You may have never heard of Milo Yiannopoulos, and there are times I wished I hadn’t either.
He calls himself a journalist, yet he’s anything but. Even Breitbart News — the online publication that introduced us to the likes of Steve Bannon — ultimately wanted nothing to do with him.
Yiannopoulos is a provocateur, someone who likes to light political fires taking some of the most controversial positions. And it’s no surprise that after the horrific shooting that killed five people at a Maryland newspaper last week that Yiannopoulos’ name would come up in the middle of it.
Just days before the shooting at The Capital, Yiannopoulos reportedly sent a text message to Observer.com reporter Davis Richardson, telling him that he “can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight.”
No, the Maryland shooting is not Yiannopoulos’ fault. It’s the shooter’s. But that kind of rhetoric isn’t helping anything.
A day after the shooting, President Trump said “journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs.” I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that, but it’s certainly an about-face from a president who has continually attacked the media, going as far as calling journalists an “enemy of the American people,” and even suggested television networks like NBC should lose FCC licensing because of what they’re reporting.
Sadly, threats and violence against journalists are not new. Since 1992, more than 1,300 reporters have been killed worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, including 20 so far in 2018. Yet, before last week’s shooting, only seven of those deaths were in the United States, most recently television reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward who were shot on live television in Virginia in 2015.
Even this very paper has been the victim of violence — luckily in a situation where no one got hurt. In the early morning hours of Feb. 28, 1989, someone lobbed a Molotov cocktail through the front window of The Riverdale Press office at 6155 Broadway, the ensuing fire gutting the newspaper offices. The Steins — Richie, Buddy and their mother Celia — rushed to the scene as firefighters worked hard to extinguish the flames consuming what was (and would continue to be) your community newspaper.
We never found out for sure why The Press was firebombed that night, but chances are it was related to an editorial Buddy authored the week before defending Salman Rushdie’s right to free speech after the religious leader of Iran called for his death following the publication of Rushdie’s book, “The Satanic Verses.”
Sure, our reporters aren’t out embedded with troops in the middle of a war zone, but we do face various types of danger on a regular basis. Because everything we do is public — and it might not put people in the most flattering light — it’s hard not to have a fear in the back of your mind that you might anger the wrong person, and that anger could take a violent turn.
Threats are intended to silence us. To stop us from pursuing the truth. To prevent us from reporting not just the news you want to know, but the news you need to know. We hold public officials accountable, we give light to issues that might otherwise remain in the dark, and we play a role in advancing society so important, it’s enshrined in the very document that serves as the backbone of our country, the U.S. Constitution.
Our hearts go out to The Capital and the entire Annapolis community. But then again, that has become a constant refrain as what seems almost day after day, we’re mourning some victim of gun violence.
Don’t like what we’re doing? Write a letter. Because in the end, the only tools in our arsenal are words. And they can be powerful, even beyond a bullet.
In 1989, Buddy Stein said that The Riverdale Press would not be silenced. Yes, we were devastated, even frightened by the violence unleashed against us. “But as a newspaper, we are proud. We have never been afraid to publish the news; we have never been afraid to voice our opinions; we have always been glad to provide a forum for the opinions of others, particularly those with whom we disagree.”
And nearly 30 years later, that hasn’t changed. Not one bit.
The author is editor of The Riverdale Press.