By Martin Sieff [originally published on The Strategic Culture Foundation in 2019]
They buried Lyra McKee with a pomp and circumstance she would never have expected and would certainly have despised in her – and my – native Belfast on Wednesday. The most promising, talented and fearless young independent Irish journalist of her generation was gunned down at age 29 by a bullet in her brain while covering a very minor and typical riot in Derry City on April 18. A couple of dim and drunken young Irish Republican extremist suspects who could not have hit a barn door at point blank range were also immediately rounded up and accused of her murder.
Of all the shots supposedly randomly fired into the crowd that night, the only person to be hit – accurately, professionally and fatally – was the most important and incorruptible investigative reporter in Ireland.
McKee was young enough to be my daughter. She was fearless enough, and innocent enough to tackle the third rail of Northern Irish criminality and violence, the disappearance of two young boys on the Falls Road in West Belfast during the early 1980s. She had signed a contract to publish a novel based on those heartbreaking and horrifying cases. A true tribute to her memory would be to ensure her book is published and, if necessary, completed by her own closest colleagues and friends.
On April 16, 2019, two days before Lyra McKee was gunned down in the practice of her profession, the Pulitzer Prize committee of Columbia University and the New York Times, supposedly the arbiter of the best independent journalism in the world over the past century (and if you believe that, I have a Bridge to Brooklyn you’d just love to buy from me) announced their awards for coverage in the past year.
And as usual, they praised themselves and awarded each other their own highest honors for being worthless.
The Pulitzer judges awarded prizes to the New York Times for probing the tax activities of the Trump family in reducing inheritance taxes in previous generations – a non-story about a non-crime if ever there was one.
The Wall Street Journal was given another equally fatuous award in national reporting for articles on financial payments organized by President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to allegedly assure the silence of women who claimed to have had affairs with the president.
The Associated Press received an award for covering war atrocities in Yemen. But none of the AP’s coverage – nor that of the Washington Post, the New York Times or Wall Street Journal ever dared to address the real reason for the ongoing war in Yemen – the unwavering flow of arms to prosecute the war in return for huge profits encouraged by the US government under two successive presidents.
The tiny Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland which has never broken a significant or fearless story in its long history received an award for covering the murder of five members of its own staff by a gunman. Two other newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel both received Pulitzers for covering ugly gun massacres in their local areas.
The contrast with the courage and enormous achievements of Julian Assange could not be greater. The Pulitzer Committee could have awarded a prize to Assange. Such an award could prove vital in saving his life if he is hauled back to the United States and jailed in the most dangerous and hostile of conditions following his kidnapping in defiance of international law from the Ecuador Embassy in London on April 11.
The single week of April 11 through April 18, 2019 therefore was one of the darkest and most shameful periods in the history of modern Western journalism.
Young Lyra McKee was executed with one precisely targeted bullet on the streets of Derry City.
Julian Assange was seized in contemptuous open defiance of international law and every principle of freedom of the press – from an embassy no less – in the heart of the United Kingdom.
And the annual Pulitzer awards were even more empty, contemptible, pathetic and self-serving than usual.
Were all the journalistic staff and institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom weighed in one scale – and Julian Assange put in the other, he would outweigh them all.
Were all the journalistic staff and institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom weighed in one scale – and Lyra McKee put in the other, she would outweigh them all.
I have been a working journalist in the mainstream Western media for more than 40 years and I have profited above most in my career. But now I am just sick and tired of all the cowardice, all the stupidity and mediocrity, all the cowardly lies.
The memory of Lyra McKee and the now imperiled life of Julian Assange cry out for better.