Saw a bumper sticker on a car that really annoyed me yesterday. I was innocently driving to church, and a car gunned its engine right behind my car, scaring the living daylights out of me and my son in the backseat, then roared around me and passed me.
Plastered across the back of the car was this little gem: “The PRESS is the ENEMY.” (And the sticker was crooked, which just sort of pings my OCD meter, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Gee, thanks, jackass. You’ve just insulted my people. My underpaid, overworked people. Way to tar a huge, diverse group of people with one giant brush. I’ve heard it said that Southerners are the last group of people unprotected from prejudicial remarks, but you know what? Really, it’s journalists. It’s perfectly fine in many people’s minds to insult journalists. Journalists are the enemy. Not terrorists. Not unscrupulous politicians. Not lying governors or bankers who blithely award themselves enormous bonuses in a rapidly worsening recession.
No, it’s journalists. It’s the sweet-faced lady who covers the school board meetings at night, even though she’d rather be at home helping her son with his science-fair project but has to bring home a paycheck to afford the rent. It’s the scholarly man who spent the first half of his life in Ivy League institutions, soaking up as much knowledge as he possibly could so he could write knowledgeably about complex matters that affect our society. Those are clearly the real enemies.
Not only that, but many people have no qualms with insulting journalists to their faces. Right or wrong, many people do not like people who hold different political views from them or who espouse different theologies from them. But do they have the guts to say so to them, right upfront? No. Usually, most people have better manners than that. (Usually.) Undoubtedly there are some journalists who aren’t so fine and dandy; statistically that has to be true in a group of people that large.
But I once had a guy cheerfully tell me that the media are a bunch of scumbags who were the real scourge in America. Blanket statement. At the time, I was working as a reporter for the local section of a daily newspaper. I spent my days interviewing fifth graders about their school’s new anti-bullying campaign or interviewing parents who lost a child on homecoming night when a drunk driver took to the road and who now raise funds and awareness to prevent it from ever happening to anyone else’s child. I wasn’t even making $40,000 a year, but at least maybe some of the stories I wrote had a positive impact on someone. Maybe a teenager reconsidered riding in a car with a friend who’d had a few beers. Yeah, clearly it was ME who was the problem for our country. I don’t know about y’all, but my mama taught me to have better manners than that.
So that bumper sticker really ticked me off. And you know what else? I was going to church. I was trying to find a few minutes to calm my mind, to prepare myself to go to church and to be prayerful. So it both annoyed me to be called, even indirectly, the enemy and to be distracted from what I consider to be a greater purpose.
And I started to wonder later, too: what exactly is the purpose of such a bumper sticker, if it’s not to just incite certain people? I can’t imagine that it would inspire people (God, I hope not) or make people laugh (although I guess that’s possible, too). It’s just…being mean. That’s the double-edged sword of the written word: it can help, and it can hurt.
But it won’t get me to stop being a writer (or part of the press as a whole). And if it causes me to think more carefully about the power of words, then so much the better for people whom I encounter.