“We are putting out a damn newspaper tomorrow,” Chase Cook, a reporter for The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md., tweeted last Thursday.

Five of his colleagues had been gunned down that day, allegedly murdered by a man who had a long-standing grudge against the newspaper.

Yet the staff was determined to publish the next day. The front page included photos of the slain, under the headline, “Five shot dead at The Capital.” The lead story had 10 bylines. The opinion page listed the victims’ names and a note: “This page is left intentionally blank to commemorate victims of Thursday’s shootings at our office.”

What heroes. The Capital Gazette staffers’ grit and courage brought tears to my eyes. I have never been so proud to be a journalist, and never so concerned.

I’ve been writing opinion pieces for a long time, so I am no stranger to reader backlash. I never know what’s going to tick people off, so I assume that whatever I write will anger someone. One of the most acrimonious emails I’ve received so far this year was in response to a column I wrote that was critical of a man who was eating a deli container of chicken salad in front of me in a supermarket line. Apparently, I was being judgmental.

Sure I was. As an opinion writer, I need to have opinions.

In the past, however, (by which I mean before last week), I took my hate mail in stride. No one threatened me. Readers just told me that I was a jerk. Why, once when I was a copy editor on the op-ed page of the Kennebec Journal (where this column started), I received a gift from a reader and letter-to-the-editor writer. He didn’t like my columns. But this sweet, retired fellow one day brought me a jar filled with prickly burrs, labeled “Porcupine Eggs.” A peace offering.

Today, a disgruntled reader might not be so cute. But I won’t dish up any scenarios and give anybody any ideas.

It’s not just the shooting that has me nervous, of course. It was but one battle in the war being waged against the American news media.

I believe President Donald Trump’s constant attacks on journalism are endangering not only reporters’ lives, but all Americans’ constitutional right to free speech.

Trump has been calling the media “the enemy of the people” since his inauguration. According to the Brookings Institute, “Twentieth-century dictators — notably, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao — had all denounced their critics, especially the press, as ‘enemies of the people.’ Their goal was to delegitimize the work of the press as ‘fake news’ and create confusion in the public mind about what’s real and what isn’t; what can be trusted and what can’t be.”

Fake news — how often have we heard that? Last fall, the president really went overboard when he said that it’s “frankly disgusting that the press is able to write whatever it wants.”

Funny how the Founding Fathers put freedom of speech, and of the press, at the top of the Bill of Rights. I wonder why? Hmm, could it be that those rebels realized the crucial importance of open discourse in the democracy they had fought so hard to establish?

I just finished reading “Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War,” by Steve Sheinkin. In 1971, Ellsberg photocopied classified documents that detailed years of government lying about the conflict and gave “The Pentagon Papers” to The New York Times. When the Times was blocked by a court order from further publication, The Washington Post did so. When it was stopped, The Boston Globe took over.

In the end, the papers were completely published by 13 additional newspapers. It was a shining moment for journalism. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of The Times and The Post. Justice Hugo Black wrote, “In revealing the workings of the government that led to to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

Soon, Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward would unravel the Watergate scandal and help bring down a duplicitous president.

That would be Richard M. Nixon, who famously said to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “The press is your enemy.” This was the president whose henchmen bugged journalists’ homes and phones.

As a teenager during those times, I was inspired by these brave journalists. But while I look back to find the sources of my own strength and courage, I hear echoes of a troubling time I thought we’d never repeat.

I don’t want to think it’s déjà vu all over again, but it’s sure looking that way.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

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