This isn’t the most joyful of July 4th holidays for those of us in the media, so we’re not going to put a happy face on for today’s lead editorial.
For many of us who have worked in newspapers, radio, television and other media, there is always the possibility of harm being done to us physically and mentally, though the idea of “death in the line of duty” typically means those who are out covering wars or disasters of some sort and mercifully, those have been few and far between over the centuries.
So, what happened last week in Annapolis is a shocker to us on many levels. The killing of five of our colleagues in what authorities say was a premeditated attack on the newsroom of the Capital-Gazette newspapers seemed incomprehensible… until it happened.
A brief aside. The Capital-Gazette is part of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, as are The Aegis and The Record. Within the larger operation, the Annapolis folks are part of the Community News Group, as are we, so there is a certain level of interaction, some frequent, other less so, among the moving parts: editors, reporters, photographers, web producers.
Some readers of The Aegis and The Record may not recognize the names of last week’s victims, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith, but they were our colleagues and we miss them greatly. A few readers may remember that John McNamara covered the Bel Air High’s baseball team’s state semi-final win over Bowie during the Bobcats 2016 state title game. Rachel Pacella, one of the reporters who escaped from the Capital newsroom Thursday mercifully without being shot, helped us with the initial coverage of the 2016 deputies shootings in Harford County and has contributed other stories to our publications. None of these folks were strangers to us nor, by extension, to you.
Most of us tend to believe that when we leave home to go to work in the morning, we’ll return that evening. Just like we believe when our kids head out for school in the morning, they’ll return the same way later that day. Unfortunately, Harford County already has experienced a workplace shooting, less than nine months ago, and anxiety about the safety of our schools has been fueled by mass shootings at schools in Florida, Texas and Southern Maryland this year alone.
Police say the alleged shooter in the Capital-Gazette newsroom massacre had harbored a grudge against the paper over a column written several years ago about a criminal harassment case in which he was a defendant and eventually pleaded guilty. He also filed a defamation suit against the paper and the column writer, both thrown out by the circuit court and an appellate court. This all happened when the paper was under previous ownership and management. The column writer and the paper’s editor at the time no longer work there, but the grudge continued. The victims of Thursday’s shootings and their traumatized colleagues who escaped were in effect collateral damage to threats of harm that aren’t as uncommon as most of us in the media probably would like to admit exist.
When somebody attacks an institution, they attack us all, and this is one point to remember above all on our nation’s birthday: “United we stand, divided we fall” is a phrase that has shown up many times over the centuries, often with regard to the United States and its many freedoms. Today, there’s far too much division, however, and too many people dying for no other reason than some person got mad or couldn’t get along and decided to get a firearm and get even. That’s a damning fact for a country founded on principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”