During the 14 years I’ve been a journalist, people have called me fake news, a liberal shill, a conservative shill, a hack, a bad person, a piece of shit, a sensationalist, in the pocket of (insert political party or government agency here), a disgrace to journalism and an incestuous, inbred mamma’s boy with poor grammar.
I’ve only been out-and-out threatened once, and even then, it was sort of veiled. Kind of. It freaked me out in any case, because it was a cop. I’ve been thinking about this in light of the president calling journalists the “enemy of the people” whenever he gets the chance.
I was a police reporter in a mid-sized city in southwestern Oklahoma. A gentleman taken into custody on a DUI had promptly hanged himself with the cord of a pay phone affixed to the wall in his cell.
The deputy chief grudgingly provided me the facts. I could tell by the look on his face that he was unhappy, but to quote Thomas Jefferson, “Tough tittie; a man died in your custody.”
After my initial interview, the police chief’s secretary pulled me aside. She was an awful if not entirely unpleasant woman who, her head hung in shame, once told me that her daughter had married a black man named Pookie and …
That’s a story for another day.
The secretary told me in no uncertain terms that I had better not write the story because it would embarrass the family of the dead man and the police would no longer speak to me. See previous Thomas Jefferson quote.
For the record, I strive to never piss off secretaries. They can make life hell. But this woman was way out of line. And a racist.
I returned to the newsroom and had no sooner sat down when the police chief called and immediately began yelling at me. He said, or shouted, something to the effect of, “You sure you want to write that story?” His tone was chilling.
“Are you threatening me?” I asked gingerly.
“You threatened my secretary,” he screamed.
“That’s just not true,” I replied, as calmly as possible.
“Well, no one is ever going to talk to you here again,” he continued. “You’re banned.”
He hung up the phone. I wrote the story anyway. I could no longer get any cooperation from this particular police department, and I had to wear a special red badge whenever I came to the department to sift through police reports. It didn’t help me do my job, but some of the officers began giving me the slightest of nods as they passed. I guess they didn’t like the chief either.
My colleague called the state jail inspector, who was furious. He had in no uncertain terms told the police that the phone cord was too long and awaiting the neck of a despondent prisoner. The police hiding behind a phony story about embarrassing the dead man’s family was shameless.
Reporters aren’t enemies of the people. We are just nosy.