Dealing with Sickos in a Free Society

Jarrod Ramos

The massacre of five journalists in Annapolis, Md., two days ago was a tragedy — one that I, who worked many years in newsrooms like that of the Capital Gazette, can relate to personally. Sadly, it did not take long for the finger pointing to begin. A predictable first target was President Donald Trump, who on multiple occasions has described journalists as “enemies of the people.” It took mere minutes for a Reuters editor to tweet, “blood is on your hands, Mr. President.”

Even the most outspoken critics of the president have backed away from such accusations now that it’s clear that the alleged killer was not a right-wing nut job but an individual, clearly mentally ill, who bore idiosyncratic grievances against the newspaper. But that hasn’t stopped some commentators from still wanting to make Trump the issue.

In a column today Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan does state clearly that there is no “causal” connection between Trump’s comments and the actions of the unhinged gunman. However, she writes that Trump, like the accused Jarrod Ramos, displays “a dangerous failure to understand the role of the media in our society.” She draws linkages between the Gazette shooting and a media “under siege” from shrinking newspaper resources, mounting legal threats, Trump’s verbal abuse, and a Trumpian attitude that has “infected the entire culture.”

News flash to Sullivan: Your pretzel logic is precisely why millions of Americans have lost all faith in mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post! You are a caricature of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls an IYI — Intellectual Yet Idiot.

If the Annapolis shooting is symptomatic of anything, it is the fact that the United States is suffering from an epidemic of mental illness, that thousands of angry and alienated middle-aged white males like Ramos are ticking time bombs wandering around loose, and that society has failed to contrive a way to predict and curtail their explosive behavior. That truth, obvious to anyone with common sense, is the rogue elephant in the room, knocking over the furniture and punching holes in the wall. Yet Sullivan wants to talk about Trump!

Frankly, I’m surprised that more incidents like this haven’t happened in American newsrooms. Why? First, because newspapers, especially those covering local news, write about the dark underbelly of human behavior. Reporters cross paths with nut jobs more frequently than other Americans do. Also, as semi-public figures who write about the whackos, they draw the ire of the whackos.

Second, mental illness is rampant — and it’s getting worse. Eighteen percent of all Americans have a mental health condition. Nearly 10 million experience suicidal ideation. Most Americans work their way through those impulses, but many do not. Some, turning their pain inward, kill themselves. Others, turning their pain outward, kill others. At any given time, tens of thousands of Americans are nursing bitter personal grievances and entertaining fantasies of violent vengeance. If Sullivan wants to draw linkages, perhaps she should explore the ties between the epidemics of suicide, school shootings, workplace violence, and suicide by cop by alienated, loner white males. 

The 38-year-old Ramos, we have learned, has long displayed unstable behavior. He lived alone, rarely socializing with anyone. He spent years harassing a female high school acquaintance, then, when the Gazette ran an article about his case, he transferred his unrelenting fixation and animosity to the newspaper. Brennan McCarthy, the woman’s attorney, has said that no one had ever frightened him as much as Ramos did. He called Ramos a “classic loner” and “as angry and obsessive an individual as you will ever meet.”

Ramos broadcast his instability for the whole world to see. People feared him. But no one did anything. Why? Apparently, that question has yet to occur to Margaret Sullivan.

Perhaps no one acted because in the United States, we don’t arrest people, or even deprive them of their liberty, until they have demonstrated that they are an imminent threat to themselves or others — and even then it’s darned hard to lock them up.

As we plunge deeper into the thicket of causality, we could ask why such spasms of violence seem to be increasing in frequency. Why is mental illness getting worse, and why is violence by pathetic loners becoming endemic? Has our healthcare system failed to keep pace with the demand for mental-health services? Has the policy of closing institutions and providing community treatment contributed in some way? Have laws and court rulings made it more difficult for people to seek legal and/or law-enforcement protection against creepy behavior by obsessive individuals? 

One can legitimately say a lot of negative things about Donald Trump. I frequently do on this blog. But link him, however indirectly, to the Gazette shooting? One might call such thinking delusional.

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11 responses to “Dealing with Sickos in a Free Society”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    I’m no trial lawyer but I’d love to cross-examine Sullivan. The Ministry is but a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party. And the editorial board has the ethics of Goebbels. It has crossed the Company line about not interfering with the news reporting side and distorted facts for years.

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    “News flash to Sullivan: Your pretzel logic is precisely why millions of Americans have lost all faith in mainstream media outlets like the Washington Post! You are a caricature of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls an IYI — Intellectual Yet Idiot.”

    Too bad a not too bad analysis has been diminished by this gratuitous and and pointless swipe at Margaret Sullivan. Why do you have to throw such stale, arbitrary meat to your little following of right-wingers? You cheapened the memories of those journalists who died in Annapolis and the other 1310 journalists who have died doing their jobs around the world since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect journalists.

