Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros spent much of their lives immersed in the world's violent conflicts, carrying cameras instead of guns. The photographers' deaths Wednesday amid fighting in Misurata, the west Libyan city held by rebels, serve as a stark reminder of the risks journalists across the globe assume daily to serve as independent witnesses for the rest of us. Objective reporting is not free, and Hetherington, 40, and Hondros, 41, paid the ultimate price.
It is easy in America to forget — with robust laws that protect free speech, 24-hour cable news and access to the Internet — that information is not so easily attained in many corners of the world. Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi continues to downplay the uprising against his oppressive and corrupt regime. Yet Hetherington and Hondros were killed within a day of traveling with several other journalists by refugee boat to Misurata to chronicle the Gadhafi government's attacks on rebels there. The pair died and two other photographers were wounded after being hit by what witnesses described as either a mortar blast or a rocket-propelled grenade.
The nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists has documented more than 80 attacks on the press in Libya since February — including two other deaths and 49 detainments. But war is not the only danger zone. Already in 2011, the committee has confirmed that four journalists have been murdered due to their reporting, including a 21-year-old Mexican journalist. Eight have died on assignment, including a French photographer wounded by a tear gas canister during Tunisia's civil unrest; and four died in combat settings, including Hetherington and Hondros.
Hetherington, a British photojournalist who co-directed Restrepo, the Oscar-nominated documentary on a U.S. armed forces unit in Afghanistan, and Hondros, an American award-winning photographer for Getty Images, understood the risks yet returned to the front lines again and again. Hetherington's last Twitter post on Tuesday now seems prophetic: "In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO." How would we have known, had he not been there?