By: Robert Thomas
After receiving the jolting news of the Capital Gazette shooting that left five journalists dead last week, many have questioned what this event means for freedom of the press in the U.S.
Five employees of The Capital Gazette — Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith — were killed Thursday, June 28, after gunman Jarrod Ramos entered the office and opened fire. Ramos was charged with five counts of first degree murder.
According to The Hill, the gunman had a poor relationship with the paper and attempted to sue the paper for defamation.
In recent years the lifeblood of any democracy, the fourth estate — the free press —has increasingly come under attack. Many journalists, including the Sentinel staff, have come to fear the unwarranted risks of the profession, even in their own town.
“This was an attack on the press,” Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley said following the attack. “It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.”
According to the Washington Post, 2017 was the most dangerous year ever for journalists, and data published by press freedom organizations indicate that the threats faced by journalists worldwide are only increasing.
There has been increasing political pressure on journalists in the U.S. with President Donald Trump often referring to the press as “the enemy of the people.”
Unfortunately, this phrase has a very long and horrific pedigree that can be found in both the French Terror and Soviet Terror. Thousands of people have been executed as “enemies of the people.” Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post questioned what role this type of political atmosphere may have played in the actions of the Capital Gazette shooter.
Julia McIntosh, a journalism major at KSU, says that while the attack has made her more fearful of the dangers to journalists, she is not deterred.
“It’s made me more scared to be a journalist,” McIntosh said. “I’m never going to be scared to tell stories for those in need.”
In the days following the shooting, the Capital Gazette also received death threats and emails from people they don’t know celebrating their loss. In a letter released by the Capital Gazette staff said, “We won’t forget being called an enemy of the people. No, we won’t forget that. Because exposing evil, shining light on wrongs and fighting injustice is what we do.”
In the age of growing political polarization and nationwide accusations of media, we must not forget the importance and sacrifice of journalists. Although “facts” and well-vetted sources are the cornerstone of quality journalism, and it is the duty of the people to call out errors or mistakes that are made, we have grown to be a completely intolerant people. People sit comfortably behind a computer and hurl insults or belittle the sacrifice of journalists who work long hours for very little pay, and who sometimes pay a price too high for it.
Journalism is constantly changing, and we as journalists must always adapt. We must never forget the sacrifice and bravery of the journalists who fight to bring truth to light.
The Sentinel staff would like to honor those killed in the attack: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters.