In advance of the one-year anniversary of the fatal Capital Gazette shooting, the deadliest newsroom shooting in American history, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) Tuesday introduced legislation authorizing a national memorial to fallen journalists.
The legislation calls for a privately funded memorial constructed on federal lands within the District of Columbia and honoring journalists, photographers and broadcasters killed in the line of duty.
Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (CA-32) and Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) have introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
“A free and open press is essential to our democracy, and I’m honored to join Sen. Cardin in introducing legislation to establish the National Memorial to Fallen Journalists,” Portman said. “This memorial will serve as a fitting tribute to the men and women in journalism, including those from the Capital Gazette, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of the First Amendment.”
“Across the national capital region, we are privileged to have monuments and memorials to honor those who have helped make our nation and our democracy stronger since its founding days. Currently missing from that honor roll are reporters who have sacrificed everything to report the news in the spirit of the free, open and transparent societies and governments that Americans — and all people — deserve,” said Sen. Cardin. “This new memorial will honor the brave souls lost in the shooting at the Capital Gazette and others who lost their lives doing their job in defense of our freedoms. It will be a visible symbol of their sacrifice and the fragility of our democracy.”
While Portman, a Republican, chose to co-sponsor the bill in the Senate, it seems unclear what type of reception a memorial for journalists might receive from the Trump White House. Trump is, of course, well-known for his criticism of the media, commonly labeling mainstream media purveyors of “fake news” and referring to journalists as “enemies of the people.”
A spokesperson for Portman, Kevin Smith, stated the Ohio Senator had not reached out to the White House regarding any opinion on the potential memorial for journalists. Should the memorial pass the Senate and House, Trump would need to sign the resulting measure. Smith declined to speculate as to whether Trump would do so.
“Sen. Portman believes in the importance of this bill,” Smith said.
He added Portman became involved with the issue after speaking with personal friend David Dreier, the chairman of Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the Capital Gazette.
June 28 marks the first anniversary of the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., a newspaper with roots stretching before the American Revolution. The incident left five employees – Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters – dead and two wounded.
“It’s a great honor to be involved in the effort to build a memorial to fallen journalists on the National Mall. It is a sacred space and the location that will serve as a reminder of the importance to our democracy of the work for which Rob, Wendi, John, Gerald — and Rebecca, though she wasn’t a journalist — ultimately sacrificed their lives,” said Capital Gazette Editor Rick Hutzell.
“Their names will live on in Annapolis and in the hearts and minds of their loved ones and colleagues. We lucky few who worked with them know the significance of their work to our community. When this memorial is built, we believe seeing their names in the company of such men and women will help others understand it as well.”
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists:
– at least 1,337 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1992
– each year, hundreds of journalists are attacked, imprisoned and tortured
– the majority of the journalists killed are murdered in direct relation to their work as journalists
– in nine out of 10 cases, the killers of the journalists go free
In the U.S., Portman’s office stated journalists have been vulnerable to attack or reprisal for their work, including:
– a freelance photojournalist was killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center
– in October 2001, a photo editor with The Sun newspaper in Boca Raton, Fla., died from inhaling anthrax, a substance mailed to a number of journalists across the country
– in August 2007, a masked gunman shot and killed the editor-in-chief of the Oakland Post, a prominent African American newspaper
– in August 2015, a reporter and cameraman for television station WDBJ7 were shot dead during a live broadcast in Smith Mountain Lake, Va.
– at least 59 journalists have been murdered or killed in the U.S. throughout the history of the country while reporting; while covering a military conflict; or, because of the status of the individual as a journalist.
The Cardin-Portman bill (S. 1969) authorizes the Fallen Journalists Memorial (FJM) Foundation to establish a commemorative work, or memorial, in the District of Columbia. The FJM Foundation must provide the funding necessary for the National Park Service or General Services Administration to maintain the memorial. The Annenberg Foundation and the Ferro Foundation already provided $300,000 in initial funding to launch the FJM Foundation, which will operate under the auspices of the National Press Club Journalism Institute (NPCJI), the non-profit affiliate of the National Press Club.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.