Open season on journalists, collateral damage

Colleen Joseph prayed over the crosses at a makeshift memorial Sunday for five people killed Thurday inside The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md.
Colleen Joseph prayed over the crosses at a makeshift memorial Sunday for five people killed Thurday inside The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. Associated Press

The first time it happened, I was trying to pay my bill at the veterinarian’s office. I had just put my 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 re-e-ead 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 four journalists and a sales assistant 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 me. 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.”

What Jared describes is the norm. If you’re a woman writer, add sodomy and rape.

On June 30, Los Angeles Times metro reporter Brittny Mejia received an email that read, in part, “So f*** you you liberal socialist c*** I hope you get f***ed up the a** by an illegal then run over by a drunk one with a CA driver license you f***ing piece of s*** whore.”

In response to a piece I wrote on immigration, a man openly commented, “Why don’t you leave your door wide open all the time in Lawrenceburg and see how long it is before you are robbed, raped or murdered.”

It is open season on journalists, and the president of the United States is the one gleefully doling out free license.

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 two 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 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 my husband worries. And then I went back inside to get Easter dinner going for my family, hands shaking.

Teri Carter is a writer in Lawrenceburg. Reach her at KentuckyTeri@gmail.com.