Like many journalists -- likely including those who were murdered at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis on Thursday -- I have covered deadly events, murders, tragic accidents, horrific natural disasters and heartbreaking loss of life.
As a reporter, you have to overcome your own sadness or empathy to a degree in order to cover these events. Get the story, know the pain the victims are under, but get the facts together correctly and fairly.
But all of that went out the window on Thursday when I heard about the shooting at this local daily paper, which took the lives of four journalists and one sales associate at the hands of a revengeful, hateful person. It later was revealed that the gunman, Jarrod Ramos, had sued the paper, unsuccessfully, on a weak claim of defamation after it had reported on his arrest and guilty plea in a stalking case.
So these journalists, who had done their job reporting on this thug, paid the price that none should pay. Although reporters often pay it on a daily basis. The latest Committee to Protect Journalists data stated that at least 29 journalists had been killed on the job this year, and that does not include the countless times reporters are physically and verbally abused, called liars for reporting the truth, and threatened.
I have never been to the Capital Gazette, but it appears to be a great local daily paper like the ones I and many other reporters have worked at in our careers. The Daily Journal in Elizabeth, N.J.; The Argus in Fremont, Ca.; The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, CA., and the S.F. Independent in San Francisco were the Capital Gazettes of my life. We faced threats and anger in those newsrooms, as many journalists have around the country.
I had the son of a mayoral candidate in Linden, N.J, try to physically attack me when I reported on his father's actions, while a district attorney investigator in San Francisco left a threatening message on my voicemail when I covered his brother's poor legal history during a D.A. race. That led to a police investigation and his firing.
These are nothing compared to what the Annapolis newsroom went through. But they and many other such examples by reporters show the scary and potentially dangerous acts often committed against the press as they do their job. And the most recent rhetoric against news people, led in many ways by President Trump, only adds to the fervor.
I'm not saying that Ramos took Trump's unfair and hateful anti-press and "fake news" claims to heart and that they led him to commit the murders. But the recent angst against our profession that is only doing what it is constitutionally protected to do can be blamed at least in part on the president's hateful words.
And the rhetoric by many journalism opponents, often on the right, doesn't help either. Hate monger Milo Yiannopoulos, whom I won't even dignify as a journalist or valid commentator, said just days ago that, "I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight."
And Fox News Host Sean Hannity somehow tried to blame Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Ca., for the shooting, saying her recent calls to keep protesting and "push back on" Trump administration officials could be linked to the shooting. No surprise Hannity has no idea what he is talking about.
As for the Capital Gazette, its record of solid journalism appears clear. Just last month the paper won a string of prizes from the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Press Association awards, including "extensive coverage of gang
violence, the removal of the Roger B. Taney statue, sports events, a
profile on the new Annapolis mayor, education writing and more," according to its own story of the honors.
Among the winners were Editorial Page Editor Gerald Fischman, who took first and
second place for editorial writing that objected to the lack of a hate crime charge against a man who left a noose at a local school and a county councilman's censorship of public speakers, and Assistant Editor Rob Hiaasen, who won first place for a feature column about living near a segregated beach in Florida.
Both were killed Thursday.
The paper apparently never won a Pulitzer Prize, not surprising for a small daily that churns out the needed local news on a regular basis and often has few resources or little time for the big, epic investigations. But it did get honored today when the Pulitzer Board posted the following statement online:
The Pulitzer Prize Board expresses heartfelt condolences to the victims
and families of the horrific newsroom shooting at the Capital Gazette
newspaper in Annapolis, Md. Our thoughts and prayers are with all who
are affected by the tragedy today at an institution that traces its
origins to 1727.
Maybe the staff that amazingly covered the story of death and hate in its own newsroom on Thursday with a gripping, complete package of stories, could earn a special Pulitzer next time around.