary world that doesn't really want to hear it much anymore.

Of course, I also realize it's nothing new. War zones and deadly hotspots the world over are famously attractive to thrill-seeking writers and photojournalists exactly for their high-adrenaline, death-wish risks. But it's one thing to knowingly incite the fundamentalist clods in Iraq or Pakistan, quite another to face death in a fast-developing first world democracy, a land of ravishing beauty and fine arts, intellectual power and tremendous urban development.

This is, perhaps, the most harrowing aspect of the killing of journalists in Mexico (now second only to Iraq as the most dangerous place in the world to be a reporter): We are not that far removed. Despite America's "maturity," despite all our supposed First Amendment protections and moral righteousness, we are but a few small steps away from Mexico's brutish violence and ingrained political dishonesty.

It also begets a strange and tragic irony: I recall a study not long ago from an American Ph.D. student who examined terrorists the world over and found something rather surprising.

All those sophisticated, calculating, evil masterminds orchestrating vast, intricate networks of educated rebels in the art of fear and violence? They don't really exist. There are no smarmy, highly-educated James Bond villains, no evil Die Hard-type Russian masterminds trying to hack the mainframe of international conglomerates, no evil genius sitting in a leather armchair, arming nukes while stroking a hairless cat on his lap.

There is no Scarface. There is no Tony Soprano. There was no Wild West. With rare exception, the romantic American notion of shrewd drug kingpin, sly mastermind terrorist, suave nightclub gangster is pure violence porn, just dumb Hollywood fantasy.

The truth is far more banal...
And it will kill you just as dead and for real.

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