Saturday, November 06, 2004

Need your help - addressing nastiness

OK folks, here's a not-so-hypothetical situation for which I'm hoping you can provide some guidance:

Many of you have heard about the rather strongly-worded and personal column I published in the paper last week. If you haven't, click here for the actual column, and here for my initial blog post on it (as well as your reactions).

As a response, I received my first piece of hate mail. My comments (and yours) on it are here. The person who wrote this message - I hesitate to call him a reader, since he clearly didn't read my column so much as skim it before lashing out in a fit of subintelligent, disconnected rage - has since e-mailed me a number of times with inflammatory text culled from the web, purportedly to support his point-of-view.

Normally, I would simply ignore it. The content of these messages automatically qualifies them for instant transfer to my webmail account's Junk Mail folder, so it's not like it's interfering with my workflow or anything.

The problem lies in the fact that he CCs a huge list of editors at my paper and other related media executives. (He also misspells my name, but that's another story.) I'm sure this must be annoying as heck for them, and I hardly think this reflects well on me because of it.

So, I have a number of choices here, and I'm not sure which one is optimal. They are:

1 - Continue to ignore him and say nothing to anyone.
2 - Continue to ignore him, but call/e-mail my editor to let him know how badly I feel.
3 - Contact him via e-mail, ask him for his phone number so I can speak with him.
4 - Contact him via e-mail and tell him to cease and desist.
5 - Contact him via e-mail and tell him his efforts would be better spent on letters to the editor.
6 - Contact his service provider, launch a subscriber/abuse complaint.
7 - [Please suggest anything else here]

It's a typical Hobson's Choice scenario, complicated by the fact that, as a publicly-identifiable journalist, I have ethical behaviors to uphold and an image to maintain with both readership and the media organization that engages me.

In many ways, this response totally justifies my fear in the first place. This is what we deal with on an everyday basis, and each possible reaction is fraught with peril and risk. Thus far, you have all been incredibly supportive in your thoughts and comments. I'm hoping you can share your thoughts - whatever they may be, I'm all ears! - to help me navigate my next steps in a way that will minimize risk to my journalistic career and, more importantly, to my personal safety.

It's times like this that I wish we were all back in Kindergarten, where a quick trip to the teacher would take care of the abusive bully once and for all. If only.

16 comments:

Joan said...

In my humble opinion, I vote for talking to your editor and explaining the situation. Since it sounds like this is one of the first times you've encoutered such a thing, perhaps your Editor might have some suggestions on how they would like for you to handle it? Perhaps the newspaper's legal department might be able to shoot off a "cease and desist" type thing?

I really think that contact from you will just rile him up further. Hopefully if he realizes that his intended target is not going to strike back, he'll get bored and stop.

Good Luck, my friend! I pray this will not prevent you from speaking your mind in your column in the future. If it does, then that means that the bad guy won, and you are too much of a good guy to have that happen.

Terry said...

Hi Carmi, I agree, go to your editor and explain the situation, they should take this on. I think if you (personally) feed this guy any kind of response you'll only keep him interested.

Let the boss handle it, its his job to protect you and having a company response instead of a personal one would be a much better thing.

Finally, save every e-mail, document every single thing this guy sends you. If you feel threatened in any way, take it to the police and to your editors. They may not be too accomodating at first, but at least it'll show a pattern if he ever bothers you again.

A Woman Changed said...

I absolutely "ditto" John and Terry. Talk to your editor and document-document-document. BYW, I don't see how this is a reflection on you what-so-ever. You're in my prayers. jk

cleolove said...

How I handle hate mail:

1. Contact their ISP (www.geektools.com to dns) and file a complaint.
2. Delete and block their email address. (You can not reason with fear based hatred.)
3. Pray for them, as hard as that is, it is the only thing that provides me relief. (and praying for their death or dismemberment doesn't seem to work, .. imagine that. lol)

In your situation, I would speak to/email your editor and explain the situation and the steps you took, but I would not worry about his/her reaction. I am sure that they have dealt with hate mail before and will not hold his actions against you. (I hope)

Meanwhile, I will be praying for you, and the safety and peace of your family throughout this.

And if none of these things work, simply turn his name over to that imaginary giant jewish conspiracy and let them lynch him. LOL (bad joke, cleo .. funny, but bad)

Rachel - Wicked Ink said...

Hi Carmi,

I have been thinking alot about the past few posts, from the column you wrote, even before that, about the halloween gag, which turned out so bad.

