An effort to honor slain journalists with a national memorial took a significant step forward Wednesday as Congress passed a bipartisan bill authorizing its planning and construction in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Senate approved the legislation known as the Fallen Journalists Memorial Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, which authorizes the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation to begin planning and raising funds for the memorial’s construction. The bill now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk for approval.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Reps. Grace Napolitano, D-California, and Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, introduced the legislation along with Cardin.
Cardin said in a statement that the memorial would “honor the lives of those who died reporting the news” and “will be a steadfast symbol of their sacrifice and the fragility of our democracy.”
“A free press has fought for transparency and freedom since the founding of our republic,” he said. “Those who personify the First Amendment rights granted to every citizen have made our nation stronger. Too many, including five innocent souls lost in the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, gave everything they had in defense of democracy.”
The Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation announced plans for the memorial more than a year ago, near the one-year mark of the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom on June 28, 2018. Five people — Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, Wendi Winters, Rebecca Smith and Rob Hiaasen — were killed by a man with a shotgun. It is considered the deadliest attack on journalists in American history.
The shooting inspired former congressman David Dreier, who chairs the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation and is a former chair of Tribune Publishing, to establish a memorial commemorating the free press and honoring those journalists who have died while doing their job. The Capital is owned by Tribune Publishing and is part of Baltimore Sun Media.
The foundation must raise tens of millions of dollars, meet with a half dozen commissions and search for a location, he said. It takes, on average, about seven years to build a memorial.
“Now the real work begins,” Dreier said.
“The United States of America would not be what it is today, were it not for the absolutely integral role that journalists play,” he said. “I like to say that journalists are both an example of, as well as the keepers, of liberty.”
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Recognizing journalists and supporting the free press is more important than ever following the closure of the Newseum, Dreier said. The Newseum, which shuttered last year, had a memorial for journalists killed while doing their job, including those from the Capital Gazette. The Johns Hopkins University officially acquired the Newseum building earlier this year and plans to move all of its D.C.-based academic programs into the building.
Dreier said he expects Trump to sign the bill despite an adversarial relationship with the press. The president has praised violence against journalists at his rallies and has called journalists “the enemy of the people.” Trump did condemn the attack on the Capital Gazette’s newsroom.
Once the bill is presented to the president, he has 10 days, excluding Sundays, to sign or veto it. If the president declines to take action on the bill, it becomes law without his signature.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another memorial is being planned in downtown Annapolis to honor the five slain Capital Gazette staffers. In July, the state of Maryland approved $300,000 to build the memorial called “Guardians of Free Speech” in Newman Park. The project is set for completion and unveiling in 2021, on the three-year commemoration of the mass shooting.
Those who wish to contribute to the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation can find more information at fallenjournalists.org. It was launched thanks to $300,000 in initial funding from the Annenberg Foundation and the Ferro Foundation. The memorial is also supported by the National Press Club Journalism Institute, the nonprofit affiliate of the National Press Club.