Choosing The Light | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Choosing The Light

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In my line of work, people like to talk trash about you. And there's really something about a woman speaking her mind that just hacks off a lot of men, and some women. And Lord help me if I dare tell them they can't do the nasty all over the Jackson Free Press website (inevitably using a cowardly fake name). They go off and start websites, and blogs, and Facebook pages to mete out their revenge. We're used to it by now.

Let's see: years ago, the Jackson Freak Press website was ostensibly a "parody," including a drawing of me "whipping" Todd and a link of the actual name of a friend's child to a picture of genital warts. As I recall, our main crime was criticizing the Iraq War and George W. Bush before others did. And, of course, being too "liberal." Hilarious, huh?

Then there was the guy who got kicked off our site twice--he begged back on once--for getting crazy out of control any time immigration came up, even threatening to kick a Hispanic reporter's ass for challenging him. We didn't believe he would do it, but this isn't the kind of person you want around, so we expelled him on the second strike.

Since then, he's concocted some humdingers about me and the JFP--from stating as fact that I had posted something on The Clarion-Ledger site (about the POTUS; I didn't), to saying I was defending Robbie Bell for not reporting Heather Spencer's death sooner (I didn't; he twisted a comment from me criticizing her; I sarcastically added that the only excuse for not calling the police sooner was that she was zonked out from sleeping pills; this genius turned it into me only saying she was zonked out from sleeping pills as if I was defending her), to calling me a journalistic "slut" for giving Sheriff McMillin a forum to dispute some character assassination that blog had inflicted on him without asking him to respond.

And you wouldn't believe the whoppers and the exaggerations and the half-truths and outright lies I've seen about our company and our staff in cyberspace. It's par for the course.

But I learned several years back to not "feed the troll." They crave attention, and if I give it to them by responding, then they pile on saying I'm "playing the victim" or acting like I caused the whole thing in the first place rather than showing up to set their false claims straight. If I challenge one of their lies, they suddenly claim it was "opinion" (clearly not having learned libel law) and their "constitutional" right. (One doesn't have a constitutional right to lie about others.) So for the most part, I've chosen to ignore them.

These guys are playing at what they do, and we are not. Most are scared to attach their names or, heaven forbid, say the same thing to people's faces. I attach my name to everything I write, and I will say anything I write to their faces, as a couple of them have discovered. I am not afraid of the phone, and I can look someone in the face and be direct.

But some of it is becoming hard to ignore: These blogs (and their commenters) are bashing women and being cheered on for it. Usually the worst they call a man is a communist or a wimp or some other sophomoric phrase. When talking about women they disagree with, though, the language gets more disturbing, and is often steeped in the language of sexual violence: whore, slut, skank, even the c-word. They often tuck it into something they think looks acceptable. (As in "journalistic slut.") They are more likely to talk about a woman's body parts than they are her legal argument.

Last week I learned that a local man had posted a vicious diatribe on a Facebook page clearly created for complaints about not winning Best of Jackson awards. Remarkably, he chose to create a long, false story about me, call me the "c*nt in chief" of the Jackson Free Press and attach his real name to it. He wrote that I was banned from a domestic-abuse fundraiser last fall (while I was on vacation) because I was such a horror to people there that the mother of Heather Spencer herself threw me out, and banned me and other JFP people from future events.

I guess this dude thought we anti-domestic-abuse women don't talk to each other. But I immediately called Heather's mother on her cell, who called the organizer of the event, Mary Ann Kirby, who kindly sent me a statement disavowing knowledge of the lie without me asking for one. I then looked up the guy's home number and dialed it; his elderly parents told me they'd never heard of him. I blogged about it, outing him by name and posting the statement.

Then something different happened. The culprit messaged me on Facebook and apologized. Numerous times. He told me his lie was costing him friends he'd had since middle and high school. He said he has a problem with hurting people and promised to get help. He wanted to make it right.

A cynic might say that he was afraid of getting sued. But I chose to believe him because you have to be broken to do what he did to me, and to himself--and to lie about someone you don't know. He wanted to make it right; I told him to come completely clean under my blog post and while he was at it, to apologize to all women for using the c-word. He did all that, and even posted it back on the anti-JFP Facebook page later that day.

I like to think good will come out of this incident. I chose to confront it publicly because it was so egregious and involved other good people. But when he showed up with an apology, I realized it was the first time I'd seen any of the hate-slingers I've dodged over the years actually be man enough to apologize. And I was thrilled to see how many other people were speaking out against his scam publicly and to me (and apparently him) privately. That's the way to change it, folks.

I believe there are two types of people in the world: builders and destroyers. You either spend time trying to build a better future for all, or you tear other people down. Destroyers can change, even when it's pitch black all around. They just have to reach for the light.

That evening, I wished my new, uh, friend well and told him: "It's never too late to become a better, more respected person. ... I'm rooting for you." And I meant it.

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