“Never complain, never explain.”
For 25 years, that has been my professional philosophy.
What it means is this: No one cares about our complaints, because most readers imagine journalists are rich and enjoy privileged lives. It’s generally not true, but it’s what they believe.
In most cases, explaining is a waste of time.
So why am I doing it now?
Because a number of journalists have exposed their feelings, reluctantly, after the murder of five people in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis. In memory of the five, I joined more than 100 of my colleagues in our newsroom and thousands more around the country in a moment of silence at 2:33 p.m. Thursday.
We’re told the accused Maryland murderer was settling a grudge with the paper and had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s ongoing attack on the media, which he has declared the enemy.
One of my editors occasionally suggests I go after Trump in my column. I decline. We should not be acting in our own behalf, but to protect innocent others. What we should do is write the truth about his failures and his nonstop lies, and even give him credit when due.
I think Trump is a hypersensitive, paranoid, narcissistic nut job who will implode.
When he attacks the media to excite his base, we should ignore his bluster. He has talked about changing libel laws and probably has daydreamed about shutting down CNN, but his dictatorial fantasies are foiled by the First Amendment.
Trump is no threat to me. You know who was?
A guy who went to jail 13 years ago.
Before I tell you why he went to jail, let me back up about 30 years and tell you why I first got a pistol and a carry permit.
Back then, doing a column for the Daily News, I had the hubris to think of myself as a public utility that should be reachable by readers whenever. That’s why I had a listed telephone number. My address was in the phone book, so when I got a threatening message on my answering machine I knew that the guy had my address, too.
I reported the threat to my office and to the Philadelphia Police Department. The cop who spoke to me said most threats are just that, but he advised me to vary my routine, just in case.
I did that, and also got a gun and a carry permit. I never heard from that caller again.
The vast majority of reporters and editors are never threatened with physical violence, but I had a few more threats.
I got two other telephone threats several years apart, before the big one. I say big because three colleagues also were getting the email threats.
The threats 13 years ago were direct, ugly, and credible. The man making them knew my home address, probably through published real estate transactions. In addition to cutting off my hands and killing me, he threatened to sexually assault and kill my wife. That tends to get your attention.
Long story short: Detectives from the District Attorney’s Office traced the emails and arrested the guy, who had mental problems and a black belt in karate. He got 18 months in jail.
Generally speaking, the biggest threats to journalists are thickening waists and getting laid off. Ours is not among the top 25 most dangerous professions in the U.S., although in Latin America, Africa, and Eastern Europe, journos are killed with impunity.
Here, umpires get hurt more than we do. Our safety is a blessing we don’t often think about and, because we are safe, we should complain only among ourselves.
If being called clueless or racist or old or stupid or ugly or libtard or Rethuglican or something worse bothers you, think about lumberjacks (the No. 1 most dangerous job), and don’t read the comments. A while back, I gave fellow columnists key chains that said just that.
Journalists are not particularly trusted by the public, so complaining is like spitting in the ocean.