Open season on journalists

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Photo credit: The Greenville News, June 25, 2018

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The first time it happened, I was trying to pay my bill at the veterinarian’s office. I had just put my cancer-ridden 14 year-old yellow lab to sleep, and the new clerk was struggling with the computer, apologizing, asking me again and again to repeat my full name. Soon enough the gentleman in line behind me started-in. “Jesus,” he said at first, making the poor clerk more nervous than she already was, then he turned to me. “I know a Teri Carter,” he said with disgust. “I know you. Woman from the paper.” He paused and leaned in. “Because I read, you know. I reeead the paper.”

I turned and smiled and, not knowing what to say, I clumsily thanked him. But he kept on.

This is what it’s like to write about politics in the Age of Trump. Public confrontations. Threatening emails. Social media attacks. And I am the smallest of small potatoes. Stories like mine are a puny little pinprick compared to what national reporters endure.

Imagine the president denigrating any other American job—your job, maybe—the way he does journalism. Factory workers are very dishonest people! Farmers are #FakeFarmers, not nice! So funny to watch teachers and nurses, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with!

Would you, would any of us, stand for this?

Last summer I met writer Jared Yates Sexton. He was traveling through Kentucky, and we spent one long evening on my back porch sharing stories of harassment. Following the murder of five journalists at the Capital Gazette last week, Jared wrote in The Globe and Mail, “I’ve had people show up at my door and try to break into my house, have received phone calls describing gruesome torture and have been sent many messages and pictures detailing how anonymous individuals would like to murder my family and myself. This harassment has come in waves, but regularly emerges whenever I’ve published an article on Donald Trump or the cesspool of white supremacists who worship him as a ‘God Emperor’ and fantasize openly on their online forums about murdering the journalists who oppose their president.”

Days before the Capital Gazette murders, the president (as he does at his rallies) bellowed from a South Carolina stage, “Those very dishonest people back there, the fake news. Very dishonest.” One journalist described the atmosphere like this: “An elderly woman came up to me and said that I needed to get the ‘eff’ out. And then she turned to the crowd and whipped them all into a frenzy and they were saying ‘go home Jim, CNN sucks, fake news,’ and so on.”

Having spent a good 2 years drowning in this Trumpian dystopia, you’ll have to forgive me if I can’t get too het up about calls for civility when the White House press secretary is quietly and politely asked to leave a white-tablecloth restaurant.

Thoughts and prayers come to mind.

Easter Sunday, I was pushing my cart through the rural, Lawrenceburg Kroger when I turned a corner and a strange man, no cart and no basket in hand, walked up and grabbed my cart. “Hey there,” he said, standing too close. “You that lady writes for the paper?”

I stood tall as I could. I looked him in the eye. “I am,” I said. He was wearing a frayed baseball hat, an open flannel shirt. Lips pursed, he looked my body up and down like he was getting ready to catcall. “Well,” he finally said, letting go of my cart. “Alright then.”

When I got home, I found my husband out mowing the grass. “Were you scared?” he asked, cutting the engine. “Did he say anything else?”

And I said no it’s fine I’m fine I’m used to it it was creepy he was just mad it felt weird. I said all the things I always say, because I hate it when he worries. And then I went back inside to get Easter dinner going for my family, hands shaking.

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