Job haz­ards of jour­nal­ism

The Pilot - - Editorial - Bob Wake­ham Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­

I’d prob­a­bly need a cal­cu­la­tor (and a few up­graded mem­ory neu­rons) to de­ter­mine the num­ber of times through­out my 45 years in this jour­nal­is­tic racket that there was a nasty as­sess­ment of my work.

There were oc­ca­sions when the vit­riol spewed by some irate in­di­vid­ual gave me a great deal of sat­is­fac­tion (the re­ac­tion an in­di­ca­tion I had struck an ac­cu­rate chord), and there were oth­ers I wished I could get the tor­menter in a back al­ley, and have him emerge with a set of rac­coon eyes.

And, I’ll have to ad­mit, there was the oc­ca­sional, mean­spir­ited ad­ju­di­ca­tion I con­cluded was prob­a­bly well-de­served, not many in that lat­ter cat­e­gory, mind you (he said ob­jec­tively).

Just a few ex­am­ples of an­gry crit­ics:

I was only a cou­ple of months on the job, a tad­pole still learn­ing how to han­dle in­tim­i­da­tion, when then St. John’s Mayor Bill Adams de­liv­ered a nasty, scorn­ful dress­ing down about some item — time has erased the ex­act con­tent — and hung up the phone be­fore I had a chance to re­spond. For­tu­nately, it turned out to be an early ed­u­ca­tion in the power of the press; Adams called back min­utes later with an ab­ject, un­con­di­tional apol­ogy for the way in which he had han­dled his com­plaint.

Years later, I was in St. An­thony dur­ing early per­for­mances by the anti-seal­ing cir­cus when a mem­ber of the Green­peace Foun­da­tion tried to goad me into a fight in the St. An­thony Mo­tel bar, a con­fronta­tion that would have pro­vided grand and wel­come public­ity for the mar­tyr-ob­sessed crowd from B.C. I al­most fell into his trap, but a re­porter from the L. A. Times, Chuck Pow­ers, grabbed my arms tightly, and, in a slow-drawl­ing Mis­sourian ac­cent, promised the broad-grin­ning do-gooder: “Lis­sen here, f--k-head, keep it up and I’m gonna un­leash him.” I burst out laugh­ing. Or­der was re­stored.

I even had a phone call once from child mo­lester Jim Hickey, a jail­bird on the main­land at the time, chastis­ing me for what he felt was over-the-top cov­er­age of abuse by priests and Chris­tian Brothers (round col­lar crime, we called it back then). I was in charge of “Here and Now,” and tried to take ad­van­tage of the call by en­cour­ag­ing Hickey to do an im­me­di­ate tele­phone in­ter­view with one of our re­porters (he had never spo­ken with the press about his twisted and sor­did past). But he de­clined, rec­og­nized my at­tempted ma­nip­u­la­tion of his call, knew his com­plaint was ob­vi­ously fall­ing on deaf ears, and abruptly hung up.

And in this re­tire­ment colum­nist gig over the years, I’ve cer­tainly at­tracted my share of nasty re­sponse, most, if not all, hav­ing abated in re­cent months af­ter a Tele­gram pol­icy en­cour­aged read­ers de­fi­cient in back­bones to iden­tify them­selves, and not hide be­hind pseu­do­nyms, when re­spond­ing to ma­te­rial in the pa­per.

But I’ve al­ways felt that the sort of flak I’m de­scrib­ing here came with the ter­ri­tory; you de­cide on a pro­fes­sion that’s in­her­ently in­tru­sive, and some­times con­fronta­tional, chances are you’re go­ing to piss off the odd soul.

And if you’re do­ing your job prop­erly, and tak­ing on the most pow­er­ful and the most au­thor­i­ta­tive in so­ci­ety, venom — in the form of counter-at­tack out­rage — could very well head your way with reg­u­lar­ity.

But what should never be con­sid­ered as rou­tine, as the na­ture of the beast of jour­nal­ism, are the type of un­pro­voked at­tacks tak­ing place at an alarm­ing rate against fe­male re­porters sim­ply do­ing their jobs, those in­ci­dents in which the jour­nal­ist is in the midst of a live hit on tele­vi­sion and a per­verted bully ap­proaches and shouts the foul and ob­scene: “F--k her right in the p---y.” (It’s be­come so com­mon, the chant, the ob­scen­ity, is re­ferred to in news sto­ries by its ini­tials, FHRITP)

Just last week, “Here and Now’s” Carolyn Stokes was do­ing an in­ter­view dur­ing the St. John’s Re­gatta when a young thug shouted the ob­scen­ity while an­other proudly filmed his part­ner’s ha­rass­ing an­tics. (I worked with cam­era­men who would have dropped their equip­ment, grabbed the two ar­se­holes and hove them in the lake, record­ing de­vices and all; an ap­pro­pri­ate and proper re­sponse, if you ask me).

And NTV’s Heather Gillis was sub­jected to iden­ti­cal ha­rass­ment re­cently (the third time she’s been vic­tim­ized by such loud-mouthed jerks), an at­tack that has re­sulted in charges of caus­ing a dis­tur­bance be­ing laid. (The charge doesn’t ex­actly do the in­ci­dent jus­tice, so to speak, does it?)

In the case of Stokes, the two bul­lies at the Re­gatta turned out to be mi­nors, so their faces, ini­tially shown on the CBC web­site, were ul­ti­mately cov­ered, un­for­tu­nately so.

And you just know they’ll get a slap on the wrists from au­thor­i­ties, and a slap on the back from many of their con­tem­po­raries for their boor­ish, Ne­an­derthal be­hav­iour.

I have no an­swers here, ex­cept to con­demn such as­saults.

And voice the hope that some­where, some­how, the mes­sage will get through that this kind of con­duct amounts to sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and that ap­pro­pri­ate penal­ties be put in place, and that these sickos have their mugs and names ac­corded full public­ity.

“I even had a phone call once from child mo­lester Jim Hickey, a jail­bird on the main­land at the time, chastis­ing me for what he felt was over-the-top cov­er­age of abuse by priests and Chris­tian Brothers (round col­lar crime, we called it back then).”

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