Don’t blame Trump for this one

By CHARLES DUNAGIN,

The few pundits who were quick to blame President Donald Trump for the mass murder at a newspaper in Annapolis, Md., last week were way off base.

You can’t blame Trump, the consummate press critic, for the rampage that resulted in five deaths at the Capital Gazette even though the president and some of his followers have labeled the news media as “the enemy of the people.”

No, the Capital Gazette shooting was more about a personal vendetta and today’s gun violence environment than a reflection of a public antipathy toward the press.

Police say Jarrod Ramos targeted the paper because of its coverage of his 2011 conviction for harassing a former classmate.

Not only did he kill journalists, one of the victims was identified as a member of the sales or advertising staff.

Anyone who has worked for newspapers for as long as I did is familiar with characters like Jarrod Ramos who hold grudges for legitimate news coverage that damages their reputations — or, to be fair, mistakes and inaccurate coverage which do occur.

Not many, thank goodness, take up shotguns and storm the newsroom.

In my own experience, as a reporter and editor, I have been threatened, although never physically harmed.

My former boss, the late Oliver Emmerich, was slugged   on at least two occasions before I started working for him. I should add he was blindsided  both times. When it came to fist fights, I was told, Oliver could give as well as take.

When he died, I took over his desk. Among the items in it were brass knuckles.

During the summer of 1963, nightriders, identifying themselves as the KKK, threw an unlit  firebomb at my house with a note warning me to keep “anti-civil rights” news off the front page of the  Enterprise-Journal where I was the managing editor.

We put that threat on the front page, as we did subsequent “anti-civil rights” coverage.

During that summer we had crosses burned in front of the newspaper building and at Mr. Emmerich’s home, a stink bomb thrown at the circulation office and a bullet fired through plate glass in the front office.

Fortunately, no one at the newspaper was hurt, but it was a harrowing few months  during which I kept a loaded shotgun by my bed.

Violence against journalists during the civil rights days — there were some who were injured and killed — was aimed more at intimidation than retribution.

Die hard segregationists thought that the less publicity the civil rights movement received the less chance they had for success. They probably were correct as it was national publicity that helped turn the tide against segregation.

The civil rights movement and other national trends aside, journalists who are very long in the business encounter some crazy people, some dangerous and some not.

Among my recollections are at least two individuals who thought or professed to be the son of God. One, named Eugene Changey, sent numerous letters and essays to editors across the country, purporting to speak for God. Another was a rural Pike County man who walked into my office one day and proclaimed he was Jesus returned to earth.

At one time, a World War II hero from McComb, who was in and out of mental institutions after experiencing horrific experiences fighting Germans, was a frequent visitor to the Enterprise-Journal for several weeks before being recommitted to a VA facility.

He was under the illusion that there were German spies among us, and he wanted the newspaper to report it. Physically imposing, he was the type I always thought could hurt someone and he actually did, slugging a man he thought was a German spy at the post office.

I recall all this to point out that the news media can be a magnet for crazy people, some  violent, from many different directions.

Though retired, I still consider myself a journalist, and I don’t like to be called an “enemy of the people” because I’m not.

I think President Trump’s rhetoric aimed at the media in  general and sometimes at individual reporters is dangerous.

But he was not responsible for  last week’s tragedy.