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Sarah Gassen: Journalists aren't the 'enemy of the American people'

Sarah Gassen: Journalists aren't the 'enemy of the American people'

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When news flashed Thursday that there was a shooting in a newsroom — the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland — I had several competing thoughts:

It’s finally happened.

I hope this is a workplace violence shooting, not someone specifically targeting journalists. God, what a terrible thing to even think.

Now I know how teachers and students feel every single day.

The murders of five people doing their jobs at the Capital Gazette — Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith — hit home. A newsroom turned into a murder scene.

That could be any of us.

We could be the journalists reporting on the massacre of our friends and co-workers.

Every attack on a journalist or a news outlet, no matter the motive, is an attack on the free press.

And the press, that pursuit specifically noted in the First Amendment, is made of people. Individuals. We have families, friends, cats, kids, car payments. We go out to dinner on occasion, may play on a community sports team. We go to the dog park. We hope to retire one day.

Sounds like you, doesn’t it.

Because we are. We’re like you.

So when the president of the United States again and again feeds his supporters the lie that journalists are “the enemy of the American people,” it is so completely wrong in so many ways it can be hard to know where to begin.

I’ll tell you why I am a journalist. I believe in the United States. I believe in the First Amendment. I believe in the promise of people doing better, together.

I believe that the public — that’s you — have the right to know what our government and elected officials are doing. And what they’re not doing, but should be.

I believe that journalists carry the responsibility of introducing community members to each other in our coverage.

I believe when someone vested with the public’s trust, or money, betrays that trust, you should know.

I believe in asking questions. And more questions. And verifying answers. And pointing out when they don’t make sense.

I don’t believe there are two sides to every story. I know there are far more, and we must learn about and share them.

I believe in knowing about context and history and being able to explain why an action or statement matters, and to whom.

Journalists must be more than stenographers waiting on the powerful.

I believe in my colleagues, those who get giddy about covering economic development or utility rates, and those who call person after person to verify that the calendar events listings are accurate.

These are the journalists I know.

So Thursday, when details about the newsroom murders were coming out, Trump’s words echoed: The press is the enemy of the people.

Combined with the recent words of conservative icon Milo Yiannopoulos that he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists,” I fear we’ve turned some horrible corner where these words are turning into action. Yiannopoulos now claims he was joking. Maybe. But I dread the person who hears his call as an instruction.

There’s not a simple line between the president of the United States saying, again and again and again, that the press “is the enemy of the American people” and the Capital Gazette killings.

But there’s a definite and brazen hostility toward journalists. Even my University of Arizona journalism students who’ve covered Trump events talk about being screamed at, shoved and threatened while reporting. They’re not deterred.

Vilifying the press undermines our nation. Trump’s constant campaign is designed to make you ignorant and dependent, distrustful of anything that doesn’t come directly from him.

I don’t know of a better way to honor those murdered in their newsroom at the Capital Gazette than to keep doing our jobs. No matter what.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen is the Editorial Page Editor of the Arizona Daily Star. Email her at sgassen@tucson.com

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