The legacy of Jim Foley? Tom Durkin intentionally put it in terms that connected to Marquette University’s core mission. “We’re either people for others or we’re not,” Durkin said. “That’s the legacy that he created – we do stuff for others.”
Durkin was a close personal friend of Foley, a Marquette alum who committed himself to reporting from some of the most troubled spots in the world. Foley wanted to get to know the people living in those places, to tell their stories, and to help others around the world understand the world we all live in. Durkin said.
Foley was captured in Libya in 2011 and held hostage for 44 days before being released. After returning to the United States – a trip that included a visit to Marquette, where he took part in a public discussion about journalism in war-torn places – Foley went back to work, this time in Syria. In late 2012, he was captured by ISIS. In August 2014, he was executed by ISIS, a gruesome event that drew worldwide condemnation.
At an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School this week, Durkin said he was proud of Foley and his commitment to telling the stories of everyday people in places such as Syria. But, he said, when it came to Foley’s intention of working in such troubled places, “we definitely had some heated discussions, particularly after he was released from Libya.”
“He felt that he had made adjustments, he had learned better techniques, better strategy for how to get the story,” Durkin said. Furthermore, “how do you tell someone who does something that they believe in that they shouldn’t be doing it? . . . I understood why he was doing it.”
Durkin is now an adjunct professor in the English department at Marquette and a board member of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.
Joining Durkin at the program in Eckstein Hall were Professor Eric Ugland, who teaches media ethics in Marquette’s Diederich College of Communication, and Meg Jones, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who was taken eight reporting trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to write about the work of Wisconsin-based soldiers serving in those places.
The program with Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, was done in collaboration with the Milwaukee Film Festival, where a documentary, “Jim: The James Foley Story,” was shown last weekend.
Ugland described Foley as someone who “was always doing things related to the underdog.” Ugland said Foley agonized over the ethics of doing the kind of work he did, including the potential impact on his family, but believed that what he was doing was important.
Ugland put Foley’s death in the context of increasing numbers of attacks on journalists around the world, including in the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey, and Mexico. “There’s this crumbling of the sense that journalists are off limits,” Ugland said. If journalists aren’t allowed to do their work without being attacked, “we’re going to run out of journalists” and not know what’s going on in the world, he said.
Jones recalled being part of the program with Foley at Marquette following Foley’s release from Libya and compared the work she did as an embedded journalist with American troops with his work as a freelance reporter “outside the wire,” the boundary around military emplacements. She said both of them voluntarily put themselves in dangerous places where they felt they were doing important work, but Foley didn’t have the surrounding protections that she had.
Durkin praised Foley for having both physical courage and moral courage. He said Foley’s willingness do what he did sent a message that, without going to such lengths, everyone can do things that help others and have impact.
Video of the “On the Issues’ program may be viewed by clicking here.