If you have worked as a news reporter or editor at a newspaper, it’s likely that you have been threatened.
Probably more than once.
I can’t speak for every reporter, editor or newspaper, but in my experience, the threats came from a variety of people. A sampling over 30-some years would include:
A pedophile who sat in my office and argued (correctly) that I did not understand the motives and minds of child molesters; A dozen or so business owners angry because the paper did do a story about something they didn’t want done, or because it didn’t do a story on something they did want done; A similar number of people irate about publication of their drunken driving convictions; A woman peeved by an article about parents who kidnap their own children rather than comply with custody orders.
Some of the threats were plain, others hedged. Some people threatened lawsuits or said they would get me fired. A handful threatened bodily harm.
Talking to people still working at newspapers, it’s apparent that threats are now more frequent and their tone more violent.
That’s not surprising given the tenor of discourse in our country. Republican and Democratic leaders rally their troops with hate.
On the left, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters wants Americans to harass White House and cabinet officials whenever they appear publicly.
On the right, President Donald Trump accuses Democrats of being traitors. He has repeatedly called journalists disgusting, losers, scum and the enemies of the American people.
Following his lead, supporters at his campaign rallies call reporters vile names. One of his more infamous supporters, Milo Yiannopoulos, recently told two reporters he couldn’t wait until people started gunning down journalists.
When a man in Maryland did just that, Yiannopoulous clarified: He was joking.
As for the president, he apparently was joking, too. In the aftermath of five dead newspaper staff members in Annapolis, Maryland, Trump said he has lots of respect for reporters.
That, obviously, is not true.
And while the president isn’t obligated to respect journalism, he should be expected to act with a modicum of decorum, a patina of decency. That he does not, and that his supporters are fine with that, does not bode well.
Not for journalists.
Not for the rest of America.
Political leaders on the right and left are encouraging a kind of incivility that paints their foes as lesser humans, or not human at all.
If we portray those who disagree with us as inferior – morally, intellectually, religiously – it becomes easier to treat them meanly, inhumanely, even violently.
At the same time, we as a nation continue to make it easier for criminals and the mentally unstable to possess guns, which also makes violence more likely.
That doesn’t mean Trump or the Second Amendment is to blame for the murders of five staff members of the Capital Gazette. But both exist as part of an environment in which guns and incivility are celebrated – something we aspire to have and to be.
As part of that aspiration, we raise ourselves up by putting our foes down.
They are scum, enemies, low-IQ, and losers.
They are fascists, mean-spirited, racists and inhumane.
The argument that both sides use in defense – that the other side behaves even worse – drags all of us further down.
The way to raise ourselves up is to elevate our opinions of one another, to understand the human-ness of even those we detest.
The day after the newspaper killings, hundreds of Annapolis residents took to the streets to march in memory of the victims.
One of those participating told a reporter: “The people who made our newspaper are people we felt we knew, even if we had never met them before.”
Community newspapers are like that. The names of reporters and photographers become familiar because they so often interact with us and people we know.
The mentally unstable and quick-to-rage will likely always be among us. They shouldn’t be encouraged to violence by reckless rhetoric.
It’s time to act on a truth we all know: Insults, denigration and threats don’t make us a great country, or even a better person.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.