    Rather than treat these people with respect, you get into some cheesy argument about the incredibly Trump who daily makes some kind of stab at the media.

    I worked for a New York City-based media firm for 18 years including four years as an editor in Manhattan and Trump was considered tabloid fodder trash. I remember hanging on to a subway strap and reading “Best Sex I Ever Had.” Trump used to regularly called reporters and try to mask his voice and pretend to be a public relations agent. On the campaign trail, he mocked a New York Times reporter who suffers from a physical deformity.

    So, yes, Trump has most definitely contributed to this terrible anti-media environment.

    As for the Washington Post editorial board spiking news stories, got an credible examples? I have been writing opinion pieces for them for eight years and never have seen any evidence of that.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Does Trump have to infect every issue and conversation in this country? Nobody is happier about that than Trump himself. It was clear this person was a potential murderer, the grudge that addled his mind was years old, the paper had its employees on the look out for him, the local police had been warned. As is all too common in these cases, when the act finally happens it turns out people were not surprised. This is about a sick society that accepts, even glorifies, violence is so many settings and yet seems terribly surprised when the fantasy gets acted out.

  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The problem with Republicans like you is that while you appear to be sane and intelligent, your party gave us Trump. You own Trump. Yes, it is all about Trump. Trump has greatly assaulted the media — more than any president I can remember.

    Of course, this conservative-libertarian blog doesn’t want to discuss Trump because it realizes that the man is a vulgar, rude, illogical populist who has nothing to do with their core values.

    Jim Bacon’s approach is to minimize Trump and pretend he doesn’t really exist or matter. But he’s getting into endless messes including a ridiculous trade war that no one can explain. He’s going to turn the expansion into a recession. We’ll probably be in a stupid war before long..

    So, Steve, Trump DOES infect every conversation these days. It’s your party that got us into this position.

    I’ll say it again. Trump, Trump, Trump.

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Blaming Trump for the Annapolis shooting, when it clearly was a grudge brewing for years, is the equivalent of the Red Hen incident – the left showing a level of stupid beyond redemption. Trump has successfully taken on the mantle of victim and is now blamed for so much, with such obvious bias, that legitimate concerns just bounce off. He understands this. Jim’s post didn’t minimize Trump, it was right of out his official playbook.

    I didn’t vote for him, and I walked away from internal GOP politics more than a decade ago. But as a former spin doctor I tip my hat to the genius he has displayed in wrapping himself up as the Great Victim, with fools on the left doing everything he wants them to do to enhance his victim-ness. You clearly have not internalized my earlier comments, Peter, that you are playing into his hands – just like the restaurant owner in Lexington. His strings are more controlling on you than on me!

    Trump the most insulting to the media? Please, Peter. Our Roanoke Times softball team was the Effete Snobs. Remember Agnew? I wish I still had the shirt! If the president is not attacking the press the press is not doing its job. As with Obama…..another story.

    1. I agree with Steve here. Want to go after Trump?

      Go after him for coarsening the public discourse.

      Go after him for conducting a trade policy that antagonizes virtually everyone in the world, including our allies, simultaneously.

      Go after him for ramping up deficit spending.

      Go after him, if you must, for his aggressive de-regulatory agenda, which at least has a basis in reality.

      Go after him, if you must, for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, which also has a basis in reality.

      Go after him, if you must, for tightening the screws on Iran, which also has a basis in reality.

      But don’t go after him by linking him, however tangentially, to the Annapolis shooting.

      Don’t go after him for “colluding” with Russia in the 2016 election, and then for “obstructing” a ginned up investigation into that collusion.

      Don’t go after him for an immigration policy by depicting the issue inaccurately and out of context: pretending that the separation of children from their parents at the border originated full-fledged from the brain of D.T. Criticize his policies, if you must, in the context of past court decisions and presidential policies, recognizing that there are no simplistic solutions — unless you believe that the catch and release of all aliens crossing the border with their children is a serious alternative.

      Don’t go after him for being a “fascist” or a “Nazi” or a “dictator,” which he is only in the fever dreams of his worst enemies.

      It is astonishing to watch CNN and MSNBC and the Bill Maher Show and see how supposedly intelligent, highly educated, and politically savvy commentators are detaching themselves from reality. There are so many things that the Trump haters could legitimately criticize, but they have become so unhinged that they strike people outside the bubble as more dangerous than Trump.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Pulling punches suppressing news. I’ve posted issues where the Post didn’t report news other sources did because it was inconsistent with its perpetual rant for higher taxes so many times, I’m tired of repeating them and having them be conveniently ignored.

