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Bob Wakeham: Job hazards of journalism


I’d probably need a calculator (and a few upgraded memory neurons) to determine the number of times throughout my 45 years in this journalistic racket that there was a nasty assessment of my work.

Bob Wakeham

There were occasions when the vitriol spewed by some irate individual gave me a great deal of satisfaction (the reaction an indication I had struck an accurate chord), and there were others I wished I could get the tormenter in a back alley, and have him emerge with a set of raccoon eyes.

And, I’ll have to admit, there was the occasional, mean-spirited adjudication I concluded was probably well-deserved, not many in that latter category, mind you (he said objectively).

Just a few examples of angry critics:

I was only a couple of months on the job, a tadpole still learning how to handle intimidation, when then St. John’s Mayor Bill Adams delivered a nasty, scornful dressing down about some item — time has erased the exact content — and hung up the phone before I had a chance to respond. Fortunately, it turned out to be an early education in the power of the press; Adams called back minutes later with an abject, unconditional apology for the way in which he had handled his complaint.

Years later, I was in St. Anthony during early performances by the anti-sealing circus when a member of the Greenpeace Foundation tried to goad me into a fight in the St. Anthony Motel bar, a confrontation that would have provided grand and welcome publicity for the martyr-obsessed crowd from B.C. I almost fell into his trap, but a reporter from the L.A. Times, Chuck Powers, grabbed my arms tightly, and, in a slow-drawling Missourian accent, promised the broad-grinning do-gooder: “Lissen here, f--k-head, keep it up and I’m gonna unleash him.” I burst out laughing. Order was restored.

I even had a phone call once from child molester Jim Hickey, a jailbird on the mainland at the time, chastising me for what he felt was over-the-top coverage of abuse by priests and Christian Brothers (round collar crime, we called it back then). I was in charge of “Here and Now,” and tried to take advantage of the call by encouraging Hickey to do an immediate telephone interview with one of our reporters (he had never spoken with the press about his twisted and sordid past). But he declined, recognized my attempted manipulation of his call, knew his complaint was obviously falling on deaf ears, and abruptly hung up.  

And in this retirement columnist gig over the years, I’ve certainly attracted my share of nasty response, most, if not all, having abated in recent months after a Telegram policy encouraged readers deficient in backbones to identify themselves, and not hide behind pseudonyms, when responding to material in the paper.

But I’ve always felt that the sort of flak I’m describing here came with the territory; you decide on a profession that’s inherently intrusive, and sometimes confrontational, chances are you're going to piss off the odd soul.

And if you’re doing your job properly, and taking on the most powerful and the most authoritative in society, venom — in the form of counter-attack outrage — could very well head your way with regularity.

But what should never be considered as routine, as the nature of the beast of journalism, are the type of unprovoked attacks taking place at an alarming rate against female reporters simply doing their jobs, those incidents in which the journalist is in the midst of a live hit on television and a perverted bully approaches and shouts the foul and obscene: “F--k her right in the p---y.” (It’s become so common, the chant, the obscenity, is referred to in news stories by its initials, FHRITP)

Just last week, “Here and Now’s” Carolyn Stokes was doing an interview during the St. John’s Regatta when a young thug shouted the obscenity while another proudly filmed his partner’s harassing antics. (I worked with cameramen who would have dropped their equipment, grabbed the two arseholes and hove them in the lake, recording devices and all; an appropriate and proper response, if you ask me).

And NTV’s Heather Gillis was subjected to identical harassment recently (the third time she’s been victimized by such loud-mouthed jerks), an attack that has resulted in charges of causing a disturbance being laid. (The charge doesn’t exactly do the incident justice, so to speak, does it?)                   

In the case of Stokes, the two bullies at the Regatta turned out to be minors, so their faces, initially shown on the CBC website, were ultimately covered, unfortunately so.

And you just know they’ll get a slap on the wrists from authorities, and a slap on the back from many of their contemporaries for their boorish, Neanderthal behaviour.

I have no answers here, except to condemn such assaults.

And voice the hope that somewhere, somehow, the message will get through that this kind of conduct amounts to sexual harassment, and that appropriate penalties be put in place, and that these sickos have their mugs and names accorded full publicity.

 

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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