A newsroom that looks like “a war zone,” according to a witness: that was the scene at the Capital Gazette newsroom near Annapolis, Maryland on June 28, when a gunman opened fire on the local newspaper’s staff. So far, five are dead, decimating a small newsroom of around 50. The actor was a lone gunman whose motives are so far being attributed to a long-time personal vendetta over the newspaper’s reporting of a harassment lawsuit filed against him in 2012. This latest and horrific round of violence against the free press must be addressed. This is an era where the president and his supporters routinely celebrate and condone attacks on the press, and this massacre adds to the whirlwind.
The environment of vitriol towards journalists sadly extends onto the Bluff. While we have been lucky to avoid any physical threats or confrontations, numerous members of The Duke staff have received verbal, personal harassment from the campus community because of their association with the paper. Editors here have been called “fake news,” “biased” and “disgraceful,” among other phrases because of their reporting on campus and on campus individuals. Some students have gone up to newsstands and thrown away stacks of the paper to prevent people from reading some of our articles. We have received mailings from the Ku Klux Klan and several neo-Nazi groups.
While this is not close to comparing to the situation in Maryland, consider this to be an alarm bell sounding. So far these are just words, but this shooting demonstrates that in a volatile environment, things can spiral out of control. An individual with a personal vendetta can pose a threat at any time, but especially now in a time that seems to encourage incivility and violence.
The political polarization that surrounds this issue is not helping to stop it, either. On June 27th, the day before the shooting, Milo Yiannopoulos, a white supremacist, texted a reporter and said “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.” He said on the 28th that he was being “wasn’t being serious.” Fox News’ reaction to the shooting was to investigate The Capital Gazette for ideological bias. They so very bravely reported the paper had none. Is that what is really important when fellow journalists are dying?
Each and every day, journalists face constant backlash for the courageous work they do, which still often goes unnoticed in a world where news consumption is at an all time high. Whether they are overseas reporting on the atrocities that Syrian refugees are facing, or in small U.S. communities dissecting the issues that affect the local economy, the work that journalists do is essential.
Continuing to categorize journalists as “liars” or “fake news” is a phenomenon that perpetuates the idea that they are the enemy. Singling out the press as dangerous is not something that should be considered a chant at a campaign rally, or treated like a pop-culture reference. People die in this line of work in pursuit of the truth, whether by an irate individual or encouraged by a mob mentality. It’s time for us all to realize that.
This time the motivation wasn’t political, but terrifyingly, next time, it might be.
Journalism matters, now more than ever. We at The Duke stand in solidarity with the journalists at The Capital Gazette and around the world who seek the truth no matter the cost.