I am a journalist and my profession has been taking a lot of hits lately. Never mind that we are the ones who informed you about Hillary’s emails and the massacre in Orlando. We’re also the ones who write about your kids’ football games, your taxes going up, and a gorilla named Harambe being killed in a zoo in Cincinnati.
But for journalists, you wouldn’t know about these things. Haters don’t give us credit for that. After 30+ years of doing this, I’m used to it. I don’t like it but haters are going to hate.
However, there are boundaries that I will not tolerate being crossed. One of them is making fun of people with mental illness. Yes, the First Amendment gives you the right to do it but I will not tolerate it – especially when I am the target.
Last week, I was the target of a nationwide online bullying campaign. You can read about it here. It had to do with the horrific murders of a couple by a college student who was found gnawing the face of one of the victims.
His fraternity put out a press release after the media heard that his frat brothers were trying to help find him after his mother became concerned. I turned to social media to try to locate the killer’s friends and frat brothers. (It should be noted that none of those I contacted responded.)
In the old days – before the internet – journalists “trolled” resources such as yearbooks to find sources. In the Academy-Award winning movie Spotlight, reporters with the Boston Globe “trolled” diocese directories to find pedophile priests. In the 21st century, we use the internet, where most information that used to be printed on paper, is now found electronically.
We are trying to find out why this young student would commit such a horrendous act. Was it mental illness? Was it drugs?
At first, the attacks criticized me and my reporting techniques. It turned ugly fast.
At this point in my career and life – I am 57-years-old – I have the luxury of being open about my alcoholism and hypomania (bipolar II disorder.)
I didn’t reveal these facts to become some kind of crusader. I did it because it was a pain in the ass to make excuses for why I don’t drink without divulging that I am a recovering alcoholic. I did it because when I went back to work after a two-month leave for a major depression, I didn’t want to come up with a half-assed explanation for why I was out for that long.
What’s happened since has turned me into a crusader. And this bullying episode last week that included poking fun at my mental illnesses brought out the she-beast in me.
Some of my critics – mostly anonymous – say I should get over this bullying episode. Let it go. It was just a bunch of college-aged guys being college-aged guys.
To which I say, NO! Under no circumstance is making fun of someone with a mental illness – or any illness – acceptable, and if we condone it, we’re just as guilty as those doing it. The nuns at my Catholic elementary school called it a sin of omission and you can’t absolve this sin with a dozen Hail Marys.
I have heard it said that the best way to deal with bullies is to not respond. For me, that doesn’t work. For me, that’s surrendering – letting them win. I have deleted many of the posts to my Facebook page because, Lord knows, I said and did a lot of stupid stuff when I was in college and drinking.
It’s not just posts to my Facebook page. There have been anonymous phone calls, like the one that came at 1:35 a.m. Saturday. Tweets and private messages, too. Some have created accounts with fake names just to keep up the harassment.
Haters must change their ways, and I hope those of us who can will do our best to fight the stigma. I understand that some of us are not at a place in our careers, lives, or health to do so.