Several years ago, when I was still doing this job full-time, I got an urgent call from reader.
She had had a letter-to-the editor published in The Sun News, under her name, of course, and had just gotten a call from someone who did not like what she wrote.
Apparently the caller had said some pretty threatening things over the phone and now she was worried.
Did I think he might come after her? Was she in danger? Should she call the police?
I tried to reassure her that she should not worry.
I told her that in all my years writing for newspapers, as a reporter, editorial writer and columnist, I had received countless nasty phone calls and letters and emails.
Any column about politics – and there once were many – would bring especially vicious responses and in my attic is a box filled with some of the more memorable (and creative) critiques.
Most of them only wanted to let me know I was an idiot or a godless liberal or, worse, a Yankee. Criticism came with the job and never did I worry about actual violence.
I think I reassured her that no harm would be coming her way.
Trouble is, I’m not sure I would be quite so cavalier these days.
We all witnessed the 2016 presidential campaign and the general vitriol directed at members of the media from the most rabid of our fellow citizens.
NBC reporter Katy Tur, in her book, “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History,” wrote about several crowd outbursts toward journalists covering the Trump campaign.
Reporters were usually put in pens, in the middle of an auditorium or arena, where they could be easily jeered by the candidate and his followers.
In South Carolina, where the candidate announced his plan for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Tur was pointed out to the crowd as “a third-rate reporter.”
When the rally ended, she had to be escorted to her car by two Secret Service agents.
After the election, journalists were referred to as “enemies of the people.” Wow.
Reporters, as a rule, don’t complain. We learn in Journalism 101 that reporters are not the story, they just report the story.
But just the other day I read that a T-shirt advocating lynching journalists had been offered for sale on Walmart.com.
The T-shirt read: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. (some assembly required).” The T-shirt also was seen at at some campaign rallies.
In fairness to Walmart, the company said the T-shirt, produced by Teespring, a San Francisco-based company, had mistakenly slipped through its own vetting process.
So I don’t know. I seldom write about politics these days, in my slap-happy retirement, so my mail is much more cordial.
Maybe I’ll get a little test with this column. But please, people. No lynching, huh?
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.