Team Maryland Asks President Biden to Award Capital Gazette Shooting Victims the Medal of Freedom for their Sacrifices and Defense of the First Amendment
Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation are urging President Joe Biden to award the Medal of Freedom posthumously to the five men and women who were killed on June 28, 2018 at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis in what was the deadliest attack on journalists in the U.S. in our nation’s history. At a time when First Amendment rights are under constant duress, Senator Chris Van Hollen along with Senator Ben Cardin and Congressmen Steny Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone (All D-Md.) have written to the president asking that the nation’s highest civilian honor be awarded to Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, and Rebecca Smith for embodying the spirit of the Freedom of the Press.
As noted in their letter, “the president historically bestows this honor to men and women who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security and safety of his or her fellow citizens.” The lawmakers wholeheartedly concur with the arguments laid out by the Capital Gazette editorial board on January 24.
The full text of the letter follows and can be found at this link.
As President of the United States, you have the ability to award the Nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The President historically bestows this honor to men and women who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security and safety of their fellow citizens.
As Senators and Representatives of the State of Maryland, we urge you to consider Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, and Rebecca Smith for this great distinction. On June 28, 2018, these individuals lost their lives in the deadliest attack on journalists in American history at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland. Though their memories have been honored in numerous ways since the attack, including through the forthcoming National Memorial to Fallen Journalists, we concur with their families and former colleagues that they deserve our Nation’s highest civilian honor. On January 24, 2021, the Capital Gazette editorial board wrote:
Wendi died protecting the Freedom of the Press, one of the fundamental liberties forming the bedrock of this nation. She willingly threw herself against a murderous attack from a man who wanted nothing less than to silence a news organization that had written something that angered him. He attacked to kill the truth. But the remaining victims of that day are also worthy of honor. Rob, Gerald and John were journalists who died for choosing a profession that aims to shine a light on the world. And while Rebecca was not a journalist, she was killed for merely associating with them.
According to eyewitness accounts from survivors, Wendi armed herself with the closest weapons at hand – her trash and recycling bins – and charged the shooter, enabling several of her coworkers to escape. In doing so, Wendi exhibited the highest values of her family’s military tradition. She was the daughter of a Naval Academy graduate, the mother of three Navy officers, and a sponsor to numerous midshipmen over the years. Rob similarly served as a mentor to many young journalists over the years. Family, friends, and colleagues all miss Wendi and Rob and Gerald, John, and Rebecca, who “died for freedom’s sake,” as the Gazette editorial put it.
Previous Presidents have awarded the Medal of Freedom posthumously on dozens of occasions. We believe these Marylanders, who embodied and protected the First Amendment, deserve such an honor. Since 2018, the animosity toward members of the press nationwide has only gotten worse. On January 6, 2021, the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol Building threatened, attacked, and detained members of the media and gleefully destroyed their equipment. This trend is incredibly corrosive to our democracy. This trend is incredibly corrosive to our democracy. While President Trump never responded to our 2018 request that he bestow this award in response to the Capital Gazette shooting, we are hopeful that you will.
Again, we enthusiastically recommend Wendi Winters, Rob Hiaasen, Gerald Fischman, John McNamara, and Rebecca Smith for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We look forward to working with you and your administration to acknowledge and defend the free press that serves as a foundation for all of our liberties.
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