Defending the media

If nothing else, the attack on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis should cause public figures to pause before unleashing their anger on the press. It could have lethal consequences.

By
July 2, 2018 20:55
3 minute read.
New York Police officers are seen deployed outside the New York Times building following a fatal sho

New York Police officers are seen deployed outside the New York Times building following a fatal shooting at a Maryland newspaper, in New York City, U.S., June 28, 2018. . (photo credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

 
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The heinous attack on the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, in which four journalists and a sales assistant were killed on Thursday, should sound an alarm for those who persistently bash the media with impunity.

The five people murdered in the shooting, allegedly carried out by Jarrod Ramos, 38, were by all accounts good, innocent civilians working hard in a noble profession – journalism. They were identified as Rob Hiaasen, 59, an assistant editor and father of three; Wendi Winters, 65, a reporter and mother of four; Rebecca Smith, 34, a new hire ; John McNamara, 56, a devoted husband who loved writing about sports; and Gerald Fischman, 61, the editorial page editor known for his sense of humor and justice.

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Court papers show that in 2012, Ramos sued Eric Hartley, a Gazette columnist, and Thomas Marquadt, then-editor and publisher, after a column in the paper reported that he had pleaded guilty to criminal harassment of a former high school classmate on Facebook. Ramos set up a Twitter account to defend himself, writing in his biographical note that he was “making corpses of corrupt careers and corporate entities.” But a court agreed that the newspaper column was accurate and based on public records, and Maryland’s second-highest court upheld the ruling in 2015, rejecting Ramos’s suit. His revenge came last week.

What can we learn from this tragedy? First and foremost, world leaders, opinion shapers, prominent personalities and the public at large must stop demonizing, delegitimizing and inciting against journalists. As we witnessed so painfully in Israel with the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, words of incitement can be dangerous if they are taken seriously by extremists.

In response to what he called the “horrific” Annapolis attack, US President Donald Trump stated clearly: “Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.” But since taking office, Trump himself has repeatedly branded the media as “the enemy of the American people” and decried what he has famously called “fake news.” We hope that he has learned his lesson.

Here in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a habit of vilifying the media and individual reporters. Perhaps the peak of his angry outbursts was in 2016, when he launched a personal assault on one of Israel’s top television journalists, Ilana Dayan, accusing her of plotting to bring down his government, after she broadcast an investigative report on the workings of his administration. Netanyahu issued a scathing statement saying that the public had lost trust in the major media organizations, which had abandoned all restraint in their propaganda war against him and his government.

Just recently, on June 26, Netanyahu accused Hadashot News of “Bolshevik propaganda” after it broadcast transcripts of recordings between a family friend and a legal adviser voicing concern over the Netanyahu family’s use of public funds for private use. “Every evening, [Hadashot] broadcasts false rumors and character assassinations of me and my family,” Netanyahu posted on Facebook, under a caption in capital letters, “FAKE NEWS.”

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“Real Bolshevik propaganda that is just tales from years ago that never happened,” he wrote.

In defending journalists and the media, we are not saying that they don’t make mistakes in their reporting. What we are saying is that most are hardworking professionals, doing their best to report on events truthfully and fairly. The media are an essential pillar of democracy, and in the US, free speech is protected and entrenched in the First Amendment.

In an editorial following the 2016 murder of 49 people in a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, the Capital Gazette’s Fischman poignantly wrote: “Of all the words this week, hopelessness may be the most dangerous. We must believe there is a solution, a way to prevent another mass shooting. We must believe that we can find it if only we try a little harder.”

If nothing else, the attack on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis should cause public figures to pause before unleashing their anger on the press. It could have lethal consequences.

Let’s try a little harder to cut down the attacks on the media – and on journalists just doing their jobs.

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