Phoenix Geimer: Rep. Harris, there's still time to prove you can be a leader

Congressman Andy Harris,

I am Phoenix Geimer, son of Wendi Winters, one of the journalists killed in the attack on the Capital Gazette a month ago today. You represented the district my family lived in while I grew up. You continue to represent Maryland.

I'm writing to you today to ask you for what I expect from every elected official: Leadership.

The attack on my mom’s newsroom wasn’t an isolated incident. No rational person can ignore the context or reality in which this attack occurred. News sources are facing unprecedented assaults from people seeking to avoid accountability. Reporters are described as really bad people. The press is painted as liars with pathological bias. Invoking violence against journalists is a routine part of political rallies. Murdering journalists is “just a joke”.

Well, I’m not laughing. My mom, Wendi Winters, is dead. Gerald Fischman is dead. Rob Hiaasen is dead. John McNamara is dead. Rebecca Smith is dead. I will never hear my mom laugh again. Nobody will. Ever. My mom is in an urn, waiting to be scattered in a poppy field in Istanbul.

In the face of this heartbreak, you have failed to lead. You have claimed to support the free press, but your words are nauseatingly dissonant with your actions.

You haven’t challenged continuing attacks on the press by other top officials upon whom you have sworn an oath to be a check. You have not stood up to those with power on behalf of Marylanders.

Inexcusably, you have even added to the chorus against the media since the shooting, making flippant remarks revealing your misplaced pride in baselessly disregarding and discounting reliable or mainstream sources.

Attacking the media for cheap points isn’t leadership. Journalists are community members trying to shine the antiseptic light of day on the world in which we live.

It is time for you to stand up and show real leadership. Your past actions have pandered to the worst instincts of a small mal-informed segment of society and can even be said to have provided encouragement, if not inspiration, to the man who killed my mother.

But there’s still time to be the leader this country needs. Leaders should possess the integrity to have the hard discussions that start toward a solution. Leaders should be vocal and active in their support of the press and condemn those who seek to undermine the concept of honest reporting. Leaders should accept publicly that journalists aren’t the enemy of the American people and stop treating them as such. Leaders should acknowledge that the free press is enshrined in the Constitution because it’s vital to the health of our country.

When leaders don’t like articles journalists write, they should try to solve the underlying conditions addressed instead of reflexively declaring the message fake and letting the problem fester. In my mom’s case, an emboldened coward decided to shoot the messenger.

Marylanders need a real leader now more than ever. Please show half the courage my mother displayed in her final moments and be that leader today.

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