In the 1980s, Ben Cardin and I went to Congress from very different places, both politically and geographically. I was a young Republican elected in 1980 from a suburban Los Angeles district as Ronald Reagan swept into the White House. Six years later, Ben was elected as a Baltimore Democrat who had served as speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. I would stay in the House for more than 30 years, while, in 2007, Ben moved to the Senate, where he still is today.
There were plenty of times when we disagreed. But, in 2019, we came together on one topic where we share an identical viewpoint — the vital importance of the First Amendment and a vibrant free press.
On June 28, 2018, in a targeted attack, a gunman killed five people in the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis. At the time I was a director on the board of Tribune Publishing, and six months later, I became its chair. Our company had bought Capital Gazette Communications, in 2014 through Baltimore Sun Media, which we owned at the time.
During memorial services and quiet moments that followed the attack five years ago, I met with survivors and their family members. A few months later, I approached Ben and other friends in Congress with an idea. I wanted to always remember those killed — journalists Rob Hiaasen, Wendi Winters, Gerald Fischman and John McNamara; and sales assistant Rebecca Smith — as well as the brave women and men who survived the attack and, remarkably, went back to work getting the paper out the next day.
I asked Ben if he would support a plan that would honor journalists in this country and abroad who have given their lives in pursuit of the truth.
That’s how we began working together to develop the Fallen Journalists Memorial. Without hesitation, Ben agreed to be the lead sponsor of the bipartisan “Fallen Journalists Memorial Act of 2019,” along with Sens. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, and Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen. Companion legislation in the House was sponsored by Reps. Grace Napolitano, a California Democrat, and Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma. The legislation was introduced on the first anniversary of that terrible day in Annapolis. It authorized a foundation to build the memorial on federal land in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump signed the measure into law in December 2020. Ben didn’t give up there. He continued to be an advocate for the memorial, pushing through additional legislation that would allow the foundation to consider a location on the National Mall.
This memorial, to be completed by the end of 2028, will represent war correspondents, such as Scripps-Howard reporter Ernie Pyle, who was killed during the battle of Okinawa; British newspaper correspondent Marie Colvin, who died in an attack by the Syrian government; and The Atlantic’s Michael Kelly, the first journalist killed in the Iraq War. It will also stand to remember those killed for what their reporting revealed, such as Jeff German of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who authorities say was killed by a vengeful politician; and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated by members of the Saudi government.
It will be a memorial for men and women who put their lives at risk to cover local news, including television reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward, who were shot in 2015 during a live television interview in Virginia by a former colleague; and Dylan Lyons, who was shot in February while reporting from a homicide scene in Florida.
Just weeks before Dylan’s death, I joined Ben at the home of former Washington Post Publisher Donald Graham and former Voice of America Director Amanda Bennett. We were updating influential journalists and other supporters on the memorial’s progress toward winning a site and raising funds.
The Committee to Protect Journalists had just released its annual report on violence against journalists. Ben was laser-focused on the importance of the memorial as a symbol of that risk not only to the United States but to the world.
“I can tell you it is a dangerous profession around the world. Not only have we suffered here in the United States, but around the world,” he said. “It’s dangerous to be a journalist.”
That night, Ben called the memorial a game changer in raising public awareness of the role of journalists in our society and the world at large.
The day Ben announced his pending retirement from the Senate in January of 2025, the foundation got final approval for the perfect location on the National Mall.
The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts signed off on one-third of an acre between the National Museum of the American Indian and the Voice of America building. It will have a direct view of the Capitol, evoking journalists’ role as government watchdogs.
The memorial will be built and maintained entirely with private funding. To date, we have raised roughly 40% of the $50 million, so there is yet much work to do. Next is the process of selecting a design.
In 2028, I know that Ben will join me on that small triangle in Washington. The dedication will commemorate America’s commitment to a free press and honor journalists who have died. It will also celebrate Ben Cardin for his career standing up for the First Amendment. David Dreier served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 2013.