Case in point: Colorado Politics reporter Pat Poblete, who was working in the press room of the Colorado State Capitol Building when he noticed a woman whom he had never seen before wandering around the office.
“The event happened around ten, and I was writing up a short story. I was the only person there,” Poblete recounts. “I heard a voice behind me, and there was a woman kind of poking around the press room. I imagine she just wandered in because it was hot outside. I asked what she did, and she said she was unemployed and living on the streets. Then she asked what I did and where we were, and I said we were in one of the CPA [Capitol Press Association] press rooms, and that set her off. She did the whole Trumpy, nine-yards thing about fake news and how you guys are making up lies and journalism is poisoning the community.”
This was not exactly the kind of verbal abuse that the political reporter had attended journalism school to endure, so he moved to figure out a way to get the woman out of the office that she wasn’t even authorized to be in.
“I thought, I don’t need to be subjected to this at work, so I asked, ‘Can you leave?’ and tried to usher her out. And she shoved me, hit me, took a couple of items off Marianne Goodland’s desk and stormed out,” Poblete described the moment when the assault turned physical.
Despite the punches thrown, the reporter never actually felt he was in physical danger from the homeless woman.
“I’m six-four, I weigh 225 pounds, and I’m a former Division I athlete. This lady was five-four at best and probably weighed 100 pounds. I take harder shots when I play pickup basketball at the Y. So my first thought was that she took some of my colleague’s stuff, so I flagged the State Patrol. They got it back and asked me if I wanted to press charges, and I said no. But as I finished the story, I was reflecting back on everything that happened, and all of a sudden, the what-ifs started popping up in my mind. What if she had a gun? What if she had a knife? What if instead of being five-four, she’s six-four and trained in MMA? That kind of vitriol against journalists was the underlying piece. The method that it was presented to me as was a small woman who didn’t create a threat, but it could have.”
“This wasn’t the sort of hyper-online, hyper-partisan, QAnon, deep-dive type of person who’s ingrained in this stuff,” Poblete says. “This was just a woman who’d heard what the former president said about journalists and took that to heart. Even at that level of information and intake, it’s still penetrating the public psyche.”
The Colorado journalist isn’t sure exactly what the solution to the newfound public animosity towards the media might be.
“I wasn’t physically harmed, by any means. But I just wanted to let people know these are the types of challenges journalists face on the day-to-day, and we just have to do better at this as a society. We have to do better,” Poblete said.
“There needs to be a greater level of respect everywhere,” he continued. “But that just isn’t a satisfactory answer. When disrespect and breeding this division and hate is the political currency of the day and it wins you power, I don’t know how we can just back away from it.”
As Poblete points out, we do have to do better.
Original reporting by Michael Roberts at Westword.
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