This weekend, U.S. Sen. John McCain commented on the state of journalism in America. “When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,” he said on Meet the Press. “And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

You don’t have to peer too far into the past to find examples.

This morning I spoke with a man named Zohrab Ismayil, a former newspaper journalist from Azerbaijan. Throughout the early 1990s, Ismayil investigated government corruption as his country transitioned from Soviet rule. But by the end of the decade it became clear the government of Heydar Aliyev had no intention of democratizing. As the Aliyev family established itself as an authoritarian dynasty (Heydar’s son is now president and just today named his wife as vice president), it began a campaign to suppress independent journalists. Today the state controls the media and silences criticism through prosecution.

Ismayil left journalism in 2004 to fight back, founding a nongovernmental organization advocating for accountability and freedom of expression. But in 2014, the government declared war on civil society, freezing the bank accounts of independent nonprofits and their leaders. Ismayil could no longer receive or spend money for his work. The situation turned nightmarish when he and his wife, a journalist for an online TV outlet, found themselves under investigation. Fearing political imprisonment, they fled the country and now live in a location he asked me not to disclose. Not even his friends know where he lives.

“If there is not rule of law, you cannot rely on any justice,” he said. “And that’s why I prefer to stay outside of the country and to continue our work.”

Apparently sensing the stakes of this global political moment, The Washington Post has unveiled this week a new slogan on its website: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

Here’s what we’ve been talking about so far this week:

Talk soon,


Ben Wolford
Ben Wolford is editor of Latterly. His reporting has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor and elsewhere.