I almost never blog about work here, but the health/fitness blog at work didn’t seem like the appropriate place to take up this subject, so I’m doing that here.
I didn’t hear about this until I got to work Friday morning, but a colleague of mine, Joe Killian, was assaulted while covering the Sarah Palin campaign appearance Thursday at Elon University. Joe’s account is here. Additional info and commentary by our colleague Mark Binker is here.
Joe’s OK, and he showed remarkable restraint in not responding physically (he’s a boxer). He said it was easy to restrain himself because doing otherwise would have gotten him fired. I’m not so sure it would have, and I’m certain it shouldn’t even if it did: There is some stuff even reporters shouldn’t have to eat.
This was a crime, as the title of the post suggests. It wasn’t just one supporter getting out of hand. It was an unprovoked criminal assault against an honest man doing an honest job … not that there aren’t a few dillweeds who see it differently, who think that something someone says — or even something that someone laughs at — excuses violence.
And it is the kind of thing that the rhetoric of the McCain/Palin campaign has encouraged. When you tell your supporters over and over and over that your political opponents and the media are “the other,” un-American, evil, that there are good guys and there are bad guys and you’re either with us or against us, then you have no right to be surprised — and absolutely no excuse — when one or more of those supporters crosses the line.
If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that it has gotten one hell of a lot of attention on some of the most-read blogs in the country, many of which have even linked to Joe and/or Mark’s posts, from what Mark says. (Mark checked at my request Friday afternoon and found his Capital Beat blog had had 61,000 visits in one hour; at least briefly, our blog server was overwhelmed.)
And the attention is good because something like this, minor as it fortunately was, needs attention. We’ve been here before — just ask those old enough to have covered Bull Connor — and it leads nowhere good.
And maybe I’m paranoid, but when supporters of one political movement get angry and desperate enough to start assaulting journalists, it makes me unhappily certain that things have gotten bad enough that there’s someone out there waiting for his chance to take a shot, quite literally, at the leader of the other side. Maybe he’s not out there — I hope not — and even if he is maybe he’ll never get the chance. But, yeah, I think he’s out there. And if he is, and if he does, then, please God, I don’t think we’ll have a country after it.
UPDATE: In the comments, Fred links to a report of an incident in New York in which an apparent Obama supporter hit a McCain supporter in the head with a sign. It looks like they have arrested a suspect and are prosecuting him. Good. (BTW, the LEX in the title of that post is New York shorthand for Lexington Avenue, where the incident took place, and appears to have nothing to do with me.)
UPDATE: So I wasn’t quite as paranoid as some commenters thought. Man, I hope this is as close as it gets. And these guys qualify as terrorists, or at least would-be terrorists, so why not use the word?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Re the incident I just linked, a former colleague writes:
One of my first jobs in newspapers was covering an area that included Crockett County, Tenn., where this plot was broken up … and it was one of the most backward and terrifying places I have ever been. I’ll never forget watching people throw their shit out of their windows from bed pans down in the main black neighborhood just outside the county seat … The county fathers refused to extend water and sewer. I also remember the county manager telling me he was infuriated by the ingratitude of those people, to be bellyaching after everything he had done for them.
This was in 1991.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Here’s another one. I’m sure the Secret Service really appreciates how much easier all this rhetoric has made their jobs.
ANOTHER UPDATE: And this from Newsweek’s special election wrapup:
The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied.
Correlation is not causation, the article doesn’t say how the number of threats compared with those of similar candidates at similar points in their campaigns, and so forth.