Boy, I feel for Abigail Pardou. Why? Here’s how Washington Post’s Marc Fisher sets the scene:

As much as any elected official in Washington, Harry “Tommy” Thomas, the D.C. council member from Ward 5, carries himself like a good old-fashioned machine politician. Son of a council member, Thomas is a cheerful and omnipresent face in Northeast, a ward-heeler who prides himself on bringing home the bacon in the form of park facilities, schools and other city projects.

Abigail Padou is the editor and proprietor of Brookland Heartbeat, a bimonthly newsmagazine about the neighborhood near Catholic University. The paper, mailed free to 10,000 registered voters in the area, is a non-profit run entirely by volunteers and supported by a small group of local advertisers.

Last week, for reasons Padou cannot fathom, Thomas posted on his web site a letter to the editor and to all Ward 5 residents accusing the Heartbeat of salacious headlines, biased reporting and a conflict of interest. Thomas was so angry about a story that ran in the paper last July that he demanded a retraction and threatened to go after one of the Heartbeat’s most important advertisers, the Long & Foster realty company. “Long & Foster will be held accountable for its role in underwriting the Brookland Heartbeat,” Thomas wrote, “as well as the businesses that support the publication.”

The article that got Thomas’s goat is a nicely reported, fully sourced, and utterly unsensational story that examines what Ward 5 gets out of Thomas’s position as chairman of the Council’s committee overseeing libraries, parks and recreation. The story’s conclusion: The ward gets very little.

I can relate. To read Fisher’s piece, Thomas is bullying Padou unfairly.

Here in the little town where I live, there are from time to time controversial issues that come up and in my community blog, I try to write about them. I don’t hide my opinions (nor do any other contributors to the blog), but over time as the site has grown people begin to view it much like a newspaper. So I have started to get angry emails (and hear about angry tirades in meetings) about the site’s (and my) supposed bias. These are the same kind of notes that any editor of any newspaper gets, and when I am properly detached I view them as evidence that I am probably on track.

Let me be clear: I never set out to write slanted coverage, and I make a point of trying to lay out my own biases (if any) in any article. This feedback is more a byproduct of the fact that there are controversial issues on which people disagree deeply — not because of anything I have actually done.

But, I am also a neighbor, and so when I am in another frame of mind, such emails can hurt. I don’t have a thick skin.

These kinds of notes can push me to back off, because it feels more trouble than it’s worth to cover some issues. However, I know that I need to lean against that — otherwise the angry cranks become bullies.

Still, sometimes it can be a drag to keep one’s positive attitude. It can be harder than it looks to stay in today’s public square! You become a target.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

One thought on “Bully”

  1. I know what you mean, Brad. With my more public work at http://www.NewWest.net, I sometimes found myself cringing in advance at what I imagined the trolls might fling at me. It’s weird and kind of embarrassing how much one can be bothered by negative comments from strangers who aren’t even brave enough to leave real names.

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