We are the watchers in the halls of government, observers on the sidelines of history, preserving battles and debates and results and controversy so they may not be lost in the mystery of the past.
We are not your enemy.
For many, media offer a last chance at redemption, justice, a chance to correct the record or expose inconvenient truths. We hold your hands and tell your stories, prodding and listening with an open heart and skeptic’s ear. We can be the friend you never had—or persistent to a fault. We’re nosy and tiresome and stressed beyond belief.
Among our own, we’re appallingly competitive, helpful, and arrogant in turns. But we are always on the same side: the truth. It’s a commitment that fosters a bond that transcends competition. Even our biggest rivals on the beat, whose every scoop is an affront, are people we’d buy a beer or shield from a bullet. We are kin; whether broadcast, print or online-only, ink in all our blood. Direct competitors share information and records, because this is a calling more than a job. Sure, we want to be first, or best, preferably both, but most of us care more about the story than we ever will about winning.
Last Thursday’s attack on the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland hit newsrooms nationwide like a punch to the gut. Five of our brethren perished in the deadliest targeted assault of media in American history: Wendy Winters, Rebecca Smith, Robert Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara. June 28, 2018 is the second deadliest day for our profession in the U.S., after only 9/11.
The gunman, whose name will not appear here, as he is not worth the pen strokes or ink, was no stranger to the newspaper; nay, he had a feud with the Gazette that spanned years before he allegedly murdered five people whose only crime was doing their jobs.
Feelings ran the gamut. Some wept at keyboards, or raged at screens, or were too numb to feel, perhaps desensitized by the job and by these violent times. Most in the industry couldn’t say it, but all knew this was true: It could’ve been any one of us.
Every news outlet has enemies, you see. You shine a light at monsters long enough, sooner or later, the monsters come for you. Threats, hate mail, trolls and disgruntled calls are part of our stock in trade. Our enemies are loud, brazen and frightening. Visit the dark corners of the internet if you don’t believe it.
The morning after the shooting, as we waited to broadcast First Coast Connect, four of us from different outlets said, yes, our lives have been threatened because of our work—every single reporter in the room. We’re supposed to be OK with this. We’re supposed to accept this part of the job—and most do. That doesn’t make the camaraderie any less grim or frightening.
Thankfully, those who hate us will probably never darken our doors. But are we to believe that Annapolis will be the last site of such carnage in this atmosphere so hateful and poisoned against us that even the President of the United States refers to the free press as the enemy of the people, a phrase he brays with sickening repetition?
Some say we deserve it, that a reckoning is our due. For what? Reporting the truth? Giving a good goddamn about our communities, our country, our planet, even about you? We make mistakes, we have opinions; we are human beings, too.
On the Sunday after the slayings, the Gazette staff wrote a letter to the world. They first thanked everyone who had showered them with love and support, the thousands who joined as they marched through city streets, who took time to reach out with a statement of love, a card, a hug.
They continued on a darker note, writing of what they will not forget. They will not forget being called an enemy of the people, nor that some celebrated the slaughter and said that they deserved it, nor the friends they lost that day.
It is as plaintive and eloquent and angry an op-ed as you will probably ever read. With the grit that characterizes this profession, they vow to soldier on, “Because exposing evil, shining light on wrongs and fighting injustice is what we do.”
The Capital Gazette will never be the same, but they will never quit. “Some day we hope to be as good again. That’s all we can do,” they write. “Until then, keep reading. We’ve only just begun.”
Journalists are public servants without a uniform or badge, serving the people who love us and the people who hate us with equal zeal. Most of the reporters I know are the bravest people I’ve ever met.
We are not your enemy.