Emotions Run High as Media Confronts Another Deadly Attack on Journalists

Police respond to a shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, June 28, 2018 - Getty - ONE TIME USE ONLY-H 2018
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Cable news was surprisingly light on punditry as the details of the attack on a Maryland newspaper, which killed 5 staffers, were still being uncovered.

The story developed in a pattern that's become all too familiar in recent months. Just after 3 p.m. on the East Coast on Thursday, The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported on Twitter that it was investigating reports of an "incident" at the office of The Capital Gazette newspaper, a sister publication located in Annapolis, Md.

By the end of Thursday, the horrible details of the incident were revealed: five journalists at the newspaper, including the editor, had been gunned down by a man in his 30s for a still-unknown reason.

Journalists, including those at The Capital Gazette and The Sun, were once again forced to cover an attack that was extremely personal and hit close to home, bringing to mind the 2015 murder of two television journalists in Virginia.

On cable news, the programming was surprisingly light on punditry and heavy on breaking news coverage, as details were still flying in left and right as the day drew to an end.

Earlier in the day, not long after the news of the shooting broke, Fox News host Sean Hannity drew controversy when he seemed to suggest a connection between the shooting and the hostile "rhetoric" of California congresswoman Maxine Waters, who had encouraged supporters to protest members of Donald Trump's administration. "I've been saying now for days that something horrible was going to happen because of the rhetoric," Hannity said on his radio show.

The blowback to Hannity's comments, which were blasted out by the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters for America under the headline "Sean Hannity blames Maxine Waters for shooting at Maryland newsroom," was swift. Hannity was adamant that he was being taken out of context and had made clear on his show that he wasn't suggesting a connection between the shooting and a larger trend of incivility in the body politic.

While much of Hannity's primetime show was devoted to the congressional hearing of an FBI agent, he used the end of his hour to once again proclaim his innocence and to criticize those who suggested that he had blamed Waters and Democrats for creating a climate that led to the shooting. "Words, at the end of the day, they're dangerous," Hannity said, "but people are responsible for their own actions."

The pugnacious Hannity couldn't help but take a shot at a favorite target of his, CNN media reporter and show host Brian Stelter, who had said on an air that the shooting was "a moment so many journalists have feared." Hannity, in response, called Stelter an "idiot" and suggested that Stelter was implying that Trump's hostile language toward the press played a role in the shooting. The host defended the president's right to call false coverage "fake news," as he does weekly.

Hannity's primetime colleagues, Tucker Carlson before him and Laura Ingraham after him, also shied away from punditry, though Ingraham used her show to lash out, as she has done throughout the week, at Democrats like Waters who have called for combativeness and protests.

Over at CNN, Anderson Cooper interviewed two journalists who had survived the shooting. One of the journalists, overcome with emotion, had used the f-word, which was aired uncensored on TV.

On social media, some journalists alluded to the president's harsh rhetoric toward the media, including repeating this week at a rally on Monday that he calls the press "the enemy of the people."

Early in the evening, as he arrived back at the White House from a trip to Wisconsin, reporters shouted questions to Trump about the shooting, but he refused to comment on it beyond an earlier statement. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has been extremely combative with reporters in the briefing room, released a statement on Twitter condemning the shooting, saying that "a violent attack on innocent journalists doing their job is an attack on every American." Other members of the administration followed suit.

But some in media and entertainment couldn't resist putting the blame on the president and his administration. "Two of my friends are dead in Annapolis and the US President only days earlier declared them to be operating as 'enemies of the people,'" television writer and former Sun reporter David Simon wrote on Twitter. "The climate is formed from such rancid shit; context is king. ... I fucking expect my president, the leader of a republic, to speak of a free press not as 'enemies of the people' as a provocation to such men."