Detained journalist’s colleagues, friends hold rally for his release at Northwestern University

By Heather McGraw

A Northwestern University alumnus who, as of press time, has been detained in Libya for more than three weeks, is gaining some support from some students and professors at his alma mater.

Roughly 40 people gathered outside Crowe Hall, 1860 Campus Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus on April 27. The rally is part of a nationwide movement called “Free Foley,” a campaign to raise awareness of the detainment of Jim Foley, an American freelance journalist who received his master’s degree

from NU’s Medill School of Journalism.

“It is crucial that authorities in Libya realize people here are deeply concerned about Jim and his colleagues and are anxious for their release,” said Stephan Garnett, one of the rally’s organizers and professor at Medill.

Foley was arrested in Libya on April 5 by forces backing Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator who assumed power in 1969 after he led a military coup against the former leader, King Muhammad Idris. Foley is one of 16 journalists who was reporting on the intervention efforts in the North African country who was reported missing or detained by Libyan authorities.

Since his detainment, Foley was allowed to make one call to his parents, to assure them he was not injured and has been treated well. Libyan authorities have not released information about why he is detained or when they expect him to be released.

That is why some of Foley’s friends, family and colleagues have joined together to show support for the journalist. Their website,, includes a clock that keeps track of how long Foley has been detained and a link to an online petition for his release.

Speakers at the rally included Medill Dean John Lavine, some of Foley’s former teachers and one of his friends, Clancy Ryan, who received his undergraduate degree with Foley from Marquette University.

Others attended for more personal reasons, like Medill junior Ray Whitehouse, who said he wanted to be part of the statement of solidarity he felt the rally expressed.

“If I [were] in [Foley’s] shoes, I would hope Northwestern would have a similar demonstration for me, so it’s kind of like paying it forward,” Whitehouse said.

Garnett said if Foley is not released, there will likely be more events planned. However, he said there is a challenge in knowing when to draw the line for publicity because sometimes enemy regimes can become more extreme in hostage situations when they feel pressure from media attention. They may try to use Foley as a bargaining chip, which the movement wants to avoid.

Because Foley was working for Global Post, an independent international news outlet based in Boston, his detainment has not received as much attention as it might have if he had been reporting for a more mainstream organization like CBS, according to Garnett.

Ellen Shearer, director of the Medill Washington Program and Foley’s former professor, also helped spearhead the rally in Evanston. She said the situation in the Middle East and, particularly in Libya, is also a different kind of danger for journalists because there is no U.S. presence.

“These [current] situations are much more difficult for journalists to operate in because there’s no clear battle line and it’s not even clear who is on what side,” Shearer said.

According to Garnett, journalists always face risks when they make an effort to seek and report the truth, as Foley was doing.

“There are people who do not want that truth out, and they will do whatever they can to stop you from [releasing] it,” Garnett said.

Garnett said he is confident Foley will be released, but because no one knows why he was originally detained, it is hard to speculate on how long he will be held.

“I don’t think they would be stupid enough to harm him or the other journalists,” Garnett said. “I just don’t know how long.”