By Zach Hagadone
On Christmas Day, we woke up to find a pair of posts on our Reader Facebook page that went beyond the typical “fake news” straw man and “liberal, biased rag/I light my morning fire with this paper” nonsense from people who can’t cite specifics to back up their beef.
This local Facebook user, whom we blocked, hid and won’t name, contended that, “We the people” possess “a list of all these hate filled liberal traitors” at the Reader and other local media, and when “civil war” comes to this nation, “these liberal traitors will be rounded up and made to pay for their crimes against this country.”
Responding to another user, this same commenter promised “a day of reckoning for all of you” that, along with those “involved with the treasonous coup against our president,” will include being “executed for treason.”
Our offense? Reporting on the Washington House-commissioned investigation into Republican Rep. Matt Shea, which contended some of his actions between 2014 and 2016 constituted “domestic terrorism.” Also featured in the report as an associate of Shea’s and involved in several of those actions is Idaho District 1A Rep. Heather Scott — our representative.
Many other commenters on Facebook took issue with our reporting on this investigation — some erroneously suggesting that it amounted to a one-sided media smear campaign.
We reject that categorically. To be clear, what we did was report that the investigation had been released, summarized its key components, and highlighted how and where its findings connected to our local representative. We reached out to Rep. Scott in good faith, asking her to provide her perspective on the “substance and thrust of the report as a whole,” but she did not respond.
She did, however, respond to Redoubt News, whose writings on the investigation we repeatedly referenced by way of providing a secondary opinion of its findings. We included comments from Rep. Shea, which were published in his own words online, and successfully connected with fellow District 1 Rep. Sage Dixon, who responded in good faith, as is his consistent practice, to our good faith questions. We can be sure he was not overly excited to do so, but he understands that it’s his job as an elected legislator to communicate with the press and therefore his constituents.
How this is all amounted to “one-sided” or dishonest journalism, we can’t rightly say. No factual errors have so far been named nor has any acknowledgement been made that we included material from sources including Reps. Scott, Shea and Dixon, as well as Redoubt News. All we’ve seen or heard are ad hominem attacks on the author of the investigation, amorphous derision of the FBI, fuzzy denunciations of the report itself being illegitimate because it drew in part on press reports — written by some of the finest journalists from around the Northwest — and the conflation of reportage with advocacy.
We stand by our reporting on the Washington House investigation and refuse to be intimidated — especially by people who hurl threats of violence and launch intellectually dishonest attacks on the very nature of honest news reporting.
We also hope that, as the Idaho Statesman editorial board wrote in late December, the Idaho House of Representatives takes seriously the actions of Rep. Scott as portrayed in this investigation, up to and including an ethics probe in the upcoming legislative session. Then, maybe, her constituents — beyond those regular visitors to redoubtnews.com — can hear her explanation of just how her activities with Rep. Shea are advancing their interests rather than a set of broader ideological goals bearing little relation to the daily lives of most Bonner County residents.
Especially chilling, amid all this talk of “domestic terrorism,” is the not-too-distant memory of where talk of lists, execution and retribution for purported crimes committed by the media have led. We can laugh at these kinds of things, but at our peril.
Five years ago on Jan. 7, brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi killed 12 people in a mass shooting at the headquarters of Parisian satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, injuring 11 others and shaking the French capital. More violence followed in the ensuing days. The Kouachi brothers eluded authorities until a standoff Jan. 9 that ended in a barrage of gunfire from gendarmes. Meanwhile, an associate of the Kouachis took 19 hostages at a kosher deli in east Paris, making good on his promise to murder his captives should the brothers come to harm. He killed four people — targeting only those of Jewish faith — before he was himself cut down by police.
The Kouachis’ flight and subsequent sieges occurred amid worldwide condemnation of their actions, including vigils and demonstrations mourning the slain journalists and others — Je suis Charlie, “I am Charlie,” quickly becoming the international slogan of those standing for freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The offense that prompted the Kouchis’ attack: publication of satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.
Not long after the Paris attacks, a reader gifted us a copy of the Jan. 14, 2015 edition of Charlie Hebdo — the first to hit newsstands following the killings — which bore a full-page drawing of the prophet holding a Je suis Charlie sign beneath the phrase Tout est pardonne, “everything is forgiven.” It still hangs on a wall in the Reader newsroom, not because of a desire to insult or satirize Islam, but as a reminder that everyone — especially journalists, no matter how big or small their market — who stands for freedom of expression and of the press puts themselves up against those who oppose, even to violent ends, anyone who disagrees with their worldview.
Lest that feel like hyperbole, remember that less than three and a half years after Charlie Hebdo, in June 2018, a gunman killed five reporters and injured two others at The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, M.D. because he was angered by an article the paper printed detailing a case in which he’d been put on probation for social media and email harassment. After the fact, it became clear that the shooter had trolled the paper online for years, including threats of violence against its offices and staff. Preferring to ignore those threats as empty bluster, management at the paper declined to pursue legal action.
Almost three months to the day later, in late-September 2018, the Reader and its staff were attacked by a series of robocalls targeted to advertisers, which included threats of violence such as “burn[ing] out” the publisher as a “cancer.” This has not been the only instance of such robocalls in the area, with the most recent occurring in August 2019, when some Reader advertisers were struck with anonymous calls including homophobic innuendos.
The Reader’s offense? Reporting on the identity of a man connected with distributing racist flyers and CDs at Sandpoint High School in 2017.
There’s a trajectory implied in this brief history lesson — from the extremity of Charlie Hebdo to the tragic mundanity of The Capital Gazette to the obnoxious but ultimate meaninglessness of the Reader robocalls. Regardless of the severity of these assaults, they are all assaults on the functioning of a free press by threatening the safety — real or perceived — of the people who work to maintain it day by day: the very definition of terrorism.
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