Lest I be accused of promoting violence, here’s my disclaimer: Violence is (almost) never the answer. I don’t condone a physical response to most things. That said, there are times when politicians need a smack in the head so they start to realize their boorish, sometimes criminal behavior toward reporters has consequences.
The first glaring example of my theory happened in Montana just prior to that state picking its lone representative in the House of Representatives back in May. On the eve of the election, Republican Greg Gianforte took offense to a question from a reporter.
As could be heard, the question from Ben Jacobs of the British news outlet The Guardian’s was polite, reasonable and routine. Gianforte’s response was volatile and explosive.
To make things worse, Jacob’s had the humiliating experience of having his glasses broken. It doesn’t get any worse than that. The next day, Gianforte won the election and became Montana’s bully-elect.
Looking back on that episode, I truly wish Gianforte got what was coming to him. It would have been great if the reporter he was trying to intimidate gave him the Terry O’Reilly treatment (to bully Dave Shultz).
Closer to home, a much more mild but still troubling behavior took place in the closing hours of this year’s Connecticut General Assembly. Deputy Speaker of the House Jeffrey Berger, a Waterbury Democrat, took exception to a social media post by Christine Stuart, a reporter/journalist from CTNewsJunkie.com. Berger threw a stuffed rat at Stuart.
First, Christine Stuart is among the very best reporters at the state capitol. I know her personally, her reputation as a journalist is stellar. She also happens to be a genuinely nice person (as opposed to some of the more surly reporters who have simply spent too many years covering the state legislature.)
I have met Berger but don’t know him (I worked for the Senate and had little reason to come across him). He just so happened to be watching the TV show “Veep” on his computer during a House debate. Apparently, it was a funny episode because it was his audible response that led Stuart to wonder what was up. She snapped a photo of Berger enjoying the show instead of paying attention to the people’s business and posted it on Facebook. Later in the evening, Berger tossed the stuffed rat at Stuart.
What’s not in question is that Stuart can handle herself and doesn’t need anyone defending her. What’s in question is what Berger was thinking. I wonder what I would have done if I was in her shoes at the time or even in the chamber as it as a fellow reporter when it happened to her. Maybe Berger needed to actually taste that rat.
The usual response followed the incident. Berger apologized saying he was tired when he flung the rate. Speaker of the House Joseph Aresimowicz made the predictable statement scolding Berger. But please, Mr. Berger, being sleepy doesn’t give you license to act like a jerk.
The over-the-top actions of politicians against reporters reminds of the time I was ripped to shreds by then-state Senate Minority Leader Lou DeLuca back in the early 2000s. Sen. DeLuca objected to my presence and my greeting to a reporter who had just concluded an interview with DeLuca. In no uncertain terms, he threatened me and warned me I’d be sorry if I ever “did it again.” To this day I have no idea was “it” was.
Getting poked in the chest with the index finger of a possible wise-guy Senator is disconcerting. The difference was I was an employee of the Senate, not a journalist free to write what I want (like now). I had always kept to myself the thought DeLuca wanted me whacked for representing his opposition unintimidated.
Perhaps President Trump’s constant attacks on the media have emboldened politicians to treat reporters with contempt. I’m not sure. But I suspect that these thugs would think twice if they knew their attacks might result in a Sharpie sandwich.