Last week, in a subscriber only email, I wrote about how the head of the Iowa GOP screamed at me the first time I met him. To briefly recap: I had no idea who this man was. I’m not new to Iowa, but I am new to my job as a columnist. I’m getting to know all the players here in Iowa as more than just names in a news story.
I went to cover an anti-impeachment rally and the head of Iowa GOP was there, he was leading the rally. During his speech, he immediately singled me out of the crowd and pointed to me and called me fake news and when I turned my phone camera away from him to look at the crowd of counterprotesters, he demanded I turn back towards him. After his speech, he refused to answer questions from me. My colleague had to ask my questions for me.
A month later, I published an op-ed from him and others. My newsletter, was about that weird dynamic. The closeness between people here. How we live together and need each other. I kind of thought it was over.
I should have known better.
Yesterday, I got an email from someone alerting me to the fact that six days after publishing his op-ed, the head of the Iowa GOP was targeting me and my colleagues in a Facebook post. When I clicked on the post, I saw that it included headlines from some of my op-eds and more weirdly, screenshots of some of my tweets with my handle blacked out. He’d clearly been planning this for a while and watching my tweets.
This person is an elected official for his county.
Today, he wrote on Facebook that he tried multiple times to contact the newspaper to air his grievances and ask that we be more fair. This is demonstrably false. He hasn’t contacted us since I’ve been been an employee. Both the editor of my paper and I replied encouraging him to reach out. Also, in regards to balance. The newspaper I work for has had a historically conservative editorial board. They endorsed Romney and Grassley and well, so many many Republicans for so long. So this is just the actual fake news.
This is where we need to back up, to talk about the Des Moines Register. This summer the Register published a profile of an accidental local hero, Carson King, who raised a lot of money for the University Hospital off of a beer money sign gone viral. Part of the reporting process for the story, revealed some racists tweets authored by King. The reporter, Aaron Calvin asked King about the Tweets. And King held a press conference, before the story even ran, to admit to the tweets and apologize for them.
There was immediate backlash at the Register, specifically targeting Calvin. People all over the state, including elected officials joined in the pile on, claiming King was the victim of the media. Calvin’s own bad Tweets were used against him. Calvin lost his job and had to move out of his apartment because of the death threats. (Read Calvin’s story here.)
When I saw the post with the screenshots of my tweets, I thought of Calvin. I thought of how he was targeted and lost his job. I’m sure that’s what is happening here.
This is the point. It’s the Trumpian playbook. Target a vulnerable journalist. Attack them. Discredit them. Fire up the base. It’s a deeply cynical political theater that engages in attacks in order to bolster it’s victim mentality. It’s a bad game when it puts people’s lives in danger and also, it’s not a game at all. My life and my career are not a game. You picked the wrong lady.
Destroying journalists to hype up your base is thoughtless, reckless, dangerous for the journalists and short sighted, because who is going to publish your op-eds when we are gone? Social media only works if you can drum up a base, but how do you get that base in the first place? When everyone in your aging party dies off, how do you replace them? How do you make your case?
The end game here is thoughtless, cynical, and callous.
But it also shows what’s happening on the ground in the middle of the country. It’s one thing when the President attacks the New York Times and they get more subscribers. They have resources. They have big names. But even they are skittish. And if Dean Baquet is skittish and placating, imagine how the editor of one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Iowa feels? My paper, we live and die by the small handful of subscribers we get a week. The Washington Post the New York Times, they aren’t the war. We are. Local news is the battleground for the heart and hope of America. And this battle is being fought by reporters who are poorly paid and constantly attacked and left out to dry for doing their jobs.
You want to know why does Steve King keep getting elected? Look at the circulation of the newspaper there. (By the way, the newspaper is great, I am not attacking them.) Who is watching the news? Who is reading it? Who is holding King accountable?
Honestly, I deserve a better enemy than the Iowa GOP. But if this is the fight they want, they picked the wrong person.
Also, a note: I chose not to name the person in this newsletter for many reasons. And I do not want anyone going to attack him or yell at him, it only feeds the victim mentality. So, please please please don’t go after him. THANK YOU!! I love you all. Have a good weekend.