Many journalists will be fanning out across Capitol Hill on Monday. Sadly, not all of them will be there for the usual reasons: to cover hearings, interview lawmakers and bring you reports on debates in the chambers of Congress.
Instead, some of those journalists will be doing what most American citizens do when they visit their elected representatives — asking for help.
We need it now for someone special: He is an Eagle Scout, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a colleague.
And for the last seven years, Austin Tice has been a hostage.
He was abducted Aug. 14, 2012, in Syria on the last day of a reporting trip to that war-torn country. His parents, Marc and Debra Tice, and the government of the United States believe Tice is still alive and that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad can help bring him home safely.
So the National Press Club’s nonprofit journalism institute, headed by my Missouri School of Journalism colleague Barbara Cochran, is organizing a campaign to #AskAboutAustin.
Across the ideological spectrum — from Fox News to NPR — the media has gone to work to amplify the voices of the Tices and remind the world of their son’s plight.
We need our lawmakers to join us. That’s why some reporters will be visiting, rather than covering, members of Congress on Monday.
In solidarity with that effort, I will be stopping by the Columbia offices of Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley and Rep. Vicky Hartzler. I am grateful that members of each of their staffs immediately agreed to meet with me when I requested an appointment.
As members of Congress who represent the Missouri School of Journalism, they can be key allies and important voices for Austin Tice.
Not to ignore the elephant in the room, I know the press isn’t always popular. We’re really not supposed to be. We’re doing our job best when we tell the stories that are hard to hear and make the people in power a little bit uncomfortable.
That’s what Tice was doing in Syria. It’s the role of a journalist.
America’s elected leaders have a role, too. We know that what they say has global impact, that people around the world intently listen to and parse their words. That’s why it’s critically important that we make sure terrorists and dictators don’t misconstrue our internal debates and political hyperbole as greenlighting their worst impulses.
All American policymakers need to send a clear and unmistakable signal that the United States of America will not allow journalists to be abused with impunity, that we leave no Americans behind and that none of our own will be forgotten.
Every time a U.S. official, elected or appointed, talks to a member of the Syrian regime, or a representative of an ally of the Syrian regime (looking at you, Russian President Vladimir Putin), he or she should #AskAboutAustin. And they should keep asking until his parents have him safe at home.
This message should resonate especially strongly in our town, home of the world’s oldest school of journalism.
Since I moved to Columbia a little more than a year ago, I’ve been impressed and touched by the way this community embraces our students, the storytellers of the future.
Every time one of you agrees to be interviewed by one of them — and then takes the time to respond to the follow-up calls checking the accuracy of quotes and facts — you are helping to teach them too.
When they go out into the world, our Missouri J-School grads carry those lessons, and a part of this community, with them.
Austin Tice is part of us too. When he went out into the world to bring its stories back to us, he carried with him a piece of the America that made him.
Let’s let him, and his parents, and his captors know that America is with him now — and will be with him every day until he is back with us.
Exercise the freedom of speech that Austin Tice defended while in uniform and then served while toting a notebook and camera.
Kathy Kiely is Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies at the MU School of Journalism.