I would forward the email(s) he has sent to you, to your editor, along with any and all responses you have made. Does he read this? He could find it if he wanted to, I am guessing.

Your editor made the choice to run the column, so this goes in his hands. (or hers).

Still processing what I really want to say about all this, I will get back to you on that.

Good luck.

Jenny said...

Oh, Carmi, that just bites.

I agree with everyone. Get his IP address, ban him on your emails, and take his info to your editors. You should not have to apologize to anyone for this, nor should you feel that you brought this on yourself. Your job IS to write stimulating columns for a wide audience. You deliver that, every week.

As a columnist, people see you as a 'public figure' and therefore a suitable target for vitrol. You have every right to write what you want to write, and this jackass feels he has every right to contact you repeatedly to spew, because he's got an issue with a subject you addressed.

This is why the editorial staff exists. They've been through it before, with different subjects and different crackpots. Media executives at all levels are unlikely to be phased by a ranting looney. Hold your head high - they'll be impressed by your poise.

My ex-boyfriend was a major market news photographer, and he got hate mail almost every week, everything from complaints that his photos glorified Satan to anger about running graphic images of accidents and photos trivializing protesters. In the case of public outcry (especially over traffic accident photos and plane crashes, that sort of thing) the editor-in-chief or publisher would run a supportive statement, defending the newsworthiness of the story/photos.

Now, if this idiot is issuing personal threats directed at YOU or YOUR FAMILY, or is verbally attacking anything other than your article, that is a different story. Keep copies of all documents, and speak to your editors about this as well. They may want to address it legally.

In my (second-hand) experience with this type of thing, even as crazy and outrageous as this guy is, he's feeding off internet propaganda and sitting on his ass emailing you as he finds little nuggets of "truth" to support his earlier raving. Whatever his anger is all about, he sounds lazy - if he can't form his own opinions (or even READ YOUR ARTICLE) he's not likely to do more than rail away via email. Acknowledging him would be a huge feather in his cap and invite more of the same.

You're a gifted writer, and a good man. I hope this jerk finds a new target soon.

Jack's Shack said...

Hi Carmi,

Thanks for the comments on my blog. I would document this person's actions and make sure that your editors were notified about this.

You are not the first journalist to be confronted with this kind of episode and I hope that this is nothing more than a blip on your career.

In any case, I would not advise contacting this person. You are unlikely to change their mind, this kind of hate is not based on logic.

Be safe and keep up the good work.

Amelia said...

I've been trying to post this comment for a while now, so hopefully it doesn't come out twice!!!

Carmi,

It sounds like this guy is more than just airing an opinion (albeit an extremist one) on your article, by repeatedly emailing you, he is harassing you.

Harassing an individual whether they be a journalist or a shop assistant is I believe something that needs both the involvement of your editor and the police.It is not something you should expect as part of the job. As others have suggested, I think you need to document EVERYTHING to do with this incident.

You have a right to express your opinion freely and without fear, just as this guy has a right to express his opinion. He does not have the right to target you or your family repeatedly in an intimidating or threatening way. I sincerely doubt he can adversely affect your career with his views, you are a brillaint writer and his small minded opinions will hold little weight in editors decisions.

Anyway, I hope this does not stop you from standing up for what you believe in. The positive influence you have on so many people is far greater than one guy with a chip on his shoulder.

My thoughts are with you and your family and a quick resolution to this appalling situation.

Mark said...

His black-and-white view of the world is unlikely to be changed by reason, and threatening him with legal action may enrage him further.

Personally, I would try and ignore him. Keep a record of any contact you have, and certainly explain the situation to your editor. He/she will probably have experience of dealing with these situations and should be supportive.

It may also be an idea to inform the police, just in case your hate-mailer is preying on others. As harassment is a crime, you are obliged to report it.

I would only take things further if he persists.

Good Luck Carmi!

Dean said...

Do not engage this person in any form of dialog. Personally, I wouldn't read what he has to say, although I would probably archive it in case he continues.

I've seen these guys for years. You will never, ever be able to convince him of anything. Don't bother trying.

Don't take it personally. It should be abundantly clear that he doesn't see *you*, he sees a symbol. As with all conspiracy theorists, his hatred and anger is internally driven. It isn't anything you did: it is entirely his problem.

I'd talk to your editors/colleagues. If they've been in the business a while, they'll be able to recommend ways of handling a crackpot like this. Unfortunately, I believe that it goes with the territory.

