My friend Pablo Chavez, Managing Policy Counsel of Google, brings to my attention the fact that the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act (H.R. 3714) was pending before the House today, and I'm happy to note that it passed late this afternoon. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Schiff and Pence in the House and is co-sponsored by Sen. Dodd in the Senate, would expand the examination of press freedom worldwide in the State Department's annual human rights report and establishes a grant program aimed at broadening and strengthening media independence internationally. Specifically, the bill would identify "countries in which there were violations of freedom of the press, including direct physical attacks, imprisonment, indirect sources of pressure, and censorship by governments, military, intelligence, or police forces, criminal groups, or armed extremist or rebel groups."
This is a worthwhile goal and a fine tribute to a great journalist, a first-class human being, and someone I was honored to briefly count as a friend in this world before he was murdered by terrorist scum in 2002. Indeed, some of my fondest memories from the mid-90s are of the times I would meet Danny Pearl for beers at Cap City Brewery or other bars in downtown Washington, DC. He was an up-and-coming star reporter covering telecommunications policy for The Wall Street Journal and I was just starting to make a name for myself as a policy geek in this field. Because I was working very closely with a number of Hill offices at that time and helping to craft some of what eventually went into the Telecom Act of 1996, Danny knew I had a lot of good inside information. And like any great journalist, he knew that enough beers and late-night banter would eventually get me to spill the beans about something I wasn't suppose to be sharing with a reporter! I didn't mind being an "unnamed source" in a couple of his stories, and the fact that he sometimes quoted me in others gave me and my career an unbelievable boost. I still remember sending my family the first big WSJ story I was ever quoted in. It was a piece Danny wrote back in '94.
Everyone now knows the tragic story of how Danny was abducted and murdered by terrorists in 2002. I remember how numb I went when I heard the news and still find it hard to fathom how such a gentle, down-to-earth soul could have been viciously murdered.
I remember saying goodbye to him at a going-away party when he was heading over to the Journal's London office back in '96 and telling him I expected him to buy me the first round of beers at my favorite British pub when I made it back over there. But we never connected in London and we gradually lost touch a few years later. That's always been a reminder to me to not take anything for granted in this world. My grandmother had always taught me to treat each moment with someone as if it was the last time you might ever see them again. I never really appreciated that advice until the moment I heard of Danny's death and realized we'd never share a beer again. Still makes me sick to even think about it.
Danny was a first-class guy and a real joy to be around. I didn't know him for very long but he left a lasting impression on me and, as an old journalism student myself, I always tell young or aspiring journalists to go back and read Danny's great writing for an example of how it should be done. He was a real pro and had that rare gift of being able to take the driest, most arcane topic on Earth and turn it into something engaging, even entertaining.
Hopefully this bill named in his honor will help America promote freedom of the press and human expression worldwide while also helping to better protect journalists who are threatened by tyranny in all its ugly forms as they pursue truth on our behalf. That would have made Danny happy.
P.S. Check out the Daniel Pearl Foundation website for more information about how his family and others are furthering the ideals that inspired Danny's life and work.