Tom Henderson: Literally shooting the messenger

Last week’s shooting spree at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, which left five dead, cannot be blamed on President Donald Trump.

Our Commander in Tweet and various members of the Fox News Glee Club will undoubtedly remind of us of that fact — multiple times — over the coming weeks.

Yes, the president terms the press “the enemy of the American people,” talks of throwing journalists in jail and debates making it easier to sue news organizations for libel. Still, this tragedy was not his fault.

Neither was it the fault of Dana Loesch, the NRA spokeswoman who called journalists “the rat bastards of the earth,” adding, “I’m happy, frankly, to see them curb-stomped.” And while we’re not blaming people, let’s be sure not to fault Milo Yiannopoulos, the right-wing provocateur who said in an email, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”

Milo later claimed he was kidding. How dare liberals try scoring political points by blaming him for helping provoke the carnage?

Guest Writer

Tom Hendersoncovers city government and social issues for the News-Register. He has served as a reporter and editor at Northwest newspapers for almost 40 years. This response to the recent newspaper shooting on the East Coast — keenly felt by all engaged in the reporting profession — grew from an online exchange.

Indeed. How can anyone really believe he wanted journalists gunned down on sight when all he said was he wanted journalists gunned down on sight?
However, Milo is correct. He should not be blamed for the murders.

Neither should Trump or Loesch. Neither should the man who showed up at a Trump campaign rally with a shirt reading: “Rope. Journalist. Tree. Some assembly required.”

Shooting suspect Jarrod Ramos had a beef against the Capital Express from back in that blissful age when fewer people took Trump, Loesch and Yiannopoulos seriously, when few people gave a rat’s rear end what they and their fellow refugees from a mixed bag of nuts had to say about anything.

Seven years ago, the Gazette reported Ramos had been convicted of online harassment of a former high school classmate. This upset Ramos deeply, as he had indeed harassed a former high school classmate online.

So he did what any good American would when caught in the act. He took personal responsibility for his behavior and did everything he could to atone for it.
Just kidding. He filed a lawsuit against the newspaper.

His lawsuit failed. Several times.

Each time, the judge said Ramos had failed to produce any evidence that what the paper reported was false. Ramos responded with a torrent of threatening tweets, along with other displays of hostility.

The point is that all this predated Trump and his unholy choir of angels. Maybe hostile rhetoric toward the press gave Ramos the final push from grumbling malcontent to full-blown murderer.

A direct connection will probably never be made, but it doesn’t really matter.

If Trump and Company didn’t create Jarrod Ramos, he is certainly one of them. He is emblematic of Trump’s war on the press and, more importantly, on reality itself.

We live in what some people call a “post-factual society.” That’s a fancy way of saying we’re a bunch of blithering morons, as we only accept the facts we want to accept.

Global warming truly an inconvenient truth? No problem. It doesn’t exist.

The scientific fact of evolution fails to balance with the talking snake theory of creation? Very well.

Then the jury is still out on that one. Just teach the controversy, even it is, in fact, nonexistent.

U.S. Border Patrol officials told CBS News on June 18 they don’t like journalists reporting imprisoned immigrant children are being held in cages. While the officials admitted the reporting is accurate, children really are being held in cages, reports about it made the agency feel “uncomfortable.”

Sorry, folks, but making people in power uncomfortable is a major part of what we do. If they don’t like it, they should quit putting children in cages.

Mainstream journalists are often asked to indulge people’s delusions. Remember then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s utterly false assertion of January 2017: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.”

Some among us play along, notably Fox News. Most among us don’t let people cherry-pick their favorite reality, though, and the rallying cry in response is inevitably, “Fake news!”

A new Axios-SurveyMonkey poll finds that 92 percent of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents believe traditional news outlets deliberately report false or misleading stories.

Many Democrats feel the same way. We know because we receive the calls, posts and letters.

At the very least, we are accused of being biased. But here’s a fun fact: Most people like bias. It just stews their prunes when they think the bias favors someone else.

Like most journalists, I loved the TV series “The Newsroom,” particularly the Charlie Skinner character.

“We don’t pretend that certain facts are in dispute just to give the appearance of fairness to people who don’t believe them,” he once said. “Balance is irrelevant to me. It has nothing to do with the truth, logic or reality.”

As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is credited with saying, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion. He is not entitled to his own facts.”

Here’s one more quote on the subject, this one from the British science fiction series “Doctor Who” and its time-traveling protagonist:

“The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common,” the Doctor observes. “They do not alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views, which can be very uncomfortable if you’re one of the facts that needs altering.”

Wendi Winters, Robert Hiassen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara and Rebecca Smith ceased being people last week. They became facts that needed altering.

From Donald Trump to Jarrod Ramos, people hate reality. They take their hatred out on the people reporting that reality.

The shootings last week were not because of Trump, but they are part of the age-old philosophy he brings to the highest office in the land: If you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger.

Trump and his like-minded legions do so figuratively. Is it any surprise that some unhinged individual in our increasingly unhinged nation did it literally?



Thank you!!

Bill B

I agree with the comments about Fox, but what about CNN. I read both daily and CNN has gravitated from a news organization to an opinion organization. Read the headlines each day and at least half will be a negative comment/opinion about the Trump administration. I have yet to read a positive comment about Trump on CNN and I don't care about your political persuasion, there have been at least some positive actions.

Bill B

Today from CNN: "For all his bluster and choreographed suspense, President Donald Trump's blockbuster Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh was all but locked in from the start.
Of course, the President put on a show for the cameras, materializing before a national TV audience Monday night at the White House to end a selection process he had spooled out for nearly two weeks.
He was there, as promised, to entrust his presidential legacy and the hopes of conservatives everywhere to a nominee who would emerge from obscurity to inherit the considerable power to redraw the ideological balance of the Supreme Court for a generation."

Sorry Tom, but this is not reporting!

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