There is nothing fake about the massacre Thursday of four journalists and a sales representative at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md.
With heavy hearts, we now add America’s newsrooms to the growing list of places we can never again presume will be immune to the country’s obsession with guns and the rage of those who turn them against us.
This time, we must point a finger at those whose reckless rhetoric and actions have been sowing doubt and even violence against the Fourth Estate and those who represent it.
Among the accused:
Leaders like President Trump, who has repeatedly called journalists “the enemy of the people.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Extremists like right-wing nationalist Milo Yiannopoulos, who just last week said, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
Hotheads like Montana Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, who, before his special election last year, body-slammed a political reporter, declaring, “I’m sick and tired of you guys!”
He pleaded guilty to assault. And won the election.
Their ugly anti-journalism campaign is winning over the country’s minds. A new Axios poll shows that 92 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of independents, and 53 percent of Democrats believe that the media report “news they know to be fake or purposely misleading.”
On Thursday, that false belief bore bloody fruit when a gunman mowed down the small newsroom of the Capital Gazette, where staffers toiled to tell the tales of Anne Arundel County.
Jarrod Ramos, who has been charged with their murders, allegedly had a beef with journalists there dating back to 2011. It’s not a leap to imagine that his actions were emboldened by broad-brush lies that have reduced journalists to caricatures.
The Annapolis newsroom is porous, easily accessed off an unlocked lobby. No metal detector or armed guard prevented Ramos from getting inside.
The place was old-fashioned that way, as was much of the news recently covered there:
How a wheelchair-bound father gets his kids to school. A Girl Scout’s mission to create baby journals for new moms. Schoolchildren who crafted sleep mats for the homeless. End-of-life care for veterans. A particularly silly pie-eating contest. A Kiwanis Club neighborhood cleanup.
Technology has changed mightily since the first journalists painstakingly set type, letter by letter. But the calling of editors, reporters, photographers, and designers has not:
To tell stories truthfully. Amplify unheard voices. Hold the powerful to account. Capture in images what words can never convey. Chronicle milestone events of neighborhoods, towns and cities, and those who call them home.
The work of journalism is straightforward, aiming to allow a community — and a country — to know all of itself: its pride and shame, its heroes and villains, its care and duty. For those called to journalism, it’s a satisfying, honorable way to make a living.
The Annapolis victims — Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith, Robert Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, and John McNamara — were not enemies of the people.
They were their champions.
We are heartbroken.