I have been to newspaper offices that have been struck by grenades, and talked to journalists who have been threatened or whose colleagues have been gunned down. This was in Mexico, one of the most dangerous places to do journalism, largely because of uncontained drug-related violence.
But the shooting at the French newspaper offices of Liberation this morning struck closer to home. That's because it is literally close to home. The left-leaning Liberation is about two blocks from my house, and I pass it almost daily.
In fact I had just walked by their front door at 8:45 a.m. this morning on my way home from the gym. I always look into the front window – a correspondent perhaps missing the camaraderie of a newsroom. I usually don't see much action. But today there were two young women chatting outside on the ledge who I suspected were journalists. I took cheerful note of them this morning, again perhaps because I felt like having a chat with a journalist myself. This was 90 minutes before a gunman stormed through the offices of the newspaper and fired shots, hitting a young photography assistant who is in critical condition. The shooter fled.
I also casually know one of the top editors who works at the newspaper – his young son plays in the same park as my daughter. I met him one day early this summer when we both had our kids decked out in waterproof gear to play in the pouring rain – both obviously desperate to get the tots outside. We were the only ones there. His son attends nursery school practically across the street from the newspaper.
The rare spate of gun-related incidents in Paris – a second incident was reported outside a bank shortly after the Liberation shooting, while a TV channel was threatened by a gunman on Friday – has the city on edge. Paris is in a general sense of panic right now as authorities have encouraged people to stay home.
Imagine the panic one feels when a shooting happens right where your kid spends his entire day.
The second shooting outside Societe Generale, a bank, came in a business district to the west of the Liberation offices. The bank said no one was injured. There are also unconfirmed reports that another perpetrator took a driver hostage, forcing him to the Champs Elysees. (It is unclear if the men behind the shootings are the same, but police for now are operating under that assumption.)
In Mexico the motive for a shooting was often clear, even if the suspects weren't caught. Revenge for revealing too much information, or intimidating journalists into censoring their reports.
Here it is unclear at this point, with far more questions than answers. But the shooting today following the Friday incident at BFMTV, where editors were threatened though not shot, has authorities worried the press in general is being targeted. Police have been deployed outside of Liberation and in front of national papers across the city, including Le Monde and Le Figaro.
No matter what the motive, democracy is under threat wherever journalists are under threat, from Mexico to France. "In a democracy, when someone enters a newspaper office with a gun, this is very, very serious, whatever the person's mental state," said Liberation's publisher Nicolas Demorand Monday.