Over the weekend NBC News, reminding its audience in the wake of the Annapolis Capital Gazette murders that credible death threats come with the territory for many if not most veteran journalists, cited as the leading example Tim Crews, president of Californians Aware.
Crews is editor and publisher of the twice-weekly Sacramento Valley Mirror, covering Willows, Glenn County and nearby small communities from a walk-in storefront office. One day last year he found a professionally knotted hangman’s noose thrown against his office’s doorstep, apparently in reaction from the family and friends to a recent story about a mentally troubled woman who apparently took her own life.
That was only the latest in a decades-long series of threats or attempts on Crews’ life in reaction to what he prints. He has had his office burgled, his building set afire, his car’s brakes and wheels weakened to the point of failure and his dog poisoned. All of these were reported to police and sheriffs, with nothing done. Crews says the people who work in his office were badly shaken.
The noose threat prompted a joint letter of concern to the Willows mayor and city manager from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, California Newspaper Publishers Association, Californians Aware, Committee to Protect Journalists, First Amendment Coalition, Online News Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders and the Society of Professional Journalists.
But the incident, said the chief of police, wouldn’t be pursued. The district attorney was citing a recent California Supreme Court case holding that the use of a hand gesture accompanying menacing conduct did not constitute a criminal threat under Penal Code section 422 because that law required the use of a verbal utterance of some kind. But in giving local law enforcement that excuse for inaction, the DA ignored a more recent and focused law. Penal Code Section 11411 (a) states:
Any person who hangs a noose, knowing it to be a symbol representing a threat to life, on the private property of another, without authorization, for the purpose of terrorizing the owner or occupant of that private property or in reckless disregard of the risk of terrorizing the owner or occupant of that private property . . . shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by a fine not to exceed five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment for the first conviction or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year . . .
In any event, Crews told NBC, he’s not flinching. “If you go to jail in Glenn County, if you’re arrested, your name goes in the paper. We report every police call. We report every accident.
“We’re the paper of record here. But not everyone wants to be in the paper of record.”
Crews told NBC he was saddened, but not surprised, to have to write a page 1 editorial about the mass shooting that left five journalists dead Thursday in Annapolis, Maryland, for the Saturday edition of his 2,960-circulation broadsheet.
“’The only protection against a similar attack is me,’ Crews said of his newsroom, which houses a staff of four. ‘I have a .357, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a dog with good ears in my office.’”
Arming news professionals is an issue as old as Mark Twain’s 1871 tale, “Journalism in Tennessee”—and as real as Russia today.
Photo: Michael Macor, San Francisco Chronicle