As a newspaperman who has also written opinion columns for most of my professional life, I have also received threats over one column of another.
One who disagreed cut the brake lines of my English sports car during my times as a reporter and columnist for The Telegraph in Alton, IL, from 1969 to 1981. Sadly, the brakes went out when a lady friend borrowed the car, which resulted in the car slamming into a rock wall
Fortunately, she was not hurt. Unfortunately, police never found out who it was. Maybe it was one of them. The Alton cops weren’t fond of my columns either.
A critical review of Bob Hope’s appearance at the Mississippi River Festival brought threats of death in anonymous phone calls (back in the days before Caller ID).
The most violent threats came from a column written about the death of John Lennon. I suggested that the man who wrote a straightforward listing in a New York newspaper called “Today’s Deaths” put the killing of the former Beatle in perspective. He ranked the event as the nineteenth death of the day in Manhattan with one line: “Lennon, John: Death from gunshot wound.”
“Our day will not complete until we see your name listed as just another death,” said one letter writer.
When Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, I suggested he should be punished “like the dog he is.” That brought several letters from angry Republicans, including the one of the Illinois state GOP officials who said he would be praying for ‘”the day that the great former president returns to deal with people like” me. He added: “I wonder what it will take to bring him back into public service.”
I wrote a followup column and suggested the best way to bring Nixon back would be “leaving his bowl on the back porch.” That brought even more threats.
Even my tenure as vice president for political programs of The National Association of Realtors (1987-92) brought threats, most of them from elected officials.
Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee called me a “political whore” on an appearance on Public TV in Washington because I ran what was then the country’s largest political action committee.
“You PACs are nothing but political whores,” he said. My response may have given me a couple of seconds of fame in Washington:
“I’m sorry Congressman, but there’s something wrong with your comparison,” I said. “Where I come from, whores are the one demanding money for something that they had not yet performed to receive. That’s you and others in Congress who are on the phone constantly asking for money. In the best of those circumstances, the very best that anyone can expect in return is getting screwed.”
Since leaving Washington, I have a few threats. One guy didn’t like something I wrote about Sarah Palin, the failed Alaska governor who became a political joke when she, as a GOP vice presidential candidate, claimed she could see Russia from her house in the frozen north.
The Palin supporter took a swing at me outside the Blue Ridge Restaurant one morning. His fist missed. Mine did not, and he had to take nourishment through a straw for a few months.
Sadly, the threats now are harsher, more frequent and more dangerous for may in the news business. A man who didn’t like a story about his harassment of an older acquaintance from high school on social media, stored into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD, killed five and injured two with a Mossberg 500 shotgun.
Back in the late 1960s, I was covering racial tension in the South and, while dictating a story over the phone to the newsroom, a large, menacing white guy walked up to the phone booth and starting shouting at me and skating the booth.
Finally, he pushed the door open and shouting “who the hell are you talking to? I’ll bet you’re a g–damned Yankee!”
I pushed him out of the booth and screamed back: “I’m talking to my mama! She lives in Virginia!”
“Oh,” the guy said. “Sorry” he muttered as he waked away.
“What the hell was that?” the rewrite editor said on the other end of the phone line.
“Shut up, mama,” I said, and we both laughed.