Je suis Capital Gazette

If you don’t have thick skin and a dark sense of humor, your ability to survive in the news business is greatly diminished. Apparently, we’ll have to add a bullet-proof vest to that survival list in order to do our job.

The rampage Thursday at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, that killed five people – editors, columnists, a reporter, and a sales person – was a direct result of them doing their job. The exact motives for the alleged gunman Jarrod Ramos are still unclear but he went locked and loaded and ready to shoot to kill journalists at the paper because they were journalists at the paper. Police found him hiding under a desk after the shooting spree, his fingers mutilated to avoid identification. But investigators were able to learn his identity through facial recognition.

No one knows exactly why Ramos chose Thursday to launch his assault on the Gazette. He had a years-long feud with the paper after he unsuccessfully sued them for running a column about harassment and abuse charges against him. His social media pages were rampant with ominous and thinly veiled threats against the paper.

But what pushed him to pull the trigger is still to be determined. Some have found old Twitter posts by Ramos referencing then-candidate Donald Trump.

“Referring to @realDonaldTrump as ‘unqualified’ @capgaznews could end badly (again),” Ramos wrote in 2015.

Fox News host and Trump confidant Sean Hannity blamed US Rep. Maxine Waters for creating the atmosphere with her call to publicly harass supporters and officials in the Trump administration. But while some on social media and in legacy media elsewhere pointed to Trump’s villainization of the media as a contributing factor, there’s no proof that either had anything to do with it. But it certainly doesn’t help. With the heightened awareness of growing animosity toward the media, police around the country including here in Boston increased their visibility around media offices following the Gazette shooting.

As someone said on Twitter, we may figuratively cut each other’s throat for a scoop, but if you attack one of us, you attack all of us. All one has to do is look back at the assault on the offices of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Je suis Charlie.

It’s not “fake news” that columnist and editor Rob Hiaasen, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman, reporter John McNamara, features columnist Wendi Winters, and sales associate Rebecca Smith were killed because they worked at a newspaper. They died from very real bullets.

Threats and anger are part and parcel of being a reporter and editor. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team was threatened by James “Whitey” Bulger when they were doing their expose on his relationship with the FBI. Bulger bragged about firing bullets into the Morrissey Boulevard office during the school busing crisis in the 70s.

About 20 years ago, when I was an investigative and enterprise reporter at the Boston Herald, I received a number of anonymous threats by phone and mail while doing a series of stories on Teamsters shaking down movie producers filming in Massachusetts. When my wife was helping her sister move during that time, the union movers learned who she was married to and told her ominously “he better watch his back.” It frightened her.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

What did I do? My job. And kept doing my job because those types of threats never – not even rarely, but never – came to fruition. They were easy to laugh off. It was empty talk from angry people whose livelihoods were threatened. We understand that but it doesn’t prevent us from doing our jobs.

The same thing happened Friday morning in Annapolis. The small paper put out the day’s edition. Why? “I don’t know what else to do except this,” Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook said while covering the story of his co-workers being shot and killed.