Perhaps I’ve written these words before – a long time ago, someone at my first job told me I don’t have the stomach for news.
It was in response to jokes she was making about a public figure who’d hanged himself. I didn’t find the jokes funny.
I was told I would either harden my heart and brain in this job or I’d get out.
A lot of people cope with hardening. I completely understand that. It’s easier for most of us to separate ourselves from the darkness – to make it not feel real.
That’s not me. When that comment was made several years ago, I didn’t take it lightly. I was upset for a bit, but mostly at the prospect that I wasn’t cut out for the one thing I’d studied to do. It was a straight shot to my ego to think I might be made for something else and I’d just wasted four years of my life making this something happen.
I’ve thought about it again and again over the years, as I left the newsroom on the day the Sandy Hook shooting occurred so I could take a few moments to myself in a bathroom. I thought about it on the day a man walked into a church in Charleston, a city I love so dearly, and killed 9 people during a bible study. I thought about it the day I walked the streets of Greenville’s Nicholtown neighborhood asking people what they knew about teenager accused of gunning down a Greenville police officer before turning the gun on himself.
And I thought about it again this morning as I stood with neighbors of a home on Greenville’s westside and watched forensics teams pull a body out on a gurney and load it into a medical examiner’s van.
I don’t often report on breaking news. It’s not my “beat”. I am typically only drawn in if someone is on vacation, busy or the story is big enough that we need several people working on it.
Every experience I’ve had with violent death has been on the job. It’s foreign to my personal life and yet it’s something I take personally.
I realized something on a dead end street, in Greenville County, lined with old mill houses and a small mobile home park – I don’t have the stomach for news. I don’t even want the stomach for news, if it means I ever leave a scene like that and don’t think about what was lost.
Today I clicked on a fox news story about a Senate bill that was sponsored by republicans and blocked in a vote. I clicked because I saw a tweet about checking out the comments. I scrolled down to the comment section and found something I’ve never seen – new comments were coming in so quickly that I couldn’t even read those that were already there. Keep in mind that my day job is to manage a website for a newspaper. I watched the sentences escape my line of vision with a speed that rivals an olympic sprinter.
It went on for about 30 minutes before I finally hit the x in the upper right corner.
It was a seemingly endless stream of nothing but hateful comments about liberals and threats to the President’s life. One particular commenter typed intermittent posts in all caps that read some variation of “JFK WAS KILLED FOR LESS”.
It was unbelievable and I couldn’t turn away.
There’s someone close to me I’ve regrettably sparred with over political commentary… on facebook nonetheless.
I don’t say I regret it because I believe debate over political differences is wrong. Healthy debate is exactly that – healthy. I say it because this particular person chooses to use hate speech and insults to rag on his opposition and I strive to be better than that. It’s not that I’m a better person. It’s just that my particular brand of failing to be good doesn’t come in the form of hurling insults. I don’t choose to use that kind of language, but I’ve found, in the disappointed moments after open discourse, that arguing with someone who uses hate speech doesn’t feed my best side.
I told you that what I saw was happening on Fox News’ website. It doesn’t matter that it was Fox News. It doesn’t matter that the commenters hate liberals, or claim to on the internet. It could’ve easily been posted by MSNBC and the commenters could’ve been spewing vitriol about “bigoted” Republicans.
The problem isn’t who is saying it or even what they’re saying, but how.
How we’ve come to accept this kind of behavior as normal.
How we got here from where we used to be.
When I was small I remember my parents barely even discussed who they voted for. I’ve often shared the story from 1996 Kids Vote when I, a second grader, voted for Bob Dole because without a reference for either candidate, I chose the one who shared a name with the bananas my mom packed in my lunchbox.
As a kid, I thought it was rude to directly ask someone for whom they voted.. I was taught it was private. Maybe this was just in my family. Maybe my parents weren’t even insistent that it should remain private, but that was my young brain’s interpretation of things.
I don’t know that there’s anything wrong with sharing which candidate you support. I’m sure they appreciate it, to some degree (particularly if your support is bolstered by cash).
I just don’t understand how, in less than three decades, we’ve gone from not really discussing it to blasting people we otherwise love and respect simply because their allegiance lies on another line.
I don’t know how we went from coming together over national tragedy to indirectly calling for the assassination of our current President.
The answer might be somewhere in those comments, but I won’t be able to find it until the hatred slows it’s roll just a little bit.
My friend George Patrick shared a similar story on his blog after reading this. Check it out & give him a follow! You’ll be glad you did.