Annapolis newsroom gunman Jarrod Ramos had a deep hatred for a former reporter at the Capital Gazette in Maryland, one who had once helped expose the covert sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ) to billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Annapolis shooting Capital Gazette

On Thursday, Annapolis became the scene of the deadliest day for American media since 9/11. The five shooting victims are (from top-bottom-right) Gerald Fischmann, Robert Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winter. (Image: Capital Gazette/AP/Casino.org)

Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against the Gazette — and specifically against former RJ journalist Eric Hartley — back in 2012. Ramos, who had pled guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge, didn’t like the way he was characterized in Hartley’s story.

The lawsuit dragged on in the Maryland legal system until 2015, when the state’s second-highest appeals court upheld rulings that the paper, and Hartley, did no wrong.

During the legal battle, Ramos is reported to have been behind a Twitter account under the moniker @EricHartleyFrnd. Numerous tweets over the years attacked Hartley’s reporting, with one post saying he was going to “Journalism Hell.”

Eric Hartley former LVRJ journalist

Eric Hartley, now a reporter for the Virginian-Pilot — and once part of the team who exposed Sheldon Adelson’s covert Las Vegas Review-Journal purchase — was reportedly the target of Ramos’ murderous wrath on Thursday. (Image: Virginian-Pilot)

Hartley had left the paper in 2014 to take a position at the RJ, Nevada’s largest newspaper. When he relocated to the OC Weekly in California, @EricHartleyFrnd said, “Just go ahead and kill yourself already before I do (legally in court).”

Though Hartley has long been gone from the Capital Gazette, on Thursday, police say Ramos entered the newspaper headquarters in Annapolis and began shooting. Five were killed.

Ramos has been charged with five counts of first-degree murder.

Billionaire Exposed

Hartley was one of seven recipients of the 2016 James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism for his collaborative work in exposing the new owner of the Review-Journal: Sheldon Adelson.

In December of 2015, the RJ was sold for $140 million to an entity named News + Media Capital Group LLC, an anonymous shell company registered in Delaware. RJ staffers weren’t told who was behind the entity, which caused them to investigate.

“Everyone knew immediately that the anonymous purchase of a major daily American newspaper was unprecedented, and that secret ownership of the Review-Journal created an immediate ethical and credibility crisis not just for the newspaper, but for everyone employed by it,” Managing Editor Glenn Cook said in 2016, who was later promoted to executive editor.

How could reporters disclose potential conflicts of interest if they didn’t know who they worked for? How could readers trust them? Glenn asked.

As the seven reporters’ investigative process slowly produced details that Las Vegas casino tycoon and GOP mega-donor Adelson was behind the purchase, the RJ staff took to a front-page editorial saying they would not be influenced or intimidated by the billionaire.

“You can be assured that if the Adelson’s attempt to skew coverage, by ordering some stories covered and others killed or watered down, the Review-Journal’s editors and reporters will fight it,” the editorial declared. “We will fight for your trust. Every. Single. Day. Even if our former owners and current operators don’t want us to.”

News Becomes the News

The Committee to Project Journalists — a New York City nonprofit dedicated to protecting the free press worldwide, — says prior to Thursday’s newsroom shooting in Annapolis, 29 journalists had been killed on the job in 2018. The vast majority of those murders took place in the Middle East.

The Capital Gazette tragedy marks the first loss of a reporter’s life in the US since 2015, when Virginia news reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward were gunned down by a disgruntled former news anchor.