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EDITORIAL: Newsroom shooting should be impetus to dial back the rhetoric

In this age of social media vitriol and political upheaval, the media have become a convenient punching bag for partisans on both the left and right. Some of this is understandable — the job of trying to keep readers or viewers informed often requires reporting or revealing information that makes people uncomfortable or even angry.

But this work is imperative to a healthy democracy, and the great majority of the men and women who choose journalism as their vocation — like those who enter myriad other professions — do so out of a sincere belief that they are performing an important service for their communities.

That was no doubt true of the five people — Wendi Winters, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rebecca Smith and Rob Hiaasen —mercilessly gunned down Thursday in the newsroom of The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. Many Americans, it is sad to say, have become inured to mass shootings in schools, churches, malls, theaters, workplaces and other public areas. Las Vegans are all too familiar with this agonizing modern reality. But given the powder keg of rabid partiality that dominates our discourse today, this senseless massacre struck a particular chord.

The suspect, Jarrod Ramos, apparently carried a grudge against the paper for a story it published about him seven years ago. He had filed a lawsuit against the Gazette, which a judge threw out of court. But his anger festered, and last week he acted upon it, entering the building and shooting innocent people as he walked through the newspaper offices. Authorities say he had barricaded a back door to prevent workers from fleeing.

President Donald Trump said the attack “shocked the conscience of the nation and filled our hearts with grief.” He went on to say that “journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”

Mr. Trump has been an outspoken critic of the press, frequently tweeting acidic comments about the mainstream media and “fake news” that delight his base. Progressives, meanwhile, have their own targets and fixations in Fox News and talk radio. While it would be lazy, irresponsible and fallacious to insinuate that overheated rhetoric about media bias and ill intentions contributed to Thursday’s mayhem — the killer alone is responsible for his depravity — perhaps the distressing events of last week should trigger an alarm warning everyone to dial back the bile and animosity.

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