One year ago last month, the event that journalists had been warning about happened: Five newspaper employees were shot and killed by someone unhappy with coverage. The victims were Rob Hiaasen, 59, a former feature writer for The Baltimore Sun who joined the Capital Gazette in 2010 as an assistant editor and columnist; Wendi Winters, 65, a community correspondent who headed special publications; Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor; John McNamara, 56, a staff writer who had covered high school, college and professional sports for decades; and Rebecca Smith, 34, a sales assistant. Two others were injured in the attack. The attack on June 28, 2018, hit close to home for the managing editor of West Life, who once worked at the Capital Gazette.
We are not going to name the shooter, who in April entered a plea of not criminally responsible to all charges in the case, citing a “mental disorder” that prevented him from conforming to the law. We prefer he remain nameless, faceless and unknown as he lives the rest of his life behind bars.
So how much progress has society made in recognizing "Don't shoot the messenger" (in this case, literally). Zero. Zip. Zilch.
According to NPR.org, more journalists were killed, imprisoned and held hostage in 2018 than the previous year, citing the latest annual report from Reporters Without Borders. In the first 11 months of the year, internationally 348 journalists were detained and 60 were held hostage, the organization found. Eighty were killed.
Reporters Without Borders — known as RSF, for its French name, Reporters Sans Frontieres — released a report in which RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said the violence against journalists "has reached unprecedented levels" and called the situation "critical."
"The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists," he wrote.
Republican, Democratic, Independent — political leanings shouldn't matter. Unhappiness about perceived or real bias (CNN and Fox News both have fallen into the pit of biased reporting) doesn't mean journalists should be beaten and killed. America is better than that. To the person reading this editorial and already framing a letter in their head calling this newspaper "liberal" or "stupid": YOU are better than that.
Big pharmaceutical companies gouging sick people, hospital management denying coverage, doctors prescribing opioids to get kickbacks, giant corporations not paying their fair taxes, partisan politics (on BOTH sides) bringing government to a standstill. There are certainly a lot of bad things going on in this world. But we ask you this: Do you really think the media and journalists are to blame?
Here's a truth all should remember: Everyone ABSOLUTELY has a right to their own opinion and to vocalize that opinion without insults and vile comments.
As journalists, we strive every day to report the people, places, events and good and bad things in our communities. We should not have to worry about being beaten or killed for doing our job.
Can you at least give us that?
Meanwhile, let's bow our heads and have a moment of silence (or longer) for the hundreds of journalists putting their lives on the line to cover war zones or, in America, the war zone called politics. And let's have a special prayer for the families of Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith.