Deaths in Maryland cause for pause

It happened far from here, in a Maryland town.

But it wasn’t really that far away.

The gunshots fired by Jarrod Warren Ramos within the walls of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis last Thursday now echo through every newspaper in the U.S. if not the world. And we at The Times are no exception.

Five employees of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis — most of them reporters — were killed during the rampage. To say that the newspaper and its people were targeted as has been seen in stories about this is a non-sequitor.

The dead are Wendi Winters, the special publications editor; Rebecca Smith, sales assistant, assistant editor Rob Hiaasen, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman and staff writer John McNamara.

As at just about every newspaper, the staff at this one dedicated themselves to learning about the community and world about them, processing that information and presenting it to the public. As at just about every newspaper, that accomplishment happens not just through reporters and editors but the sales people who see to it that there are enough ads on the pages of the paper to make it printable and perhaps — thought this not a trend these days — even profitable.

The true motivation for this heinous act is still under investigation. It is true that Ramos sued the paper, quite a few years bacl, and did not prevail. This involved a story about a stalking case that involved him.

But that doesn’t matter so much right now.

What matters is that an institution whose only weapon is words and its people were attacked by a man with a gun, A shotgun.

On more than one occasion any of us in this profession has dealt with threats, usually but not always, somewhat veiled, because of someone’s displeasure with what we have written. Often these instances involve coverage of some crime or other event where the players are already sketchy. It comes with the territory. The threats are seldom carried out.

This case, however, is chilling in its execution.

It serves as a reminder that the very nature of our work can incite mindless violence. The Gazette massacre is a reminder of that.

But it also is a reminder of some other things.

It has become acceptable and fashionable for some people to express revulsion concerning the news media. Over the past two years especially, harsh rhetoric has emerged on the national stage concerning methods with which the unapologetic media should be dealt with. Often these words are spoken by people who have no idea how newspapers operate.

Right here in Terrebonne and Lafourche many people don’t know the difference between an article that presents balanced facts on the news pages or the front page, and columns or editorials — like this one — that offer a specific opinion.

On a larger national scale we see that the practice of fighting words or ideas with which we disagree with words and ideas of our own is less fashionable than rants inducing violence, and supporting the idea of shooting the messenger.

That is ultimately who we are, messengers, seeking to share ideas and news of events that we don’t necessarily agree with.

We don’t always get it right but we strive to. And if someone tells us we are wrong we fix it, admitting to our error.

In the wake of the Gazette shootings some on a national level have had the audacity to tweet or speak as a talking head the idea that this is somehow acceptable. The height of ignorance has come from commentators who have said they didn’t understand the incident because the paper in question was not a platform for radical ideas, or those some might call radical.

Such talk is dangerous because it appears to presume that if such were the case, this insane act of rage would be somehow justifiable, or recognized as justifiable in the minds of the perpetrator.

As we celebrate Independence Day this week it is important to remember that freedom — certainly bought with the precious blood of our service men and women — is also dependent on a free and unfettered press. When a journalist is killed that attack is one not just on that person or whom they work for, but against all of us. We mourn the loss from this senseless crime and ask you to do so as well.