He remained on the job, detailing the atrocities of Mexico’s incessant drug war.
Last week, Baez became yet another casualty of that conflict. He was kidnapped Wednesday as he left his office in Xalapa. His body was found a day later in the center of town. The drug war claimed another victim.
Baez’s death is a loss for those who value a free press’ role in a democratic world. He sought the truth because that’s what journalists do — they represent the public, telling how politicians act, how criminals intimidate, and how their governments spend their money.
Without journalists, those who wish to work in darkness have an easier path.
Consider this an introduction to a larger point. It has been a rough few weeks for journalists, in America and abroad. Before Baez’s death, the Committee to Protect Journalists had already recorded the killings of 25 journalists worldwide in 2012 in which the motive had been confirmed. Eighteen additional journalists have been killed in 2012; the reasons behind their deaths haven’t been determined.
In Russia, the Novaya Gazetta newspaper published a letter last week that described how Russia’s chief federal investigator, Aleksandr I. Bastrykin, had driven the newspaper’s deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov, to a forest on the outskirts of Moscow. Once there, the investigator threatened him and, according to The New York Times, “joked about how he would personally take charge of the investigation into his death.”
Sokolov survived. The investigator apologized and offered the journalist a watch as a request for forgiveness.
Meanwhile, four U.S. newspapers — the Times-Picayune and Alabama’s three largest papers — collectively announced the layoffs of more than 600 employees, most of them journalists. In no way does unemployment relate to deaths or intimidation, but it is nonetheless a danger to the media’s ability to watch over government and be a part of a free nation’s checks and balances. Imagine the dysfunctional Alabama Legislature and the state’s often quirky city councils with fewer journalists documenting their moves.
The threats against quality journalism are real. Baez’s death shows — again — how desperate people are to work in the shadows, to hide their crime or corruption from the press and, ultimately, the public. Fewer reporters means fewer examinations of government, fewer explanations of crime rates, less emphasis on telling the public what it has a legal right to know.
A vibrant press is democracy’s friend. Anything that removes objective reporters from our streets is a move in the wrong direction.