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The free press will not be deterred

Johnson City Press • Jul 1, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Newspaper staffs everywhere, including ours, had reason for pause on Thursday. The murders at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, struck close to home for anyone who covers the news for a living.

Knowing that five of our fellow journalists lost their lives for merely doing their jobs is sobering.

It gives us even more appreciation for the fears America’s high school students have about the mass shootings snuffing out the young lives of their peers across the country. Our summer high school intern, Evan Mays, tells us that many students live on edge at times. Even a locker door slamming can send a shockwave through the halls.

The United States has to get a handle on gun violence. Mass shootings are no longer alarming to a numbed American public, and we are complacent finding about solutions amid the political divide that complicates the crisis.

Our bullheaded Congress must set aside that division and save some lives by addressing the roots of the problem and the largely unchecked proliferation of instruments of death. Thoughts and prayers are just not working, and any and all possibilities should be on the table. Surely a country as advanced as this can curb gun violence without tossing out the Second Amendment.

What is most disturbing about Thursday’s slayings, though, is the possible motive. The Associated Press described the alleged killer as a disgruntled reader who had regularly harassed the Capital Gazette in numerous profanity-laced tweets. One said he would enjoy seeing the paper stop publishing, but “it would be nicer” to see two journalists “cease breathing.”

Well his attack was only partially successful. Unthwarted, the Capital Gazette published its Friday morning edition as always, even as the staff reeled in shock from the experience.

Like the Capital Gazette, American journalism is still breathing despite attacks from all sides.

Thursday’s violence followed two years of missiles hurled toward the news media from politicians around the nation, led by President Donald Trump and the “fake news” rhetoric. Just days before the Annapolis newsroom murders, the president repeated his claim that the news media are the “enemy of the people.”

Were politicians directly responsible for the Annapolis killings? Of course not, and it remains to be seen just what spurred the killer to action. It’s clear from his tweets, however, that he intended to silence the journalists.

What happened in Annapolis — like the national rhetoric — is a direct assault on the 1st Amendment. These attacks are not just on the news media but also on the free exercise of public discourse and thereby the American people.

They only serve, however, to strengthen our resolve.

We can promise you that we will not be intimidated or deterred. We will continue fighting for your right to know, holding public officials accountable for their words and actions, and maintaining the free press’ rightful place in this democratic republic.

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