By: Mark Fitzgerald
Probably no U.S. newsroom felt the emotion of Daniel Pearl’s disappearance and death in quite the same way as the San Antonio Express-News.
In December 1998, the paper’s Mexico City bureau chief, Philip True, hiked alone on a reporting trip into the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range in Mexico, and was found buried in a shallow grave three weeks later. “Everybody here had to confront the parallel circumstances,” said investigative reporter John MacCormack. “We had the period of disappearance, we had the false identification [of a body], just as the Journal had the false report of a body.”
There were striking parallels between the murders of Pearl and True. Both left pregnant widows: Marianne Pearl is seven months’ pregnant with a son; Martha True gave birth to a boy in March 1999. Both were killed reporting on cultures they had covered with empathy: Pearl in a fervent Islamic culture, and True in the territory of the Huichol Indians.
There may be more parallels to come. The course of justice in a foreign land rarely runs smoothly or swiftly. True’s colleagues have been extremely frustrated by developments in his case. Though two Huichol Indians confessed to strangling True, they were released in August under suspicious circumstances, and an appeal of the acquittal has gone nowhere so far. A prominent Mexican human-rights activist told the paper a few months ago that the case had “fallen into a black hole.”
“I hope, in three years, [The Wall Street Journal] is not where we are today because in spite of our best efforts … we have been unable to bring closure to the case in Mexico,” Express-News Executive Editor Robert Rivard told E&P last week.
Rivard said he’s been very impressed by the Journal‘s handling of Pearl’s murder — and moved by the correspondent’s widow. “I thought the same thoughts watching her as I did watching Martha: that these are much stronger human beings than I am and worthy of our admiration.” He added he hopes Pearl’s body is found so his wife and family have some personal closure: “When the headlines fade and the shock wears off, you’re left — it’s just a difficult process.”