By Dree Deacon
“I remember him one time playing the piano and he stopped in desperation saying, “I will never learn how to read!”
Ruth Pearl recounted a childhood memory of her son, Daniel Pearl, who would go on to become a renowned journalist and exceptional writer for The Wall Street Journal.
“He meant text,” Ruth Pearl said, “since he was already reading music.”
Daniel Pearl quickly exhibited a passion for music, and soon after, a gift for writing.
“Danny was born easy-going and happy with himself, no show-off baby,” Ruth Pearl said. “We thought he might be smart.”
He demonstrated his aptness for journalism upon his attendance at Stanford University where he co-founded the student newspaper Stanford Commentary, according to the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
Following graduation, Pearl interned for the Indianapolis Star and later joined the Berkshire Eagle, formerly the North Adams Transcript, and the San Francisco Business Times. In 1990, Pearl joined The Wall Street Journal, excelling in both hard-hitting investigative journalism and lighthearted pieces that explored and celebrated cultural differences.
Perhaps Daniel Pearl was determined to educate his readers about the greater world because he, himself, experienced an extensive Jewish heritage.
“He believed he could change the world and that man is not a predator,” Ruth Pearl said.
As his talents in foreign correspondence were realized, Pearl was appointed South Asia bureau chief at the Journal in 2000. From Bombay, he probed the role of the U.S. government and its interactions abroad. For example, Pearl eventually made the discovery that the government had mistakenly bombed a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, believing it to be a weaponry factory.
One duty of Pearl’s included covering the existing “war on terror,” which led him to intermittently visit Pakistan.
Daniel Pearl was ruthlessly murdered on Feb. 1, 2002, after a group of Pakistani militants under the command of Al Qaeda kidnapped him and impelled him to condemn American foreign policy by means of a propaganda video.
The nation was still recovering from the all-to-recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Though it was certainly tragic, Daniel Pearl’s friends and relatives make sure that his legacy is not defined by his death but by what he left behind.
Ruth Pearl invited me to truly “meet Danny” by suggesting that I read several articles he wrote for the North Adams Transcript of North Adams, Mass., specifically “Going to the top won’t get you to the bottom of bureaucracy” and “Registry Saga, Part 2: Intrepid reporter-driver outlasts chief.”
“I insisted that these articles be included in the book, since he wrote them in the first person about his encounters with bureaucracy,” Ruth Pearl said about the posthumously published At Home in the World, a compilation of Daniel Pearl’s writings. “You will see his humor.”
She was right. Daniel Pearl’s wit and ingenuity give his writing a narrative voice that makes you wonder if he is there with you, at the other end of the table, telling you his story himself, only to come to the realization when the last sentence is read that it is just black and white text on paper.
Daniel Pearl’s knack for seeking out quirky business journalism and investigative stories and reporting them in such a colloquial way drew readers in. His understated, yet abundant, intellect and fair analysis are what kept them there.
According to an opinion article written by Daniel Pearl’s father Dr. Judea Pearl for The Wall Street Journal, “The Daniel Pearl Standard,” Dr. Pearl holds the media to be at least partially culpable for his late son’s tragic death.
“One of the things that saddens me most is that the press and media have had an active, perhaps even major role in fermenting hate and inhumanity,” Judea Pearl said in the article. “The media cannot be totally exonerated from responsibility for Daniel’s murder, as well as for the ‘tsunami of hate’ that has swept the world and continues to rise.”
Paul Steiger, former longtime managing editor at the Journal, friend and colleague of Daniel Pearl and member of the Daniel Pearl Foundation’s Honorary Board, does not blame the media for his violent death.
“He was a scrupulously fair reporter who was brutally murdered by an Al Qaeda chief who wanted to make a propaganda video,” Steiger said. “That is who bears responsibility.”
Steiger does, however, recognize the role that contemporary media plays in spreading cross-cultural hatred.
“Certainly, hate and callousness are on the rise and some elements of media bear some responsibility for that,” Steiger said. “But Danny hated no one.”
The Daniel Pearl Freedom of Press Act was introduced by the United States Department of State on Oct. 1, 2009, as a means of protecting journalists from the antagonistic reach of terrorism.
“There have been many journalists killed, alas, in the dozen years since Danny’s murder,” Steiger said. “There were lists of precautions then and lists now, but unfortunately there are no foolproof precautions.”
Steiger says that he is far from alone in the way he remembers Pearl — admirably.
“What I remember is the joy he took in his life, his infectious smile, and the way everyone who worked with him—in Atlanta, Washington, London, South Asia, wherever—was deeply fond of him.”
Dree Deacon is a junior business journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill who is actually from Chapel Hill, N.C.