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Columnist: Journalists are part of the people

Terry Smith, a contributing columnist at the Capital Gazette newspaper where five people were shot and killed, tells CNN's John Berman there is a full-scale war on the press.

Posted: Jul 1, 2018 6:11 AM
Updated: Jul 1, 2018 6:36 AM

I grew up in a newsroom but never once feared dying a violent death there.

As a kid reporter, I covered everything from heinous crimes to corrupt politicians, yet I always felt secure behind the heavy wooden doors of the Chicago Tribune, where my greatest fears were a dressing-down from an irate editor or a confrontation with an over-served colleague returning from a saloon, looking for a fight.

We were trained to be rigorous about facts and get the story right. By doing that, I'm sure I wrote things that angered people. Some of them probably were capable of retaliation. But it never occurred to me that an armed, aggrieved subject might invade the newsroom.

That's why I found Thursday's massacre at the Capital Gazette in Maryland so shocking.

Like many in these prickly times, my first thoughts about the killer's motive turned to politics. Was this the work of some crazed ideologue, provoked to take action by the President's "enemies of the people" rants against the news media?

It turns out it was allegedly rather the deranged act of a vengeful man still angered about how the paper covered a harassment story involving him years ago. He killed five people, not one of whom apparently had anything to do with the coverage that triggered his rage. They were simply men and women who worked assiduously every day to bring local news to their community.

No, the shooter wasn't apparently motivated by politics. But the victims died because the paper faithfully discharged its obligation to cover the news. So this slaughter should give us pause to reflect on the essential role of the journalist in our society.

They work hard to get the straight and unvarnished facts to us, to shine a light in dark corners and make sure we know what is going on in our communities, our country and the world.

It is a mission to which they commit themselves, often for little money and sometimes at great risk -- even, as we now know, in the newsrooms of local papers.

Although I, myself, was angered at times by things that were written about me in my later incarnations in politics and government, I still never once lost my appreciation for that essential role journalists play.

Let us remember the fallen and wounded of the Capital by rejecting the self-interested invectives of politicians and others who find facts uncomfortable and truth inconvenient.

It was awesome and inspiring that the day after the horrific attack that took the editorial page editor, an assistant editor, a community reporter, a sports reporter and a sales assistant, the Capital published, as it has since 1727, covering its own tragedy.

Today and every day, I salute those who work hard and honorably to bring us the news we need to know.

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