The mass murder at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis happened one year ago today, and the most disheartening fact is that the five tragic deaths have changed almost nothing.
On June 28, 2018, a man wielding a shotgun shot his way into the newspaper’s offices and killed four journalists and one other employee. We should never forget their names. They were Gerald Fischman, editorial page editor; Rob Hiaasen, an assistant managing editor; John McNamara, a staff writer who covered sports; Rebecca Smith, an advertising sales assistant; and Wendi Winters, special publications editor. Two others were wounded as well.
The man who was arrested and charged in the attack has pleaded insanity and is scheduled to be tried for murder in November.
We Americans have become sadly inured to mass killings, coming as they do with such numbing regularity. Just since the Annapolis shooting, we have lived through the trauma of 11 people killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue; 13 at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California; four at a hospital in Chicago; five at a bank in Sebring, Florida; six at a factory in Aurora, Illinois, and just last month 13 at a Virginia Beach municipal building.
This is all in just the last 12 months. If you are like most people, you probably don’t even remember some of those shootings.
People are outraged each time, and communities come together for memorial services. Some call for more gun control, while others offer “thoughts and prayers.” And nothing changes.
In that sense, the shooting rampage at a community newspaper may not seem so different or even remarkable. Except that we believe it is.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Annapolis attack was the worst incident in which journalists were killed in the United States since the organization began compiling such data in 1992. The murder of a television reporter and her cameraman in Virginia is the only other instance of multiple deaths.
Another thing to consider is this: The Capital Gazette shootings were not carried out by a disgruntled employee, a jilted lover, or a raging racist or anti-Semite.
The shooter was an angry reader who had been threatening the newspaper and its employees because of a story it published about him in 2011. For seven years, he complained and threatened, but we cannot help noticing that the shooter was finally moved to act amid the worsening political climate in this country.
In looking back at what happened in Annapolis a year ago today, it’s hard to ignore the normalization of mass murder and how it’s affected everyone regardless of their profession.
While, as journalists, we remember the five people killed at the Capital Gazette, we also need to take a moment to the think about the headwinds that journalism faces today.
President Donald Trump continues to demonize journalists and the news media in general. No other profession is drawing the same level of animosity from what some would argue is the most powerful person on Earth.
After the Capital attack, our newspaper and many other news organizations implored the president to stop referring to the press as the “enemy of the people.” But he has refused. Instead he has escalated his verbal attacks to now refer to some news organizations as traitors. He conflates criticism of himself with treason against America.
Regardless, we won’t be deterred from doing our job.
Journalists are not the enemy of the people. Ignorance is the true enemy of the people.
Journalists at The News-Post and virtually every other news organization in the country go to work every day trying to ensure that Americans are informed about their country, their state and their community, to combat ignorance by publishing the facts.
Facts matter. At the time of the American Revolution, we had some truly terrible newspapers in this country, many filled with partisan attacks and false rumors. But the founding fathers of America felt so strongly that a free press was vital to democracy, they protected it in the Constitution.
They understood that the news media — good, bad, liberal, conservative, middle of the road — was the friend of democracy and the friend of the people. Still true.