Free Press Can’t Be Silenced

Like probably every newspaper staff around the country — and millions of other Americans — we were horrified Thursday at a mass murder at a daily newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland.

Police said it was a pre-planned solo attack, in which a 38-year-old man walked into the offices of the Capital Gazette with a shotgun, barricaded the exit doors and started shooting people as he walked through the office. He killed five and injured two.

Police said they arrived within 60 seconds and captured the shooter. He remains in jail, charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

We offer Capital Gazette employees and victims’ families our condolences, and we applaud their sense of purpose by pushing out a newspaper anyway to alert and inform the public. On their own website we read excellent coverage, from the time of the event to Friday, when their sister paper the Baltimore Sun helped them write an in-depth article on the event, a wonderful profile of each victim and a history of the shooter’s long grudge against the paper.

While some people have laid a certain degree of blame for this mass murder on President Donald Trump and others who urge hatred of the media, in this case it appears that the shooter’s reasons were personal.

This particular man appears to have been a bitter loner who hated the Capital Gazette. The root of his anger was a 2011 column about a woman he had allegedly harassed. The woman told the columnist that after befriending her on Facebook, he told her she was the only person who had said hello to him in high school. Thus began a “yearlong nightmare,” according to the column, in which he called her vulgar names, told her to kill herself and tried to get her employer, a bank, to fire her. She went to police, and he pleaded guilty to a minor harassment charge.

He allegedly harassed and threatened newspaper staff for years after the column was published. Police investigated in 2013, but the newspaper declined to press charges, deciding it would only make things worse. Nevertheless, they feared that if anyone would do them harm, it would be him.

This alleged shooter also sued the columnist and the paper’s editor and publisher for defamation in 2012, eventually losing the case in 2015.

He seems like a deeply dysfunctional person to say the least.

He may have envisioned this as a satisfying act of revenge, but he was wrong. He instead drew national sympathy to this veteran newspaper, which traces its roots back to 1727, and national admiration for hard-working local news crews like the Capital Gazette’s that toil to cover their communities in service of their neighbors, keeping readers informed, entertained, inspired and engaged.

Whom did this bitter man target? Not the people he had sued — all three of them have since left the Capital Gazette. Instead he killed a wonderful ad sales assistant, feature writer, sports writer, editorial page editor and a completely different columnist, and injured an education reporter and an ad salesperson. They didn’t do him any harm.

Newspapers, like families, help each other out. We were glad to see that the Associated Press offered to lend its resources to help the Capital Gazette keep reporting on local news during this difficult time. Bloomberg journalist Madi Alexander, who doesn’t work for the Capital Gazette, started a GoFundMe page for the paper’s staff and the victims’ families to pay for things such as funeral and medical expenses. In its first 22 hours it had raised $147,422 of its $200,000 goal. You can donate to it here: https://www.gofundme.com/capitalgazette.

Part of journalists’ job is laying truth out in plain sight, and there are always going to be people desperate to keep certain truths concealed. That can lead to journalists being targeted and demonized.

But the free press can’t be silenced, even if you shoot the messenger.

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