Guest Editorial: Words do matter and it's time to stop the hate
It was a tragic day in journalism and America Thursday when a lone gunman stormed into the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, and killed five people.
They were editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, 59; community correspondent Wendi Winters, 65; editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, 61; sports writer John McNamara, 56; and sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34. Two other staff members were injured during the attack and have been released from the hospital.
After their pending funerals and burials, the names of those journalists killed Thursday will be added to the memorial to slain journalists at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
The attacker, Jarrod Warren Ramos, had a long record of dislike for the Capital Gazette and planned a "coordinated attack" seeking to "kill as many people as possible," according to Maryland officials. His actions include barricading the back door to the newsroom offices to prevent staffers from escaping.
Ramos' grievance against the paper resulted from a columnist writing accurately about his conviction for harassment of a former high school classmate through social media and the resulting criminal case. Ramos sued the newspaper for defamation but the court and appeals court ruled against him.
He had a specific grievance with the paper, but others have more general complaints.
Some readers complain about the newspaper being too liberal, others complain we are too conservative, depending on their point of view. These complaints generally balance out, with the majority tending to be critics of the current administration at the time.
And under our cherished First Amendment, we believe in our readers' right to voice their opinion to commend or criticize our newspaper or any other media.
However, threats are different than complaints. Threats are nothing new to newsrooms but in any form are scary and unsettling. Such threats often are just an individual's venting, but sometimes they lead to action.
One Minnesota daily newspaper in our company has had shots fired at its building twice in recent decades. This newspaper's staff has been threatened for publishing info in criminal cases. Other newsrooms were threatened, and more will be threatened today.
In American history, journalists have been attacked by angry mobs, kidnapped, beaten, and tarred and feathered. Journalists' homes have been egged, and presses and their buildings set on fire.
In the end, journalists keep focusing on their job of telling stories, informing their readers and covering the news. From a temporary newsroom in a garage Thursday, the Capital Gazette newsroom worked the story of the attack, designed their pages and published a newspaper Friday morning.
This heinous murder of fellow journalists in Maryland hits close to home in newsrooms across the country.
However, words matter, as they have meaning and consequences.
When a major politician tweets, "The FAKE NEWS media ... is the enemy of the American people." There are those who take those words as gospel.
Controversial conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos recently texted that he couldn't wait "for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight." This week he said he wasn't serious.
Were either quote directly responsible for Thursday's newsroom attack ? No, not directly. Yet words matter. And if they are repeated enough, irrational people can begin to take hate words as gospel.
So let's all take a deep breath and dial down the hate. Democrats and Republicans are our neighbors. Gun owners and non-gun owners are our neighbors. White and people of color are our neighbors. Journalists and readers are our neighbors. City folk and country dwellers are our neighbors.
The scripture Mark 12:31 reads: "The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."
May God bless the Capital Gazette newsroom and its' journalists' families.