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HARPER: Monument honors journalists

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The beaches at Normandy remain a place to contemplate, to remember and to cry — a place where 69 years ago Thursday the Allies launched the invasion that ultimately brought victory in World War II.

A few miles away in Bayeux, the first city liberated during the invasion, columns stand with the names of more than 2,000 journalists killed throughout the world for the work they did. Although I often criticize journalists for what they don't do, the monument stands as a reminder of what journalists do well and often die for.

I realize the number of deaths of journalists pales in comparison with the soldiers who have died throughout the world. But reporters who fall in battle — whether that battle is a shooting war or a fight against corruption — should be recognized for what they have done. Without journalists like Ernie Pyle, one of those listed on the Bayeux monument, we would not have such poignant memories of the D-Day invasion as the following:

"It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead."

Iraq now ranks as the deadliest war for reporters, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which has counted more than 150 victims. That figure compares with The Associated Press count of 71 during the Vietnam War and the estimated 54 killed in World War II.

But the Bayeux monument also pays tribute to journalists killed for uncovering abuse, official crimes and corruption throughout the world. For example, Veronica Guerin's name is etched on the memorial. She investigated organized crime and was gunned down in 1996 on a street in the outskirts of Dublin. Anna Politkovskaya, a frequent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was assassinated in 2006 near her home in Moscow.

I lost two good friends in Lebanon: Sean Toolan, an ABC News radio reporter, and Clark Todd, a Canadian journalist for the CTV Television Network.

Unfortunately, the past few years have been deadly ones for journalists throughout the world. The CPJ counted 70 deaths in 2012 — the second-highest total in its history, including 28 in Syria alone.

As many U.S. news organizations have cut back dramatically on international coverage, more of the deaths have occurred among local reporters and citizen-journalists like Mohamed al-Khal, who provided video of the fighting in Syria. He died in November while working in the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zour. He is not alone; I simply mention his name because I knew his work.

Although the possibility of being killed existed when I worked in the Middle East, I was able to talk with individuals the U.S. government branded as terrorists. For example, I met with the leadership of Hezbollah after a ride in a Range Rover with a hood over my head. One leader happened to be a bellman at a local hotel where I stayed. He told me the only reason the meeting happened was because I always treated him with respect.

Even though I had a few guns put into my belly, got shot at and escaped assorted bombing and artillery attacks, I was never a serious target in the way some other journalists have become.

On Thursday, we should remember those soldiers who died June 6, 1944, at Normandy and those journalists who died covering wars and other important issues throughout the world.

Christopher Harper is a professor at Temple University. He worked for more than 20 years at The Associated Press, Newsweek, ABC News and "20/20." He can be contacted at charper@washingtontimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @charper51.

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