Family of missing Marine vet launches social media effort
By Derrick Perkins
Advocates of missing Marine-turned-journalist Austin Tice hope urging his supporters to temporarily go dark will shed light on the veteran's whereabouts.
The #FreeAustinTice campaign, launched last month in February by international nonprofit Reporters Without Borders at the request of Tice's parents, encourages supporters to don a blindfold, take a photo and head to social media. After posting the image to Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag, they are encouraged to sign a petition calling on the White House to boost efforts to free Tice.
Tice, a veteran Marine captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, went missing in Syria after entering the battle-ravaged Middle East nation to cover the intensifying, ever-internecine civil war there. Tice put a law degree at Georgetown University on hold in 2012 to travel to Syria, where he filed award-winning stories for CBS News, McClatchy Newspapers and Tthe Washington Post.
But a few short months after arriving, Tice vanished. His current status, and whether he's held by forces backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or rebels, remains unknown. Reporters Without Borders lists him as alive, as do his parents, Debra and Marc Tice.
In a press conference announcing the awareness campaign, the pair called on President Barack Obama to overhaul the way the country U.S. deals with hostage situations involving U.S. citizens. Existing efforts are "sufficient," Marc Tice said, but he and his wife added that more could be done.
"It's appalling to us that no such entity currently exists in the U.S. government, [that] there is no agency, no person, solely committed to the singular objective of the safe return of the hostage," Debra Tice told reporters at the National Press Club.
The Washington-based institution is one of several media heavyweights to back the Tices' effort, including Gannett, which owns Marine Corps Times, McClatchy Newspapers and Tthe Washington Post. The campaign was designed by advertising giant J. Walter Thompson New York, which boasts deep ties to the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
Anaka Kobzev, a spokeswoman for the firm, said the connection was a coincidence. But it proved fortuitous.
"We were connected to Reporters Without Borders via our parent company WPP Group," she wrote in an email. "That said, given our longstanding partnership with the Marines, our entire team had extra passion for the project."
Donning the blindfold shows solidarity with kidnap victims, supporters said, but it also serves a symbolic purpose.
"Without journalists, we are all deprived of information; we are all blindfolded," said Daphine Halgand of Reporters Without Borders.
Tice is one of a string of Western journalists to go missing in Syria, a list that includes fellow Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were brutally executed by members of the Islamic State group. Other wWesterners, like aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller, have also been killeddied during the conflict.
"We feel like we need to let everybody know that our son is missing and will you please help us get him home? Will you please help us walk this long shoreline of tiny pebbles [where] we're trying to turn over every one to find our son?" Debra Tice said. "Will you help us?"