Column: Don't stop the press!

By DAVID GUSTAFSON,

Like many of you, our hearts leapt last Thursday afternoon when we heard about the shooting at The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Md., 30 miles west of Washington, DC.

A disgruntled reader with a criminal history of making threats had gunned down five employees in cold blood.

Gun violence in this country is certainly nothing new. In fact, last week’s tragedy in Maryland was this country’s 154th mass shooting this year.

More than 800 people have been shot or killed in those incidents – including the Jan. 5, 2018, shooting here in Hattiesburg that wounded six people near La Fiesta Brava.

While we make it very clear in an opinion piece published on Page 4 of this newspaper that President Donald Trump is not to blame for the shooting, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the fact Trump has repeatedly called members of the media “scum,” “slime,” “dishonest,” and “disgusting.”

He has referred to the news media as the “Enemy of the American People.”

And why?

Lesley Stahl, the 13-time Emmy award-winning “60 Minutes” correspondent whose work has spanned decades, said recently that when she visited Trump Tower in November 2016 to interview the president-elect in his first post-election interview, she called out the New York businessman and asked him whether he planned to stop attacking the press, which was a hallmark of his campaign.

“He said you know why I do it?” explained Stahl. “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

Of course, the White House has refused to comment about the claim – a response that is becoming more and more common when members of the “fake news media” challenge the adminstration for answers.

While Trump is certainly not the first American president with a disdain for the media, his inflammatory comments have created a spirt of never-before-seen animosity towards the press.

“Journalists are targeted in several ways: from social media trolling to harassment by law enforcement to over-the-top public criticism by those in the highest office,” said Jodie Ginsberg, CEO at Index on Censorship, a nonprofit agency that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. “The negative atmosphere for journalists is damaging for the public and their right to information.”

Don’t get us wrong. There are lousy journalists everywhere. In fact there are “patriotic” bloggers right here in the Pine Belt who are even worse.

But professional journalists like the ones who work here at The Petal News, The Hatteisburg Post and The Lamar Times are not your enemy.

Community newspapers like ours continue to be the backbone of the towns we serve and that’s because we report the news without fear or favor – the same exact thing they were doing at The Capital newspaper the morning buckshot came raining down.

In observance of Independence Day and to honor the memory of those brave journalists who died last week, we dedicate this week’s issue of The Petal News, The Hattiesburg Post and The Lamar Times to the entire staff of The Capital in Annapolis, Md.

 

David Gustafson is the publisher of The Petal News. Email him at: david@HubCitySPOKES.com