    Here’s a current example. DJR has documented the freebies Tim Kaine took as Lt. Gov and Governor. What goodies has he accepted as a Senator? In an election year that would be a good set of stories. If it was “news” when McDonnell did it, why isn’t it news when Kaine did it? And with the same number of stories and pointed headlines?

    Here’s why it won’t happen. The Post wants Kaine to win and if they showed he accepted goodies just like McDonnell did, a lot of Independent voters would stay home and Stewart could score some points on Kaine. The Post w0n’t publish anything bad about Kaine because it wants him to win. This is not journalism. It’s the Post functioning as the modern day Ministry of Enlightenment and Propaganda.

    Ditto for not asking Kaine about his support for the Clintons as Bill has now effectively admitted he raped Juanita Broddrick and abused other women. Bill said standards have changed. Today you cannot get by doing things to people against their will. If that’s not an admission of guilt, July started out with a snowstorm. Toss in Hillary’s you need to believe women when they accuse specific men about sexual abuse after having called Bill’s accusers trailer trash. What does Kaine feel about sexual abuse, believing women who make bona fide accusations about sexual abuse and the accusations about Bill Clinton. (And before you say that’s was a long time ago – square that with the time of the accusations against Bill Cosby and Dr. Nassar – the women’s gymnastics doctor who was just sentenced to 175 years for abuse and possessing child porn?) Ask Kaine which Hillary does he believe? Believe women? Or anyone accusing Bill is trailer trash? It won’t happen because the Post has different standards for news investigation and reporting when it involves Democrats than when it involves the GOP. What’s the real difference between the Post and the old Pravda?

    Why didn’t the Post do the same level of investigation on Bill Clinton before he was elected in 1992 that they did with Roy Moore in the special election in Alabama? There’s a strong possibility that, with the same dogged investigation and reporting, we would never have had to put up with the Clintons. It’s not like they are the only Democrats on the planet.

    I wish no earthly physical harm to the MSM. Hell, I like a number of reporters and have done them favors on a number of occasions. But many of them have absolutely no ethical compunction to be a professional when they have a chance to be a whore for the Democratic Party and especially the disgusting Clintons.

  7. djrippert Avatar

    Nattering nabobs of negativism. Agnew had a way with words that Trump will never command. But Trump has something Agnew never had – Twitter. Given the plague of Trump Derangement Syndrome among the fops and dandies of the left in this country I’m glad Trump has Twitter. It’s the great counter-balance to a biased media trying to control the narrative instead of reporting the news.

    Yet the spin doctors of the supposedly fair media still claim victims. Even Jim Bacon has fallen prey. He writes, ” … that thousands of angry and alienated middle-aged white males like Ramos.” Had Ramos been the victim instead of an accused murderer he would have been assumed to be a downtrodden Hispanic American victimized by White Privilege. His metamorphosis to middle aged white male is concurrent with his felonious behavior.

    It’s horrific that five journalists were killed by a psychopath with a grudge. Absolutely disgusting. But Jim is correct in saying that, once again, everybody seemed to know that Ramos was unhinged. And Ramos used a shotgun, not some exotic high capacity, high velocity weapon. Banning high capacity magazines or assault rifles wouldn’t have made a lick of difference in this case. To me, the real question is how society can disarm somebody like Ramos before he kills five innocent people. I personally think that the equivalent of a temporary restraining order is appropriate. A judge should be able to have you disarmed for 3 to 6 months with your name put on the “do not sell” list during the “time out” period. Yes, some people will be temporarily deprived of their weapons. Too bad. The right to bear arms comes with strings attached. One of those strings should be that the arms bearer is not an obvious nut job.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      With credible evidence, a person who can show he or she has current and close knowledge of a person’s behavior should be able to go before a judge and get a temporary, short-term order allowing the police to pick up an individual’s weapons pending a hearing within days where the affected person can appear t present his side of the case.

    2. Yeah, I debated whether or not to include Ramos in the ranks of alienated middle-aged white males. Here’s the thing about Hispanics — many of them have assimilated to mainstream American culture and identify as white. There is no indication that Ramos considered himself aggrieved on the basis of his ethnic identity, so I’m making the presumption that he considered himself white and that, therefore, it was appropriate to describe him as an alienated, middle-aged white male.

    3. Acbar Avatar

      Agreed, this is not something to blame on Trump, or assault rifles either. But it did result from someone mentally ill having ready access to a gun. As Jim says, “Perhaps no one acted because in the United States, we don’t arrest people, or even deprive them of their liberty, until they have demonstrated that they are an imminent threat to themselves or others — and even then it’s darned hard to lock them up.” May it stay that way! And may we also do more than we have to reduce the availability of pistols and assault weapons to people inclined to misuse them — even if that wouldn’t have made any difference in this tragic instance.

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