Dear Governor Abbott: Please Take Back Your Dumb Joke
It’s never okay to intimidate reporters.
Dear Governor Abbott,
I just happened to catch your remarks from yesterday afternoon, the ones you made while visiting the Austin gun range to sign the bill that lowers the cost of gun licenses in Texas. The Dallas Morning News story I read said that you celebrated by firing a 9 mm handgun into a target, and then displayed your handiwork by declaring, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.”
We all make dumb jokes from time to time, and maybe you meant that carrying around proof of how good a shot you are would inoculate you against anyone suggesting otherwise. Fake news! But if I may just remind you of the context: in the last 48 hours a Republican candidate for Congress in Montana, Greg Gianforte, body slammed a reporter before marching on to victory. I also happened to catch a photo on Twitter last night of a Trump supporter wearing a T-shirt with the caption “Journalist, Rope, Tree.”
— NBC DFW (@NBCDFW) May 26, 2017
So forgive me if I fail to see the humor in your words. I’ve devoted most of my adult life to the profession of journalism, virtually all of it in a state both of us love. I think we can agree that our common goal is to make Texas a better place for everyone, even if we disagree on the means. The last time I checked, the First Amendment was still in place, and the governor of Texas was still responsible for protecting the rights and safety of all Texans, regardless of party affiliation, political belief, or profession.
But I don’t feel very safe, Governor Abbott. It’s bad enough watching journalists murdered around the world for doing their jobs—104 journalists killed in Mexico alone since 2000—but to hear my governor intimate that he’s now gunning for reporters fills me with dread. Would you have said the same about blacks or Latinos? I doubt it. Catholics or Jews? I don’t think so. My guess is that you wouldn’t have even taken such aim at Planned Parenthood volunteers. And yet it’s acceptable nowadays to suggest reporters are the enemy, to inflame those who might take your “joke” as a directive.
I’m not going to waste a lot of time talking about journalism being structurally adversarial—you know, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable and all that. And I’m not going to get into a dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument comparing good and bad journalists; the same discussion could be had of doctors, lawyers, and public servants. All I’m saying is that we live in a time of growing hatred and divisiveness, and it’s profoundly disappointing to see that instead of exercising leadership, the governor of my state is fanning the flames.
And, you know, I’m not just a reporter. I’m a wife and mother, and a grown daughter responsible for the care of her dad. People depend on me to take care of them. Your recent remarks make me wonder whether I can depend on you to do the same.