Preamble: I agree people are too easily outraged. Folks are just looking to take quick offense, ready to stand up full of righteous indignation, screaming about some affront.
And, yes, I admit to an occasional daydream about going all World Wrestling Federation on some elected official, lawyer or fellow motorist.
So now, at the risk of sounding like a snowflake, let me say I was dismayed when the Montana GOP’s then-candidate for Congress body-slammed a reporter last week on the eve of the May 25 special election.
I wasn’t so much disturbed that just before being elected congressman, the candidate turned bouncer because a reporter was doing his job and asking him questions.
No, I’m concerned because it’s now a trend. It’s the fourth time in the past month that a reporter has been slapped (in Alaska), pinned against a wall (in Washington), arrested (in West Virginia) or body-slammed (Montana).
The arrest incident involved Tom Price, the former U.S. representative for Georgia’s 6th congressional district who is now Trump’s health secretary. Price didn’t want to answer a pointed question, so the West Virginia Capitol police took care of his problem.
On top of the troublesome manhandling trend, there has been a wave of approval for these actions. Not a tacit, quiet approval but a full-throated give-it-to-‘em!!! by a collective peanut gallery of angry supporters.
And now the movement is all but getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from law enforcement. Last week, a lawman from Oconee County, near Athens, wrote on Facebook, “To paraphrase Augustus McCrae, it ain’t much of a crime whacking a surly reporter.”
Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry was referring to the long-ago miniseries “Lonesome Dove” and the crusty character played by Robert Duvall. I suppose “Lonesome Dove” is a sort of touchstone to lawmen as the movie “All the President’s Men” is to us pesky reporter-types.
Old Augustus was never averse to giving someone an old-fashioned beating. But only when that person deserved it. Naturally, he was the arbiter of when that needed to happen.
I tried to reach the sheriff but had no success. He has claimed it was done with a sense of humor and I get that. I often joke about how it ain’t much of a crime body-slamming surly sheriffs.
No, actually, I don’t. That would be the opposite of funny and is much of a crime. Try body-slamming a sheriff — even if you think he needs it — and you’ll face more than the Mickey Mouse misdemeanor the Montana congressman-elect is facing. That is, after you get out of the full-body cast.
Sheriffs have a tough, important job. They must fight crime, keep prisoners from escaping and get re-elected. Keep in mind, sheriffs are politicians first and lawmen second. They can’t play Augustus McCrae unless they get 50 percent-plus-one of the vote.
Sheriff Berry just won his seventh term and will ride off into the retirement sunset in four years. He even defeated former Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt’s brother-in-law, a fellow named Chappy Hynes. “I just took a whipping,” Chappy said after seeing Berry garner 69 percent of the vote.
He meant “whipping” in the metaphysical sense. I think.
Canceling Valentine’s Day
By most accounts Berry does a good job. He runs book drives for prisoners, visits hospitals and keeps crime low in Oconee — although that’s also because of the county’s high median income.
I called Margaret Holt, a retired University of Georgia professor and active Democrat who lives in the heavily Republican county. While she called Berry’s statement “atrocious,” she said he was a personable fellow with a good sense of humor who runs a tight ship.
The Oconee Sheriff’s Department also administers one of the best Facebook sites going. It’s informative, funny and irreverent.
Recently, the site asked a burglar who was shot at and chased away to come back and file a report “if you feel victimized.”
The office offered a $1,000 reward for residents to turn in illegal liquor stills. “I really don’t care about the liquor, I just want to blow something up.”
And Berry canceled Valentine’s Day a couple of years back because of an ice storm.
You’ve got to like a guy like that. If I lived in Oconee, I could have saved 12 to 15 bucks on a present that year!
So, it was within this vein of humor that he felt the need to applaud the meting-out of good old-fashioned Western justice to reporters on his own personal Facebook site.
It was in jest.
The candidate’s story and Montana manure
The attacked journalist, as first reported by the Montana congressman’s toady communications agent, was aggressive — trespassing in the pol’s personal space and sticking his recorder near the pol’s face.
To his credit, Sheriff Berry debated back and forth with critics on his Facebook page.
“Invade the personal space of most folks, even from Montana and find out how they react to it,” the sheriff wrote. “It didn’t rise to shooting or stabbing him, but he got shoved on his ass and that solved the issue.”
But it all turns out, according to the audio recording and witnesses in the room, that the congressman’s initial story was what covers much of Montana — BS! Even the Fox News people who witnessed the incident were horrified.
The congressman was the bigger jerk. And the (alleged) criminal.
Still, the sheriff remained undeterred, saying the only thing the reporter “had to do was be prepared to accept the consequences of NOT getting out of the congressman’s grill. As expected he is whining and complaining about it.”
Well, I’m not whining. But Berry, as a lawman, needs to be a bit more like someone who supports … um, The Law.