Sooner or later, every journalist gets mocked, ridiculed and threatened. People like to shoot the messenger. It didn’t start with Trump, although I suspect that it’s burned hotter since began blaming the media for stories that make him look like the lying grifter he is.
Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, is gay, and he wrote Sunday about the hate mail he gets routinely.
“My inbox is proof of that; the evidence stretches back decades. And I’m talking in this case not about irate and sometimes foul-mouthed readers who dislike my opinions. All columnists encounter that, and given the privilege of our megaphones, we should. I’m talking about readers who detest the very fact of me, who I am, independent of any person or issue I lift up or tear down.
“They’re strangers. They’ve never met me, never taken the measure of my generosity, kindness, loyalty or lack thereof. For them I exist in a category, as a type. That type is all they see, and that type is contemptible.”
Leonard Pitts, an African-American columnist with the Miami Herald, routinely writes about the bigoted email he receives. This is a column from last week, spurred on by a note from “Ed.”
“Not to pick on Ed. He’s just the guy who happened to drop one last straw onto the camel’s back. But there were many straws already there, each placed by an indignant someone, righteous in their ignorance, demanding to know when we can finally, finally, finally stop talking about race — as if we do so because of some strange tic in the African-American psyche that makes us see inequality and oppression where there is really starlight and rainbow unicorns.”
Then yesterday, Whitney Cummings talked about dealing with creeps who wanted to extort money to not release a photo of her breast.
Because I’m a white, heterosexual, liberal American male, I was exempt from the noxious idiocy that gay people and minorities and women have to deal with. The only thing they had on me is my liberalism. Big deal.
I have been called a pussy and a chicken, an idiot and an asshole, a racist and a communist. (And that’s putting aside what my coworkers called me.) I have been asked how I’m able to sleep at night and how I can look at myself in the mirror. People have told me that they are praying for me. I can’t the number of times I’ve been told to “wake up!”
After an editorial about bow hunting, one guy sent me a razor-sharp steel arrowhead and wondered how I thought it would feel to be shot in the head with it. (I still don’t know, thank God.) Another guy said he was going to come to my office and beat my ass. (He didn’t show.)
After a gun control editorial, a guy emailed me a photo of my house and said he appreciated knowing that I didn’t have a gun in the house. (He’d be surprised.)
All of this was well before the age of violent social media. And I got off easy. None of it was directed at me because of my race or my gender or my sexual orientation. I didn’t have to deal with people criticizing my right to exist as so many African Americans and Latinos and women and LBGTQ people must.
It’s a mystery to me what drives these people and their bigotry and ignorance and hate. I couldn’t say it better than Bruni: “…hate has no particular profession, no education level, no ZIP code. Its sprawl is as demoralizing as its staying power. Emily Dickinson wrote, gorgeously, that h’ope is the thing with feathers.’ Well, hate is the thing with tentacles. It holds people tight and refuses to let go.”