The Danger of Putting out the Damn Paper

Four journalists and one sales assistant at the Annapolis-based Capital Gazette were shot dead while working in their office on Thursday while two sustained serious injuries.

The gunman, 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos, reportedly targeted the newspaper to retaliate after losing a years-long defamation case he brought against the paper. Ramos, who represented himself in court, claimed that the paper defamed him when they published details of his 2011 guilty plea in a stalking case – information that is public record.

Five innocent people are now dead because they had the bravery to dedicate themselves to publishing the truth; in other words, they did their jobs. And the Gazette continued to publish after the attack, in the wake of the deadliest episode for journalists in America since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

As a team of college students who aspire to be, and in some cases already are, journalists, writers, broadcasters, and public sector workers, we at MediaFile are shaken to our core that the danger of our chosen profession is at an all-time high.

Historically, the press is the enemy of corruption and tyranny. Around the world journalists face grave peril for their efforts to spread truth under totalitarian regimes, investigate cartels, and expose threats to public safety. For hundreds of years, America has been an exception – rule of law has protected journalists from bodily harm and censorship even when their stories threaten the legitimacy of governments or enrage readers. Today, things are different. This was not just an attack on human life, but an attack on the First Amendment.

Anyone who is quick to place this blood directly on the hands of any elected official must remember there was obviously a personal vendetta held by Ramos that caused him to target these journalists. However, anyone who is unwilling to tie this violent incident to the current political environment in our country should reconsider.

Last week at a campaign rally in South Carolina, the President of the United States told a raucous crowd that the free press was the “enemy of the American people.” This is not the first time he has made claims that journalists are malicious.

He has even tweeted a doctored video of him slamming and punching a wrestler labeled “CNN” to the ground, as well as a picture depicting a “Trump Train” running over a CNN reporter.

Over the past three years, the president has made the free press his personal punching bag. And for what reason? Because honest journalists, just like the ones at the Capital Gazette, must constantly call him out for his lies, flip-flops, offensive gaffes, and dangerous attacks on American institutions. Contrary to what the president has convinced some of his supporters, the so-called “fake news” does not hold him accountable because they are the enemy. They do so because that’s their job.

By engaging in this rhetoric, the president has drastically lowered the bar by normalizing open hostility to the free press for cheap political gain. These continuous attacks on the media have emboldened some of his supporters to espouse ideas about journalists that run counter to this nation’s inherent notion of the importance of a free press.

The climate the president created caused journalists across the country to experience an undeniable uptick in the amount of threats and harassments they receive. While some are only forced to weather nasty comments on their articles and social media, others must deal with truly horrific threats to their well-being and livelihoods. Some journalists have had their private addresses and phone numbers posted publicly online alongside calls to murder them and their families. Some get stalked in their own neighborhoods. And now, after receiving the same kind of threats, some have lost their lives.

The President of the United States is charged with the duty of upholding and defending the constitution. When it comes to the First Amendment, the current president is grossly negligent in this duty.

We at MediaFile hope that the president, his advisors and his supporters have the moral capacity to learn from this experience, and understand that words matter. It is undeniable to anyone, across political parties and ideologies, that the president is largely responsible for the atmosphere of vitriol that our generation must inherit.

Our hearts are truly with the victims and survivors of this tragedy, as well as their families, friends and community. Hours after the shooting, Gazette reporter Chase Cook tweeted: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper.” This resilience and commitment exemplifies the free press that America has cherished throughout its history. We are confident that no matter what, journalists around the nation will keep putting out the damn paper.

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