On June 28th, five journalists were murdered and scores more hurt in one of America’s most prevalent cultural products: a mass shooting.
After thinking about what happened the whole day, I threaded some thoughts on Twitter and ended up getting interviewed for a story on the threats journalists work through. You can find that article here.
It’s a good piece, but what drove me to put my own experiences in public is more complicated than what showed up in the article. So I’m putting the thread here for anyone who might be interested.
I meant to post a week ago, but life is busy and, well, sadly, I feel fairly confident that we will be in this position again, trying to come to terms with the collective trauma of yet another mass shooting.
Below, then, is what I wrote at the time:
I caught the news of the #CapitalGazetteShooting while driving home from family vacation and have been turning it over in my mind since. A few thoughts to thread here.
My first career was close to five years at a local paper east of L.A. that is similar in many ways to the CapGazette. Our crew was small, though bigger than it is now. This was the late 90s and the bottom hadn’t dropped out of local print yet. When I started as an intern at the paper, one reporter told me I wasn’t a real journalist until I’d received a death threat, something that didn’t happen until a year and a half later after I’d been hired on full time. He took me to lunch after and we (sorta) laughed about it.
We didn’t take it lightly. But it was a part of the job. Sometimes, people didn’t like what you’d written, not because it was false but because it was true, and they would lash out. I covered mostly education and business in my time and even I got threats from time to time. But you rolled with it. Put it out of mind. Watched yourself if interviews went bad, but otherwise didn’t see it as a credible fear. We had a job to do, hard questions to ask, and unpopular stories to write.
We also lived and existed locally, part of the community we covered. That meant sometimes people knew us. Saw us outside work and told us off. But we were still part of the world they lived in.
Now, however, the world has expanded and the threats are very, very different. I’m out of the business and still troubled by the shift that’s happened. Today, people like Milo Yannopolis say things like vigilantes should hunt down journalists. But when they make these threats, they’re not using a bullhorn. They have the power of a digital network connected to a sea of like-minded people who don’t read nuance into thei words.
And let’s be honest: Milo wasn’t nuanced. He was, like he always is, looking to profiteer on hyperbolic statements he knows are dangerous. That’s his brand. Shock and awful. The sad things is, his brand sells to a certain reader who sees the world as needing a violent fix. It’s a brand Trump has given so much legitimacy to in the past two years that it seems patriotic—to some—to consider journalists a threat rather than a necessity. As an existential problem with elite roots and dark forces driving it that only a racist can see.
What’s missing is the humanity of people doing the job, and that’s intentional on the part of the Idiot-in-Chief and people who pander to these false representations to consolidate power and influence over those who want the press to be part of the same conspiracy they feel is at the root of what’s wrong with America. Unlike the local problems I experienced as a reporter, where someone who read my articles was responding to something in their community, this is different.
The poison in our national discourse is bringing larger issues to bear in local settings. And the call to violence—the encouragement to it, actually—is pervasive. It’s direct. And it’s blood on the hands of people who see it as merely politically and financially expedient to traffic in stirring the pot of anger towards actual harm.
Of course I’m not saying that this was a situation where some Mephistophelian voice used a social platform to whisper in this shooters ear. That’s stupid and the real situation is worse. Rather than one voice, there are thousands. And they’re not whispering. They’re shouting. Pleading for people to forget the humanity on the other end of their gun’s sights. They say it’s just rhetoric. Figures of speech. But it’s not. It’s an avalanche of hate. And it’s killing people.
In this case, it’s journalists who were doing the kind of work we need. Holding us accountable. And maybe that’s just it. Accountability is threatening to those who think like this. So they invert that threat with violence. Just not with their own hands, which they think are conveniently clean of the blood that gets spilled. But they are not. And I grieve that this, like most other mass shootings in America, won’t likely to anything to stop the cycle that causes them in the first place.