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In journalism world, killing of RJ reporter viewed as ‘an exceptional case’

Updated September 22, 2022 - 12:38 pm

Before a Clark County official was arrested this month in the fatal stabbing of a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter, it had been at least three decades since an American journalist’s murder was tied to an elected official.

Jeff German, an investigative reporter, was found dead outside his home on Sept. 3. Four days later, Las Vegas police arrested Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles — whose tumultuous time in office was the subject of German’s reporting — in connection with the killing.

In the last three decades, 13 journalists in the United States have been killed in relation to their work, according to data that the Committee to Protect Journalists has collected in that time. That includes five Maryland journalists who were shot and killed in 2018 by a gunman angry over the newspaper’s coverage of him.

None of those deaths has come at the hands of an elected official, according to Carlos Martínez de la Serna with the committee, a nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.

Still, he acknowledged, harassment and threats are not uncommon for journalists.

Within the context of the committee’s data from the last three decades, de la Serna called German’s death “an exceptional case.”

Other killings of journalists

Data collected by the Committee to Protect Journalists is limited and has to account for the fact that some cases may remain unsolved, according to de la Serna.

In the last 30 years, journalists that the organization has identified as having been murdered in relation to their work include:

June 28, 2018: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters, who were killed in the attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom.

Aug. 26, 2015: Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two TV news journalists in Virginia who were shot by a former colleague during a live television broadcast.

Aug. 2, 2007: Chauncey Bailey, the editor-in-chief of The Oakland Post in California who was shot and killed over a story he was writing related to a bakery’s financial problems.

Oct. 5, 2001: Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the Sun in Florida who died as a result of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that targeted politicians and media outlets.

German is the only journalist whose killing is tied to an elected official on whom he was reporting, de la Serna said.

Before 1992, news reports that identify American journalists who were killed by a public official are scarce, but include Texas radio journalist Bill Mason, who was shot by a deputy sheriff in 1949 following broadcasts he aired that were critical of the sheriff.

While de la Serna called the circumstances surrounding German’s death “extraordinary,” they are circumstances that are familiar to journalists around the country, particularly investigative reporters and those who report on crime and political corruption.

‘Increase in hostile rhetoric’

In recent years, on the heels of the Trump administration, de la Serna said the U.S. has seen a deterioration in the environment that journalists operate in. It’s not uncommon for politicians to talk about journalists in pejorative terms and paint them as the “enemy of the people.”

“Journalists have seen an increase in hostile rhetoric against them that seeks to undermine them and definitely puts them in danger,” he said.

In response to German’s death, journalism organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors and the National Press Club have issued statements condemning the killing.

“We cannot remember an elected politician attacking a journalist like this,” the National Press Club said in a statement. “We hope never to see it again.”

The Investigative Reporters and Editors organization also announced earlier this month it had established a fund in German’s name to continue providing journalists with investigative reporting training.

“Investigative journalism can be dangerous but we will not be intimidated,” the organization wrote in a statement. “Democracy dies in darkness, and IRE is committed to providing training, resources and a community of support to journalists around the world to foster excellence in investigative reporting.”

On Saturday, German will be posthumously inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, along with two other former Review-Journal reporters.

In the wake of German’s death, de la Serna emphasized the need for public authorities to take seriously the security of local journalists, who provide an “essential service and are exposed to threats.”

“It’s very important I think to share that message that local journalists need a lot of protection in the U.S., and it’s time for authorities of all kinds to understand that hostile rhetoric toward journalists is very dangerous and their security is essential.” he said.

Contact Lorraine Longhi at 702-387-5298 or llonghi@reviewjournal.com. Follow her at @lolonghi on Twitter.

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