Five journalists in Annapolis, Md. lost their lives Thursday, victims of another angry man who felt entitled to settle his grievances with a gun.
The events preceding and following their tragic deaths are concerning and inspiring — underscoring the toxicity of discourse and disagreement in America today; but also the resolve of journalists to uphold their duty to publish, to not be silenced, even in the midst of death.
Thursday’s events hit home for me. I began reading The Capital while attending the Naval Academy, and have since followed their coverage of Navy football. When the news broke Thursday, I felt immediate fear for a news staff I’d never met, but long followed.
As a newspaperman, I also connected with them because I know them without knowing them. Journalists, especially those in print media, share a fraternal bond forged in low pay, furloughs, long hours and constantly being asked to do more with less while being trolled on social media.
You only do this job for one reason: You believe in the duty to inform the public and to hold accountable all levels of our government. You believe that is essential to our society and our republic, and it is a job worth doing, and doing well.
A political science professor at Annapolis insisted a free press was more crucial to the survival of our republic than its military. As a young officer, I bristled at his words. Since then, I’ve come to see their absolute truth.
But, even before a gunman walked into The Capital, the sanctity and need of a free press in our republic was under full attack.
Our president has undertaken a systematic campaign to demonize the press. Just Monday, he again referred to news outlets that print anything other than sycophantic adoration of him as “the enemy of the people.”
Also this week, Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right hatemonger, told two reporters and posted on social media: “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
Milo insists it was a joke. But, the toxic attitudes toward the free press created by Trump, Milo and those like them are not a joke. They are a poison to our republic — carefully crafted hate speech that both undermines the First Amendment and inspires further violence against journalists.
How do we respond? There is no finer answer than that offered by Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook, just hours after the bloodshed. “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” the 2013 University of Oklahoma grad tweeted.
In the face of threats, of criticism, of incessant trolling and even violence and death, we can offer only one response. We publish.
In that task, for the sake of our communities and our republic, we must not falter. We must not be silenced. And, in every line of copy, we must strive to be worthy of those who fell in Annapolis.