At this writing eight journalists have been killed covering the hostilities in Afghanistan. You will not likely read any glowing tributes to their heroism, nor is it probable any funds will be raised to help their families. But those men and women died while doing their very essential jobs and they deserve our deepest respect.
The job of war correspondent is often seen as a glamorous one. And, indeed, the image of a flak-jacketed reporter standing against the night sky while bombs burst in air has an undeniable aura of showmanship. But someone is holding the camera. And hundreds of other journalists you'll never see are writing newspaper stories and reporting for radio -- and ducking bullets.
History is being made in Afghanistan and the press plays a vital role by providing a source of unofficial information. Governments, no matter how righteous their cause, give out only the information they deem necessary to dispense. A free press is essential -- in war and peace -- to make sure the whole story is told. This doesn't mean giving away information that would put our troops in danger; it does mean letting the world know the truth. Our servicemen and -women deserve no less.
Eight journalists have died doing their job. So far. We owe them our gratitude.
It is unfortunate that on a day when most of us were still dealing with the sad news of James Ford's death, the family name of the late Shelby County commissioner took a hit from the actions of Tamara Mitchell-Ford, estranged wife of the commissioner's brother, state Senator John Ford, who chose this inauspicious time to drive her car into the residence of the senator's paramour. (The incident made ambivalent, to say the least, the proper application of the term "home-wrecker.")
However, that bizarre incident should not be allowed to distract us from honoring Commissioner Ford and his achievements.
Though Ford, a former member of the Memphis city council, was confined to a wheelchair for the last several years, he was still able to vigorously perform his duties as commissioner. This was most notable during the last year when he was chairman and oversaw the resolution of several tough issues, including prolonged and intense debates over school funding and the use of public money to construct a new arena for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Even when he was relatively healthy, Commissioner Ford was mild of manner and polite, even courtly, to an extreme. Conversely, his failing health did not impede his robust responses to opponents or, as was the case in one or two of the past year's stormier meetings, audience members who heckled the commission. He did not suffer fools gladly.
"He had as much resolve as anyone I ever knew, even in his illness, and he had great academic achievements," observed his nephew, U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr., who pointed out that James Ford had attended, more or less concurrently, Columbia University Medical School, Union Theological Seminary, and New York University School of Law.
Commissioner Ford was a decent man and a distinguished public servant whose contributions will be missed.