Jamal Khashoggi reminds us all to never forget our fallen journalists
One year ago, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. He was working for the Washington Post because he was in exile from his Saudi Arabia. He was a vigorous advocate for openness, accountability, and transparency. He used his platform to urge the Saudi leadership to embrace these important values and was assassinated by their agents as a result.
Khashoggi knew that using his voice in this way carried risks, yet he pushed for democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia. His commitment to democracy aligned him with a foundational element of our democracy here in the United States, which is a free and independent press. In the year since his murder, his legacy has become even more profound.
A commitment to openness, accountability, and transparency is a hallmark of journalism. These principles deserve to be memorialized in a permanent way. The Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation was recently launched to build a memorial in Washington so that we never forget Khashoggi and so many others like him. The memorial will not include any specific names. Instead, it will be a public testament to the commitment shared by journalists to the values of democracy all over the world.
This is no small thing. Journalists have been on the front lines of global conflicts for generations. They put themselves at risk to share the efforts of our warriors fighting to protect democracy. They find facts that people in power want to hide and disclose them. Information is what democracy needs to survive, and journalists are critical sources.
Khashoggi understood this well, growing up in a system that suppressed free expression. In a speech last year, he explained, “When I use the term ‘democracy’ I mean it in the broader sense of the term that overlaps with values such as liberty, checks and balances, accountability, and transparency. We were aiming for these goals in the form of good governance, equality, and justice in the Arab world. There is another reason we need democracy in the Arab world, to stop mass violence.”
Yet it was his outspoken advocacy of democracy that resulted in his horrible and violent death. Brave journalists like Khashoggi may only be with us for a short time, but the values they express are not ephemeral. That is why a permanent memorial is needed to keep their mission alive. The Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation, operating under the auspices of the nonprofit National Press Club Journalism Institute, has been actively working to build support and plan for the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and preservation of a memorial located in Washington.
To make it a reality, Congress must pass the Fallen Journalists Memorial Act, which has bipartisan support. The legislation was introduced earlier this year by Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Rob Portman, Representative Grace Napolitano, and Representative Tom Cole. The bill was unveiled on the first anniversary of another difficult milestone in journalistic history, when five people were killed in the rampage at the Capital Gazette.
The bill follows the legal framework established by the Commemorative Works Act for the placement of memorials on federal land in the District of Columbia. It prohibits the use of federal funds, so only private donations will be used. As part of the process, representatives of the foundation have testified before the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission about the public support for the memorial and the reason it is needed.
There is growing consensus that it is time for a memorial like this. The legacy of Khashoggi, those killed at the Capital Gazette, and countless others serves as a guiding force for journalists around the world. Their commitment to transparency and democracy must be honored with a permanent memorial for the benefit of future generations. Fallen journalists who die pursuing the truth deserve to be remembered.
David Dreier, a former Republican member of Congress, is chairman of Tribune Publishing and of the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation.