Richard S. Levick, Esq., Chairman & CEO, LEVICK
Good journalists don’t cover conflicts from the comfort of a desk. Correspondents understand that if their reporting is to be seen as credible, they must witness some measure of the danger experienced by both belligerents and innocent civilians in that perilous zone Shakespeare called “the cannon’s mouth.”
Austin Bennett Tice, the oldest of seven kids, grew up in Houston, Texas, listening to NPR and reading about world affairs. He became an Eagle Scout and aspired to be a correspondent reporting on the world’s trouble spots. While a student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, Austin witnessed and was deeply affected by the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
After graduating, he served as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Following two years of study at Georgetown Law School, Austin decided to devote the summer of 2012 to covering – from the cannon’s mouth as a freelance photojournalist – the escalating conflict in Syria.
Austin went to Syria, telling his friends and parents he wanted Americans to know from firsthand accounts the effect of urban warfare on the Syrian people. His pictures, videos, and news accounts that summer appeared in the Washington Post, the McClatchy newspaper chain, CBS, the BBC, and other outlets.
In mid-August, three days after his 31st birthday, Austin was in Darayya, a suburb of Damascus, Syria’s capital, transmitting his last work before leaving for Lebanon to catch a plane home. Shortly after getting into a car, he was detained at a checkpoint and taken captive by persons unknown.
Five weeks later, a 46-second video entitled “Austin Tice is Alive” was posted on YouTube. It showed a blindfolded Austin being held by a group of unidentified armed men. No message or demand accompanied the video or has been issued since. No group or individual has ever claimed responsibility for his disappearance. Nor has anyone spelled out the conditions that might be required to secure his release.
U.S. government officials believe, and have stated publicly as recently as July 25, 2019, that Austin is alive. It is believed Austin is being held captive by people known to the Syrian government, the Syrian Arab Republic. It is also believed the Syrian government has the authority and capability to secure Austin’s safe release.
Friends, colleagues, and organizations from every stage of Austin’s life have rallied to his cause. Journalists from around the world, the National Press Club, Reporters without Borders, Georgetown University, fellow U.S. Marines, and many others have contributed to campaigns and events designed to keep Austin’s case in the public eye and a priority for the U.S. government. Since his detention, Austin has been awarded the George Polk Award for War Reporting , the McClatchy Newspapers President’s Award, the National Press Club’s John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award, and the Conscience in Media Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Is there anything the rest of us can do to help bring Austin back home? Austin’s parents, Debra and Marc, emphatically assure us the answer is “Yes!”
First and foremost is to contact our elected representatives in Congress and urge them to intensify the U.S. government’s bilateral diplomatic efforts with Syria on Austin’s behalf. Adding your signature to this online petition is an important start.
Following up with a personal email or letter to your House member and/or Senators would also be appreciated, especially since Marc and Debra will be joining a group of volunteers, friends, and family, led by the National Press Club, in canvassing Capitol Hill on Monday, September 23. Their Hill day is part of the “Ask About Austin” campaign, which is sponsored by the National Press Club’s Journalism Institute with support from Reporters Without Borders and other journalism advocates.
In addition, the Tice family wants us to urge the White House and the State Department to accelerate their diplomatic efforts. So please go to www.AskAboutAustinTice.org and send a message to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or write a letter or email on your own.
If by chance you’re in Washington, D.C., on September 23, please volunteer to spend an hour or two in the morning to canvass Capitol Hill on “Ask About Austin” day.
On Friday, September 27 and Monday, September 30, Austin Tice: Children of Syria, an exhibit of photographs taken by Austin while reporting from Syria, will be on display in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. This provides a great opportunity for us to amplify his cause via social media channels; you can use the hashtag #FreeAustinTice to highlight the exhibit and join the conversation on social media.
Austin is being detained, in secret and in silence, because of his outstanding reporting from Syria and his commitment to show the truth. As Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) said on the House floor, “There are things that transcend politics and diplomacy, bridge cultural divides, and need no translation across different languages. Those are things like love and hope, represented by a mother and father who wake up each day with unshakeable faith that today may be the day when they get the chance to hug their son again.”
Austin Bennett Tice, award-winning journalist, veteran Marine Corps captain, GU grad, big brother, and Eagle Scout, has now spent seven birthdays in captivity. Let’s do everything in our power to make sure he celebrates his 39th birthday back home.
About the Author: Richard Levick, Esq., @richardlevick, is Chairman and CEO of LEVICK. He is a frequent television, radio, online, and print commentator and a regular contributor to CommPRO.