The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Saturday, June 04, 2005  

The Media Doesn’t Care. We Should.

Roy Hallums, the American civilian businessman abducted in Baghdad on November 1, 2004, is still missing.

A long time missing.

Never heard of him? I’m not surprised. Nor is Hallums’s family.

But maybe you have, since regular readers likely have taken notice of the days-in-captivity count I’ve been keeping in honor of Hallums at the top of the sidebar in the right-hand column of this blog for the last several months.

This tally, you may have surmised, is a deliberate recollection of the tragic score-keeping propagated by the likes of those much greater and more influential than I, throughout the Iranian hostage crisis (1979-1981), including Walter Cronkite and Ted Koppel, journalists whose day-to-day persistence was so relentless it has been credited by some historians with helping to unseat then-incumbent U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Remarkably, the Orange County Register today broke the mainstream media’s near silence on the Hallums story, offering readers “Devoted Daughter,” by Zaheera Wahid, an 1,100-word article about the tireless efforts of Hallums’s daughter, Carrie Hallums Cooper, joined by his other daughter, Amanda, and his ex-wife, Susan Hallums, to remember and gain the freedom of the family patriarch.

The Hallums family’s frustration with the country’s fleeting attention span, the readiness of the media and the public to issue a collective shrug of the shoulders, come through loudly and clearly, and with considerable justification. Wahid writes:

For one day, Roy Hallums was front-page news.

He led TV news broadcasts, and the world watched as the worn and haggard man pleaded for his life in a video released by Iraqi insurgents holding him hostage.

His daughter, Carrie Cooper, and ex-wife, Susan Hallums, did the New York talk-show circuit, begging for help to find him.

But just as quickly as Hallums became the day’s top story, his desperate situation was overshadowed by the next day’s news. And since Jan. 25, the day the video was released, no one has heard about Roy Hallums.

But Cooper, the focus of the Register’s piece, a woman who has not seen her father since last summer, doesn’t give up easily:

The once-unknown name [of Roy Hallums] now garners 13,200 hits on Google, thanks in part to Cooper’s efforts to get the word out about her dad.

Every day is a struggle, but prayer has helped her. And she’s sure that her dad is also calling on his Christian faith to get through his days, wherever he is.

A few weeks ago Cooper attended a parade of heroes, where her dad was honored.

And she’s planning a candlelight vigil on the beach for his 57th birthday on June 23.

Cooper’s sister recently got a friend to help draw up a flier in Arabic offering a $40,000 reward for Hallums’[s] return, and they arranged for military friends in Iraq to distribute the information.

It is obviously not an easy effort. Perhaps not surprisingly, but too sad nonetheless, some deranged people decided to take out their demented anger (about who knows what) on Hallums, that a web site Cooper created to promote her father’s safety, security, and well-being. According to Wahid, “Not knowing where he is, whether her efforts are reaping any rewards, and dealing with the sometimes cruel messages left in her online guest book (one person wrote, ‘I can’t wait to see your dad’s head cut off’) all take their toll.”

It’s hard to hear that kind of thing, that much even I know (read my in-box some day), but for Cooper, her mother, and her sister, it’s far worse and compounded by the collective indifference of the media. Wahid reports:

Add to [the insults] the lack of media interest, and Cooper turns angry.

She’s thankful and appreciative for the outpouring of support she’s received personally and online, but watches angrily as Michael Jackson, the “runaway bride” and “American Idol” attract hours and hours of TV coverage and wonders where the country’s priorities lie.

“In other countries there’s outrage and protests and vigils (over hostages). In our country, their picture is up there one day and then it’s gone,” said Cooper, her frustration evident.

Exactly what the U.S. government is doing to secure Hallums’s freedom is not clear. With some, but I would suggest not complete, justification, the family (and the American public) are being kept in the dark. Wahid writes: “The government doesn’t ‘tell us a lot because they don’t want to jeopardize the investigation,’ said Cooper, adding that she’s been told people are looking for him. She’s also been in touch with the Saudi Arabian company her dad worked for but declines to say much about it.”

Some 70 Americans were held hostage in Tehran; Hallums is but one man. I know that, and Cooper and her family surely know that. No one paying close attention to Hallums’s plight would draw a direct comparison between the two circumstances. All anyone, including, I think, Carrie Cooper, is asking for is some proportion, an occasional public acknowledgement that there are people in government who care, and the emergence, at least now and then, of a media willing to hold the administration to account for conditions on the ground that put Americans so unnecessarily at risk.

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