Tell Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) his comments about the press are unacceptable

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On June 28th, Annapolis, MD became the scene of a mass shooting. Rather than a school, concert, or a church, spaces that we have wearily come to accept the “usual targets”, this time it was a newspaper office: The Capital Gazette (just known as “The Capital” to locals). The M.O. was still the same: a man with a history of violent harassment, a gun, and an imagined vendetta because of his bruised ego. Five people were coldly murdered that day while at work: Rebecca Smith, John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, and Wendi Winters.

...And more would have been killed that day if not for the efforts of Wendi Winters, who valiantly charged at the gunman with only a trash can and recycling bin in hand.  She managed to temporarily distract the gunman from more potential victims in the office, saving lives at the cost of her own life.

The idea for recognizing her amazing heroism by potentially nominating her for the Presidential Medal of Freedom was first suggested in a Capital Gazette editorial on July 10th; then within days was taken upon by Representative Dutch Ruppersberger (MD-2) to turn into an official nomination request letter to be sent to the President. The nomination letter was sent on July 16th with the rest of the Maryland Delegation’s signatures (Senators Cardin and Van Hollen, Reps Brown, Sarbanes, Cummings, Delaney, Hoyer, and Raskin)...Except for that of Representative Andy Harris (MD-1), who also happened to be the only Republican. An editorial in the Capital Gazette on summed it up the best:
“If this letter to the president stands without Harris’ name affixed to the bottom, its chances of success are severely diminished because of the president’s view of our profession and his political opponents. We don’t think politics should be a part of this process. Winters’ actions deserve recognition from the White House. Harris should not only sign the letter but become a vocal advocate in convincing the president to make this award.”

In between the time when the nomination letter was sent and we were waiting to hear any sort of statement from Rep. Harris explaining his lack of support, he statements that were clear that he cares little for the suffering of those at the Capital Gazette, the families of the victims, and the Annapolis communities that hold them dearly. When asked questions about his thoughts and feelings regarding Pres. Trump’s press conference following the Russia summit, Rep. Harris made statements about the press that were not only alarming and hostile, but were in especially poor taste considering they came only a few weeks after violent attack on a newspaper in the capital of his home state. He stated, “I disregard and discount anything that involves the mainstream press”, as well as accused the press of being purposefully “unfriendly” towards the President. Journalism is committed to presenting the facts to the people, not bending them to cater to the wishes of men who do not like what is said about them...Whether that be a politician or a gunman. There are reasons why Freedom of the Press is specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution as well as the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To quote the great American journalist (and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient) Edward R. Murrow, “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.”

To be an elected public figure (especially a Marylander) who denies the importance of that in the wake of such a tragedy is irresponsible and insulting to the memories of Rob, John, Gerald, Rebecca, and Wendi.

However, it was not until July 18th that his spokeswoman Jacque Clark stated that Rep. Harris had sent “private communication to the White House” in official support of the effort; then went on to accuse the rest of the delegation not giving Rep. Harris “time to personally review” the facts and letter before signing it. The facts of Wendi’s actions and the nomination letter were known and clear-cut, it should not have taken extra time to deliberate signing. In fact, it is surprising that Rep. Harris, himself a Navy veteran, would not have rushed to support the heroism of a proud Navy daughter and mother, especially considering that he was the one who nominated one of her daughters for acceptance into the Naval Academy. One can only speculate as to why he would behave in this manner, whether is due to his clear dislike of the press or his political partisanism.  Regardless, it is disappointing, shameful, and he should be held accountable for his inexplicable and inexcusable words and actions.

With this petition, we, the undersigned, request the following from Representative Andy Harris:

1. That he publicly recant and apologize to the Capital Gazette for his recent statements about the press.

2. Personally apologize to the family of Wendi Winters for his delay and lack of public support for her nomination for the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the rest of the Maryland Congressional Delegation

It is our sincere hope that Rep. Harris will recognize the harm that he is causing by contributing to the current hostile atmosphere towards journalists, the press, and the First Amendment that can lead to attacks like the one on June 28th.  Furthermore, as we do our best to recover and continue on, we hope that Rep. Harris become a vocal supporter and bipartisan advocate for the recognition of Wendi Winters -- a woman who selflessly gave her life trying to protect her fellow journalists and our American right to Freedom of the Press.


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