The shooting deaths of five people at a community newspaper in Maryland on Friday added to the long list of bloodbaths that have soaked the nation in recent years.
Schoolchildren have been slaughtered by the dozen. A member of Congress was shot playing baseball. Police are murdered doing their jobs. Revelers in Las Vegas are gunned down in the streets. Now, journalists are slain at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., because they did their jobs.
As a country, we are becoming inured to mass murder, as though it was an inevitability – something a free society has to shrug off, pretending that it doesn’t matter. But, in that, America is unlike other free societies that aren’t plagued with chronic gun violence. Why is that? What is it that makes this country different?
We’d be kidding if we didn’t acknowledge that this shooting hit home.
Four journalists and a sales assistant were killed by a man with a long-standing vendetta against the newspaper. Jarrod Ramos had sued the paper for defamation, but a judge threw the case out. The paper had simply reported the facts about Ramos, who had previously pleaded guilty to criminal harassment of a woman through social media.
But reporting facts creates ripples, and sometimes waves. Some people don’t want the public to know what it has the right to know. They want to harass women or cheat taxpayers or misuse their public offices without being exposed. They want to keep their dirty secrets.
The fact is that when reporters are doing their jobs, some people are made uncomfortable and even angry. Telling the truth can be unpopular.
Journalists are aware that theirs is the only private-sector occupation mentioned in, and protected by, the Constitution. It’s that way for a reason; the Founding Fathers understood that a free and independent press, whatever its defects, is essential to a functioning and durable democracy. That’s a privilege, but along with responsibilities, it produces risks.
And, as Thursday’s killings show, journalists are no safer from the national bloodletting than first-graders or churchgoers or anyone else that someone with a grievance and a gun decides to massacre.