That's what it said. "F**k Chris Jones!" The Facebook post was stark, simple, and to the point. I'd be lying if I said the words didn't sting. I'd also be lying if I said I didn't return every few minutes to read the post, along with the 40 others that followed on the the Facebook page of Gibson Clark. None of them said "F**k Chris Jones" but they might as well have. People were angry. No, check that, people were enraged by me. It all started with this direct message I sent to Gibson on New Years Day. Read it, then I'll give you the context after.
Within a few minutes my phone was buzzing, and my messages on Facebook, pinging. "How could you?" someone asked in a text message.
On Gibson's page, someone tried to defend me, "Hey guys, this guy is just doing his job." A defense that was met with resounding derision. "Well then he has a shitty job!" was one popular quip.
After about an hour of this, with me constantly logging in my head every comment. Gibson, eventually put a stop to it, announcing: "it's ok guys. I did an interview with a TV station about this few minutes ago."
The comments stopped almost immediately. Then one final shot. "It's still a sh**ty job," someone added.
The truth is, sometimes, it can be quite sh**ty. Sending messages like the one above is sh**ty. It's sh**ty to send, and I can only imagine, it must be devastating, heartbreaking, and enraging to receive. It is, without questions, the worst part of my profession. That and actually knocking on the door of someone who has been randomly dealt the worst imaginable tragedy. I remember sending that message. I shook my head, took a deep breath, then clicked the send button.
I guess I could just cop out and, as that one person said, "hey, I'm just doing my job." To which you might, and probably should say, "then get another job." I refuse to take the easy way out on that issue. It might be my job, but I do it, with the intention of advancing understanding. (That sounds self-righteous) Also, people have been saying, "it's just my job," for centuries, with historically and morally catastrophic results.
When you cover a story, you have to go to the source. Several months ago I'd uncovered what sounded like, at least in the reading of the probable cause statement, a horrific crime. Police accused a Davis County couple of feeding their son drugs as a punishment for misbehaving. I went to the home and knocked on the door. The couple was crushed to see me on their front stoop, and they were in a fury when I asked about the allegations. "Just get the f**k out of here!" The boy's mother yelled in my face, while the husband asked incredulously "why the hell are you here?!" After I explained the charges (which they were not aware had been filed) they told me that their son was mentally disabled and suffered from panic attacks and had a rage disorder. Sometimes he would go on wild rampages, hitting people and destroying the family home. Someone in a position of influence suggested to the exasperated couple that they give the boy, about 8 years old, a third of a Xanax to calm him down. They did so on a handful of occasions the father told me, and it worked. The boy mentioned it at school one day, mostly in passing, and the police soon followed with an investigation, then felony charges. We didn't report that story that day, because I was able to get a clearer picture of what had happened. Without that face-to-face, we would have had to take the word of the police, which, is just one side of the story.
Several years ago, I was at a restaurant, and a man, who'd been looking at me from across the room, finally approached me and said, "You did a story on my mothers' murder." I was concerned that the next comment would not be in words but in fists. He continued, "Thank you." To my relief he went on. 'I recorded that story, and I look at it often. What you said about my mom was beautiful.'" he continued, "I didn't have a great relationship with her towards the end of her life, so when you came to my door, I got to say all the things to you, that I didn't get to say to her while she was alive. Like 'I love you mom.'" He hugged me, and with tears welling up in his eyes, shook my hand and walked away.
This might surprise you, but most of the people we contact in the wake of a terrible event will talk to us. (I'd guess 60 percent) Not because they crave media attention, but because they want to honor someone. To tell the world, that this person was here, they meant something, and they were deeply loved. In a world often filed with anonymity, being able to tell the story of someone you loved to your neighbors is powerful.
Every time I knock on the door of someone who has been victimized, I am always doused in guilt for intruding on them during easily the worst time in their lives, but I always recall that man at the restaurant, and I recall, how that short story gave him the opportunity to tell the world he loved his mom.
This sh**ty job, does, at times allow me to do some very non-sh**ty things.