Sarah Stultz: A sad day for journalists in the United States

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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Nose for News by Sarah Stultz

Seeing photographs and videos of the riot at the Capitol earlier this month has brought on all kinds of feelings.

As a native of Virginia, whose family took many trips to view the buildings in Washignton, D.C., as a child, it was mindblowing to watch the events as they unfolded Jan. 6.

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It was also disheartening as a journalist to hear about the personal abuse and damage to property that occurred to several members of the media who were reporting on the event.

It was difficult to watch some of the people in the crowd verbally and physically assault journalists covering the rally and destroy their equipment. Some rioters spat at reporters, and others chased them down.

A noose fashioned out of a camera cord was found hanging from a tree, and graffiti was found on the Capitol saying “Murder the media.”

I couldn’t help but immediately think back to the rally the Tribune covered in Iowa with President Donald Trump a handful of years ago. At that rally, Trump asked everyone in attendance that day to turn around and “Boo” the media. I remember feeling intimidated, and quite honestly a little afraid to witness several hundred people putting down an industry with a reputable history. Our own photographer had food thrown at her.

I hoped people from our own community weren’t in that crowd.

Fast forward now a few years, and I imagine that was nothing compared to what the members of the media felt Jan. 6 at the Capitol.

Though journalists by now have grown familiar with the rheotoric and jeers in recent years, they likely did not anticipate the threats and accelerated behavior they would face that day.

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there were at least nine physical assaults against journalists covering the Capitol and related rallies across the country that day. Those numbers do not include incidents of harassment or intimidation.

Many of the journalists felt a sense of duty to continue documenting history despite the threats by others nearby. Some, frightened for their lives, realized they had to hide their press badges to avoid confrontation.

Make no mistake, this is not the only event in the last year where journalists have become the targets of unrest, but, in my opinion, it sure is the scariest.

So much so, that news organizations are now providing their journalists with gas masks and bullet-proof vests as they headed into this week’s rallies.

What a scary time to be in the media industry.

I’m offering a prayer up for all of my journalist colleagues around the country who may be putting themselves in harm’s way this week.

To quote the words of Capital Gazette reporter Pat Fergurson after a gunman shot and killed five of his co-workers at the Annapolis newspaper office in 2018: “We are not the enemy. We’re you.”

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.