The lives lost at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, on Thursday are a powerful reminder of just how false the press-as-the-enemy narrative is.
President Donald J. Trump proclaims media outlets “the enemy of the American People.” A popular conservative writer says he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists.” Walmart for a time sold T-shirts reading “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.” This president has a problem with the truth. It gets in the way of the narrative he is selling to an all-too-eager public.
In fairness, we don’t know what role—if any at all—the hate out there played in the actions of Jarrod W. Ramos, the suspected shooter who had a long-running dispute with the Capital Gazette over stories written about a harassment case involving a woman Ramos had known in high school.
But anyone being suckered into the “fake news” narrative being peddled by Trump and his cronies should take a moment to learn more about the five who died in the attack. Some of the victims were lifelong writers deeply invested in their communities. They were dedicated to informing the people of Anne Arundel County about what they needed to know to live their lives. They held power to account. They woke us to shared joys, sorrows and new ways of seeing the world.
Such as Rob Hiaasen, 59, a writer and editor. He wrote about waking up later in life to the terrible discrimination of his hometown in Florida, which he’d been oblivious to as a child.
“I was taken to Fort Lauderdale beach before I could even swim. If there was unrest elsewhere in the country, it surely didn’t happen on unspoiled Fort Lauderdale beach. Little did I know or learn in school.
“In 1961, there was a series of ‘wade-ins’ by black residents on the all-white beach at Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. A year before, my beach had been immortalized and romanticized in the popular beach movie, ‘Where the Boys Are.’ There weren’t any black beachgoers in the movie, either.
“Organized by the local NAACP, the wade-in participants—tired of trudging to the ‘blacks-only’ sand scrap south of the ‘good’ beach—were greeted by threats of police arrest and crowds of whites brandishing bottles and bats. The number of black participants increased, and eventually, a Broward Circuit judge allowed the protests to continue. Broward County’s beaches were, from then on, desegregated.
“I had no idea when and how this happened until I was at the beach a few years ago and noticed a historic marker chronicling the wade-ins.”
Gerald Fischman, 61, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, would work all hours of the day and night to craft the paper’s view. He wrote last year about the “lake-sized cesspools of hatred on the internet” from which those who commit hate crimes “can draw moral support.”
He went on:
“That leaves the decent 99 percent of society with only a few tools. One is relentless prosecution of people who commit hate crimes. Another is refusal to be silent when someone parades their bigotry. Free speech is a sacred American right. But no one has the the right to expect that speech that spouts hatred won’t be answered and denounced—or that criminal acts can be justified by the perpetrators’ deep ignorance and bigotry.”
Wendi Winters, 65, was a community correspondent who loved story-telling. John McNamara, 56, covered sports for decades. Rebecca Smith, 34, was a sales assistant who had been on the job less than a year.
The Capital Gazette victims lived for informing the people of their community, and they died for that.
Do we take this personally here at the Courant? You bet we do. The Capital Gazette is a sister paper of ours, but it goes way beyond that. Here, in The Courant’s newsroom every day, journalists dedicate their time, energy and passion to telling the truth about the world around us. Want to see what the world looks like without those men and women on the front lines? Watch an episode or two of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Those who would paint the media as the enemy are being led down a perilous path.
The five who died in Annapolis died doing what they believed in, and we will cherish their memories always.
They are not the enemy. The media is not the enemy.
What is dangerous beyond words is a nation being robbed of its ability to learn the truth.