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Columns

Fearing the Worst

July 2, 2018 - 7:00am

It was far too easy to assume the worst -- that the inevitable, finally, had come to pass.

When news broke Thursday afternoon that a shooter had opened fire in an Annapolis, Maryland, newsroom, more than a few minds converged on the same thought: Donald Trump. The mythmaker-in-chief, who has demonized the media almost daily since becoming president of the United States, had made this day seem not just likely but any-day-now.

Or so I confess to thinking at first. One of my regular readers, a Vietnam Marine veteran, did, too. In an email Friday morning, he wrote: "I'm concerned for your safety. Trump's demonizing of the press has led us down a dark path." And not for the first time, my brother wrote three days before the shooting stating his wish that I leave Washington, writing: "It's gonna get crazier from here."

As the story developed through Thursday evening, however, we learned that the alleged gunman, Jarrod Ramos, 38, had nursed a vendetta against the paper for several years, going back to at least 2011 -- and well before Trump was elected to become the "fake news" hawker of today.

Apparently, the Capital Gazette had published a story in 2011 about Ramos after he had pleaded guilty to harassing a woman via social media. Apparently blistered by the public exposure, Ramos field a defamation suit in 2012, which he finally lost in 2015 after an appeal. A full three years after that, his festering resentment seems to have exploded in a bloody barrage of revenge.

Ramos first shot out the glass door, then entered the newsroom with his shotgun extending forward, and opened fire, according to witnesses. Like most newsrooms, the Gazette's is a wide-open space with no place to hide except beneath desks, where reporters huddled and prayed in hopes of escaping the shooter's notice. Some were unsuccessful.

Among those murdered were editors Gerald Fischman and Rob Hiaasen (brother of Miami Herald columnist and author Carl Hiaasen); reporter John McNamara; sales assistant Rebecca Smith; and a special publications employee Wendi Winters. At least two others were injured.

Thankfully, we can't pin this on the president. Nor should anyone wish to. It's bad enough that my reflex was to connect the dots between Trump's anti-media rhetoric and the Annapolis murders. He has gratuitously called out the media ever since assuming office, including as recently as Monday here in South Carolina's capital city, where he gave a campaign-rally speech for Gov. Henry McMaster. Trump's hour-long stemwinder on the eve of the state's primary runoff was familiar to those who routinely follow the president.

More than once, he singled out the media in the back of the packed high school gym for ridicule. A friend, who was in the audience, remarked to me later: "Why does he do that? They're there to cover him. Would he prefer that they not show up, that he be a non-event? They're just doing their job."

Precisely. Being present when Trump does this rather than watching him on television has a very different effect. You're more aware of the humanity of the reporters, photographers and TV camera operators, who cease to be "the media" as a negative abstraction but are recognizable as people who may be your neighbors, friends, husbands or wives. Most Americans, I suspect, have become so accustomed to Trump's shtick that it has become like a car alarm. It's annoying but you block it out. But rhetoric matters, and Trump's has been toxic toward the media. "Fake news" has become the Trump base's second-favorite mantra, following "Make America Great Again." Inferentially, the latter hinges on the elimination of the former.

Thus, it was easy. Too easy for comfort to worry, well, whether it finally happened. Had Trump finally reached someone who would act out the hatred? The question remains: What ultimately pushed the shooter over the edge? Was it only personal rage, or was there a trigger? What caused him to decide that he'd rather go down shooting than move on with his life?

What's clear is that Trump has made it a verbal open season on journalists, many of whom have felt the sting one way or another. For all of us ink-stained wretches, the hate mail is more vicious than ever. The death threats more frequent.

This shooting wasn't "the" shooting many of us feared would come. But Trump, nevertheless, bears some responsibility for the incendiary rhetoric that has raised the heat -- and the stakes -- for journalists just doing their jobs.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

 

Comments

fake news is the new excuse for everything. There should be more concern about the lack of truthfulness from the capital, than there ever should be for the miniscule amount of real fake news...

She's not blaming Trump! Did you read the entire article?

Kathleen, as I wrote to you in a separate email, each human being; democrat, republican, gay, straight, black, white, is RESPONSIBLE for their own actions. Not guns, knives, vehicles or anything else did the deed, an evil heart did. Yes, we sometimes call this mental illness but whatever. The President cannot compel anyone to commit violence, as the Left can't do the same. Why don't you try blaming the perp instead of anyone else. Have you written about anyone on the Left advocating violence (which the President doesn't do)? Just curious. Bonnie

Who, on the "left" (as you call it) advocates violence? If you're talking about ANTIFA, BLM. Those aren't politically biased. They're racial and ethnic violence. Maybe you should stop worrying about "Left" or "Right" because those only stoke the cinders.

While we're at it let's blame Obama and the Democrats for creating the division in the nation that set the stage for the election of Trump. On the other hand how about realizing that there are many people out in our nation that need help and because of many factors (created by both sides of the aisle) can't or aren't getting it. Combined with instant media we have a problem that scares many...especially those that aren't that far away from the edge to start. EVERYONE put on your ADULT clothing and back away from the finger pointing and name calling. As for the media - find a new way to get rating points and making a name for yourself!

There is no question "the Donald" lowered the bar for everyone with his vulgarity and childishness, as do unthinking morons who watch Fox News or CNN religiously and take opinion as fact. There is so much rabid support for the second amendment, yet so little respect for the first.

"Vulgarity" and "lowering the bar" ... the resulting catch-words emanating from the 2016 presidential election!

With very few exceptions, the media have blatantly, willfully, without fail and knowingly sowed the wind! Now they wonder why they are facing the whirlwind? Can they really be this obtuse?

Better question. Can you really be that narrow minded? I watch news. CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC and yes, occasionally FIX, oops, I mean FOX. They all have agenda's. I use their reporting to form, wait for it, MY OWN FREAKING OPINION! If anyone, watches any of these, without finding out if what they say is true, then you got what you voted for. MAYHEM!

Kathleen: While everyone hates the violence that occurred in Annapolis it's not fair to try and blame President Trump. The low state of the main stream media in the eyes of almost all Americans can be laid at your feet. I'm 80 years old and have watched the decline of your profession over the years. It's more now about playing gothca or getting your face on TV or name in print. Too many now consider themselves the news rather than seeking the truth. For too many years journalist have allowed their liberal bias blind them to corruption and crimes. We have lost faith in almost all of you with just a few exceptions. It's a shame too because the role of the press should be to seek the truth, hold feet to the fire - but that has been gone a long, long time.

If you believe in Trump's "alternative facts", then it would stand to reason that you would also believe in "alternative interpretations" or "alternative options" ... wouldn't it? Trump has been guilty of using incendiary rhetoric and name-calling on a LOT of different fronts since he began his campaign and plenty of his Trumpnuts have acted out accordingly in his so-called "rallies". This nutcase could easily have bought into Trump's "fake news" and "the media is the enemy" schtick!

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