DAVID BROWN: Is my job dangerous?
For years in the publisher’s office at the Lake City (Fla.) Reporter, there was a small hole in the thick window glass facing the street. The hole was created in the 1970s, when a Ku Klux Klansman fired a gun at the building after the newspaper published an editorial critical of the hate group.
After hiring me as executive editor in 1997, Don Caldwell told me he left the hole in the glass as a reminder of what can happen when people disagree with you. I understood that more clearly a few years later, when a local man threatened in writing to kill me, my staff and even my entire family if we didn’t write an article about the man running for U.S. Senate. (In short: He wasn’t.) When sheriff’s deputies responded, they discovered aluminum foil covering all the walls and ceiling of the man’s house so the government couldn’t read his brainwaves.
That sad man was more than 80 years old and suffering from dementia. That was not the case in the 1980s, when a barrel-chested younger man flipped over a heavy wooden desk onto the editor of the TimesDaily in Florence, Ala., amid a disagreement. When I went to work there in 1986, that story was told to me on the first day – yet the newsroom remained easily accessible to the public, even at night, for several more years.
Those kind of incidents, while certainly concerning, have never made me fear for my well being while at work. I have always believed that if you treat people with respect, really listen to them and discuss your differences with an open mind, most folks will respond positively to seeing the Golden Rule in action. Several people I’m blessed to call friends today I met under less-than-ideal circumstances.
Then a man armed with a shotgun and smoke grenades walked through the newsroom of a community newspaper Thursday, killing five staff members and injuring two others, according to The New York Times. A 38-year-old man was taken into custody after his rampage through the Capital Gazzette in Annapolis, Md.
The town’s acting police chief called it “a targeted attack.” Terrified journalists tweeted about hearing the gunman reload while hunkered down under their desks. The only reason the attack ended, according to one eyewitness, was because the gunman ran out of bullets.
The shooter, who I am declining to name because he doesn’t deserve the ink, sued Capital Gazzette Communications in 2012, claiming his reputation had been damaged after the newspaper published an article a year before about his plea in a harassment case. Both that case, as well as a follow-up invasion of privacy complaint, were dismissed after the man was unable to prove his allegations.
Once upon a time, that would have been the end of it. But in today’s America, when someone thinks they’ve been wronged, far too many people shoot first and consider the consequences later.
Sadly, I’m not surprised. I have watched with horror over the years as power-hungry politicians and the people who feed them schemed to divide us as a nation, calling anyone who didn’t agree with them the enemy. Too many of their
followers agreed, spawning unholy things like the T-shirt reading, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”
President Thomas Jefferson said he preferred newspapers to government, but too many today are turning their backs on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because some politicians don’t like being criticized.
While some members of the media deserve the same level of criticism they heap upon others, the vast majority of those I’ve worked with are good souls who care about their community. The Cherokee Scout and Andrews Journal are made up of 20 associates who have a vested interest in making our home the best it can be, and our love for Cherokee County is reflected in the pages every week.
Most of us have been with the local newspaper for more than 10 years. We are raising children and grandchildren here. We shop, coach youth sports, volunteer with organizations and attend church services at the same places you do. And we believe the best response to words you don’t like is more free speech, not less.
This is a dividing point in our nation’s history. Are we going to follow the less-than-divinely inspired leaders who are pulling us apart? Or are we going to be brave enough to stand up for what’s good and right and say enough is enough, we’re all Americans, and we need to start acting like it?
As I sit in a newspaper office that was specifically designed to be as open as possible and welcoming to the public, I’m not sure I want to know the answer.
David Brown is publisher of the Cherokee Scout. You can reach him by phone, 837-5122; fax, 837-5832; and email, email@example.com; plus follow him on Twitter @daviddBstroh.