America needs journalists. America needed Russ Kick. Kick, Tennessee Tech alumni and self-proclaimed “rogue transparency activist,”died on Sept. 12 of this year, at the age of 52. The cause of death is unconfirmed, but his sister, Ruth Kick, mentioned that he had been in poor health for over ten years.
Russ was influential to the investigative journalism field, especially concerning American involvement in Iraq in 2003. In March of that year, the United States planned to invade Iraq as part of the war sparked by the events on Sept. 11, 2001. The day before the invasion, the Pentagon enforced a law forbidding any media coverage of the return of American soldiers’ bodies; the law had been in place since 1991, but it was not enforced until this incident.
In November of 2003, Russ, who has always sought the truth and its distribution, “filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act for all the images of coffins arriving at Dover [Air Force Base] since the war began,” the New York Times wrote in their article, “Russ Kick, ‘Rogue Transparency Activist,’ Is Dead At 52,” published on Oct. 14, 2021.
His request was initially denied, in what the military claimed to be protection “of the privacy of the dead,” though the public speculated that it was a strategy to shield the tragedies of war, according to the Times.
Russ filed an appeal and received hundreds of photos of flag-draped coffins with solemn soldiers lining the walls in April of 2004. He posted them to his website, leading to their circulation in the news media.
He regularly used the Freedom for Information Act in his investigative work, “all part of a lifelong mission to hold authorities and institutions accountable,” the Times wrote.
In case you missed it, that read, “hold authorities and institutions accountable.” America needs journalists.
Russ sought the truth from a young age, surrounded by books and playing Trivial Pursuit, as his sister told the Times. He later wrote on his website, “I’ve always been interested in important things that are suppressed, ignored, or simply forgotten, so those became my themes.”
Russ was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on July 20, 1969. He later moved to Tennessee when his father, Russell Kick Ⅱ, began teaching at Tennessee Tech; he eventually became chairman of the department of accounting and finance. Russ Kick Ⅲ enrolled at Tech to study psychology and graduated in 1991. Russ’s start in investigative writing began after he dropped out of Vanderbilt’s doctoral program and began his studies in communication arts at Nashville State Community College, graduating in 1995.
Although Russ was not the first investigative journalist, he had a major impact on the field. He set the example of how to use the Freedom of Information Act, using it thousands of times in his writing.
Investigative journalism has been influential to the structure of our society today, from Ida B. Wells’ “Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws In All Its Phases” to John Hershey’s “Hiroshima.”
One of the most famous instances of successful investigative journalism was the Watergate Scandal in 1972, when a group of government officials under President Nixon attempted to break into the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office building and plant listening devices that connected to the oval office.
The Washington Post helped bring to light details of the scandal. “The suspects had extensive photographic equipment and some electronic surveillance instruments capable of intercepting both regular conversation and telephone communication.”
In another article, the Post wrote that, “A $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for President Nixon’s re-election campaign, was deposited in April in a bank account of one of the five men arrested in the break-in at Democratic National Headquarters . . . [on] June 17.”
Without investigative journalism, the White House may have been able to hide the failed bugging, Nixon’s administration would have continued with the aid of listening devices in the Democratic party’s office, and politics as we know it today could be drastically different.
In the case of Russ Kick, the photos he worked to obtain and release to the public had a great impact on America. 2004 was an election year, and the news that the Bush administration had tried to hide the number of Americans dying at war caused political turmoil. America needs journalists.
“We don’t want the remains of our service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice to be the subject of any kind of attention that is unwarranted or undignified,” said Deputy Under Secretary of Defense John Molino.