Major U.S. media organizations launched a campaign Thursday to publicize the plight of missing McClatchy contributor Austin Tice, who disappeared in Syria in August 2012.
Tice is thought to be still alive, and he isn’t a prisoner of the Islamic State, which executed two American journalists last year. But there’s been no direct communication with his captors since he vanished near Damascus as he was traveling to Beirut.
The only news of Tice to surface publicly since he stopped communicating with his editors and family Aug. 13, 2012, was a brief video posted to YouTube on Sept. 26, 2012, that showed him blindfolded and being led up a hill by a group of armed men.
The video provided the motif for the campaign, a black blindfold emblazoned with the hashtag #FreeAustinTice. Banner ads bearing that message are scheduled to appear on 268 websites for the next several weeks, according to the campaign’s coordinator, the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders.
“The #FreeAustinTice campaign is launched at a critical moment when the White House is reviewing its policy to secure the release of American hostages,” Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
In addition to the McClatchy Co., which publishes newspapers in 29 U.S. cities, participants in the campaign include Gannett Co., publisher of USA Today; Hearst Newspapers, which publishes the Houston Chronicle and other newspapers and magazines; Atlantic Media; and The Washington Post. The campaign was designed without charge by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency.
Tice, a native of Houston, was a Reserve Marine Corps officer who’d completed two years of law school at Georgetown University when he decided in the spring of 2012 to enter Syria and try his hand at freelance reporting.
His mother, Debra Tice, recalled during an appearance at the Newseum on Feb. 4 being surprised and dismayed by the decision. She’d expected him to intern at a law firm, complete his studies and begin a legal career.
Tice proved to be a talented journalist. In two and a half months in Syria before his disappearance, he wrote 13 articles for McClatchy and four for The Washington Post, contributed on-the-scene reports to CBS News, and provided photographs to The Associated Press and the Agence France-Presse news agency. His work for McClatchy received Long Island University’s prestigious 2012 Polk Award for war reporting and the 2012 McClatchy President’s Award.
Tice, however, had disappeared before those awards were made. His parents express frustration that the Obama administration has been unable to win their son’s release.
“We continue to urge our government to do more to secure Austin’s safe return, and we believe public participation in the campaign will amplify our voice and truly make a difference,” Debra and Marc Tice said in a statement.
During her appearance at the Newseum, Debra Tice was critical of the U.S. government’s refusal to negotiate with abductors of U.S. citizens, including considering paying ransom. “When . . . your primary goal is to get your hostage home, every option should be on the table,” she said.
The Obama administration is studying how it addresses the issue of Americans kidnapped overseas, but it’s said the refusal to pay ransom is not being reconsidered.
“After nearly 1,000 days in captivity, the time for Austin Tice’s release is long past,” James Asher, the chief of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that by harnessing the power of social media and the Internet we can convince those holding Austin to free him.”