A year ago on June 28, a gunman entered the offices of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, and killed five people. At the time many people expressed hopes that the event might shock the public into taking a hard look at the high risks and little rewards news reporters endure as they seek to keep the world informed of what is going on around them and keeping government officials, businesses and others accountable to taxpayers and consumers.
Maybe some people have. Attacks on journalists have gone down, not just here but around the world. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that nine journalists have been killed this year; if a similar number of casualties occur in the second half of the year, the total of 18 would still be the lowest in more than 30 years.
Fifty-four reporters were killed in 2018, and another 250 imprisoned, simply for reporting what’s happening around them. Another 63 are missing, their fates unknown.
That’s a good year.
And although the alleged culprit for the Annapolis shootings held a personal grudge against the Gazette, many noted that open hostility toward the news media has increased in recent years.
It’s also worth noting that the suspect, who was arrested at the scene, still hasn’t been tried for the murders.
Reporters across the country endure increasing verbal assaults by people who might be inspired by the example set by our president and others who seek to live in the public eye but chafe at having to answer to the public.
The reporters, photographers and other members of the news media toil in their daily search for the truth — truth that doesn’t change regardless of whether they support any pre-held beliefs or attitudes of those who read, see or hear the news.
Support has risen in the past year for efforts to build a memorial to fallen journalists in Washington, D.C. Private money would fund the memorial, although legislation is needed to authorize a journalists’ memorial to the others that currently stand at the National Mall. That legislation was filed in Congress on June 25 and members of both parties have voiced support. It needs to be passed by both houses and signed by the president — who considers the news media the “enemy of the people.”
But the greatest tribute to our fallen colleagues would be to recognize the dedication of the reporters, photographers and editors who work daily to give all Americans — and citizens of the world — the information they need to know if their officials are honest, how their taxes are being used, if storms are approaching and even if their streets are safe.
Our nation’s founders knew that an informed citizenry is crucial to the proper function of a free nation. Officials might not like having to endure the public scrutiny that news reporting allows and criminals might not like their activities exposed, but they should acknowledge that our country, and society in general, is better for it.
If those officials respect the people who elected them, then they should respect the people’s right to know how they are performing. And by extension, we pray that they will respect those who dedicate their lives to providing that information, even at the risk of violence.