Keep your chin up. If you're annoying the crazies, you're doing something right.

Anonymous said...

I am really sorry to hear that you are getting that kind of response from anyone. Sometimes I am ashamed to be a human being, if this person is any example of my fellow man.

Many of these people "communicate" by trying to make people afraid to speak out. Please don't ever stop. They lose their power when they are marginalized, but they don't seem to lose their ability to shake us to the core, do they?

Your editor will have seen similar behaviour before, and should be your champion in this. It's only fair they should be your champion, you are the champion for those without a voice.

Wheelson said...

I wish I could provide some good advice in return for all the great advice you've posted on my site, but when it comes to dealing with people like this I'm at a loss. I like to think that through discussion we can somehow work out our differences and learn to get along and I wish I could say that would solve the problem. However, something I've learned in the past few months discussion election issues with people, there are people out there that are either unwilling, or more likely, unable to be reasonable. This renders discussion useless. This is an unfortunate and disappointing realization for me to come to, but it's what happens.

Being a self-proclaimed optimist and idealist, you too probably have a desire to get along with everyone and work out our differences. That's a great attitude and a great attribute (I'm biased here of course because for the most part I'm the same way). So, my only advice is, realize this guy needs psychological help, which you are not in a position to provide. Talking to this guy will not help because of that. Plus, getting your attention is exactly what he wants so ignore him and block and deal with him like you would any other annoying spammer. Odds are he hasn't selected you and you alone to focus on. He'll soon grow tired of sending you email and he'll find another person to harass. Monitor his mail for a while and if make sure his threats die down rather than intensify. If they intensify despite you ignoring him, consider contacting law enforcement since it would indicate a more serious situation.

Of course if he is making threats, law enforcement should be involved and I'd seek their advice now, they will know how best to proceed while minimizing risk.

Steve said...

Camri,

Thanks for having the courage to bring this example of racism to light. I can understand why you would want to confront this person directly, but I aree with the judgement of your previous posters. You should take it to your editor, and if you're harassed repeatedly, take legal action.

In addition, other journalists should take it upon themselves to hold people who spew such vitriol to account. Sometimes, a tolerant society errs when it tolerates intolerance.

Thanks as well for your encouraging words on my site.

ms. creek said...

Make him play scales or perform forced manual labor! :o) Sorry about all this- you'd think humans could get passed all this, but obviously.....Have a fine week.
~E

Danya said...

Carmi!

This fellow is nothing if not persistent. I agree with Joan and Terry, ignore the fool and speak to your Editor. I'm sure that he's dealt with this type of nonsense before. I wouldn't be surprised if he's already working on it, especially if he was one of the people our unstable friend cc'd. As far as the other cc victims are concerned, I'm sure that they know a loonie when they see one.

Some advice, if you'll allow me: Try not to read anything else he sends you. Keep it, by all means if you think you may need his correspondence as proof of harrassment, but try not to read it. It's upsetting and nobody needs that kind of crap to ruin their day. Plus, even if you don't respond, he's still been able to make you mad and that's his power. Don't read any more of his email!

That being said, it's obvious that this guy has other 'issues' if he feels that he needs to keep harrassing you in this way. Kick it to the curb Carmi. One way to really get his goat will be to ignore him. Completely. And let your Editor know that's what you'll be doing. As my Mom always told me (and I'm sure that yours did too) that kind of spew doesn't justify a response. Don't waste your energy on that guy. He's not worth it.

Jaque said...

Hey Carmi,
My thoughts go out to you in what obviously is a time of great stress for yourself.
Here are a few options I would consider taking if I was in your shoes...

1.In Australia there are such thing as 'libel' laws.
Fair enough a reader is allowed to voice his disagreement, but if he is then going further and emailing your employers and putting you down then unless he can back his claims up, you are entilited to legal action against him as his words may possibly affect your feature employment(I am unsure on wether such laws apply in Canada).

2. Has he made any physical threats to you? If so save all conversations you have with this man, and refer it on to the local police.
A case similar to yours occured recently to a friend of mine who was writing about white pride groups..
He recieved many nasty threats...
But you should have seen how those nazi fuckers ran when the police got involved.

3.Just block this guys email account.
Give him absoultely no attention in your blog (pathetic souls like this guy thrive on getting any form of recognition), and move on.

Great blog by the way, keep up the great work!