TUCSON, Ariz. >> The government — and the press — failed to do enough to save the life of the freelance journalist who was the first American killed by Islamic State militants, James Foley’s parents said at a university forum Thursday.
John and Diane Foley echoed the sentiments of the family of Kayla Mueller, a young international aid worker who recently was killed while held captive by militants. Mueller’s family said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” that U.S. government policies were contradictory and prevented the 26-year-old from Prescott, Arizona, from being rescued. A White House spokesman said the government acted in the best interest of the nation.
At a forum at the University of Arizona, the Foleys said the government shut them out and failed to help them while their son was being held captive. James Foley was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012 and executed in August 2014.
The Foleys were joined at the forum by Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press correspondent who was held captive in Lebanon for nearly seven years, and David McGraw, an attorney for The New York Times.
The group agreed that the government uses the policy of not paying ransom or negotiating with terrorists to avoid answering questions to families about the state of their loved ones. They said officials kept families in the dark.
“For one year, we didn’t really know where he was or whether he was alive,” John Foley said.
“We had no one who was accountable for Jim, if you will,” Diane Foley added.
The Foleys also said some responsibility lies with American members of the media who failed to continue reporting on their son’s kidnaping, letting it fall out of the news cycle.
“We’re a hot item when it’s a fresh story, but after the item dissipates, we couldn’t catch a cold,” John Foley said.
McGraw said the U.S. has inconsistent policies for dealing with kidnapped Americans. An example, he said, was the exchange of members of a militant group affiliated with the Taliban for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
“I think the idea of telling families that they shouldn’t even talk to the hostage takers is really, really bad advice,” McGraw said.
The panelists focused on the importance of journalism and of affording protections for freelance journalists, who don’t have the financial backing of large news organizations and are often in more danger.
“You can’t have a free society without a free press,” said Anderson, who now teaches at the University of Florida.