Call me paranoid, but I get the sense that any minute now, an editor is going to slither over and demand that I write a story about the arctic blast headed in our direction.

Arctic air is pretty intense and all, but it isn’t the coldest thing in the world – there is nothing quite as bitingly cold and unnervingly quiet as the blue wall of silence that greets a newspaper reporter who has managed to anger an entire police force.

Cops who used to stop for gossip on downtown corners are now passing through without a glance. Detectives who once would offer up an occasional nugget of information suddenly have no time to take your calls. Patrol officers all at once seem to notice that expired inspection sticker on your windshield or the taillight that’s been on the fritz the past three years.

When police offer up a cold shoulder over a perceived wrong, they do it collectively – as a unified army of ice-cold bitterness.

I once ran afoul of a certain local police department after I wrote about a pair of off-duty cops who got into trouble in an out-of-town fracas. The cold spell lasted for weeks. When it was over and for whatever reason the cops started talking to me again, one officer approached me chuckling over it.

“I wasn’t even all that mad about it,” he said. “But hey, when you build a wall of silence, you’ve got to use all the bricks.”


When accused criminals get mad at you, on the other hand, it’s a one-on-one affair. They call you at all hours, screaming and swearing and threatening to sue. They stomp down to the newsroom to swear some more and to make further noise about their top-shelf lawyer and all the fun they’re going to have suing your butt. They run into you in the grocery store parking lot and loudly reiterate all the things they told you two days ago when they spotted you in the Dollar Store.

More tenacious still are the relatives of accused criminals; in particular mothers and sisters.

I once had a low-level crack dealer follow me into my driveway to express his unhappiness about being named in a story about a downtown shooting.

“Yeah, I was there,” he said. “But I didn’t shoot nobody. Putting my name in the paper like that, you’re making it real hard for me to live around here.”

We talked it out. Everything was cool. We even shook hands at the end of it. Then his sister started taking up the cause and, man, I think she called me every day for a year to cuss me out and to rail long and loud about how her brother, when you got right down to it, was as holy as the pope himself.

The lady was as mean as a junkyard dog and as loyal as same. For a long while, the sound of a ringing phone would cause me to screech like a frightened child and assume the fetal position beneath my desk.


When a politician gets all mad at a reporter, it’s just downright confusing. They come at you with smiles and handshakes and an air of pure diplomacy. The politeness of their attack never wavers, but as they continue pumping your hand and saying “please” and “thank you,” you get the sense that they are also biting their tongue to shreds, so great is the rage they are forced to conceal.

Politicians get every bit as white-hot angry as a street thug, no question about it. They just know how to slap a mask over it and keep that smile plastered on.

The angry politician won’t just kill you with kindness, he’ll bludgeon you with it in the alley behind City Hall if he gets a chance.

Part of the fun of being a reporter is wondering who’s wrath you have incurred today. Could be the cops, could be the crooks. It could be a business owner, a tow truck driver, a prostitute, a schoolteacher, a gangster or a scuba diver. It’s just never predictable, you know.

You can write a big, controversial story for the front page and never hear a peep. Then you slap together a tiny brief about the Greater Leeds Women’s Auxiliary Semiannual Cheese Fair and bam! You’re getting so many death threats, you’ve got to go into hiding.

And sometimes a reporter will get grief about stories he or she had absolutely nothing to do with – the mere fact that you work for the newspaper that reported the atrocity is enough to inspire spit-flying, fist-pumping, eye-popping rage.

When this happens, I pass along the name and number of the editor who assigned said story and I encourage the enraged fellow to call and to keep calling until he gets satisfaction.

At which point the editor gets all mad, and that, my friends, is how a reporter ends up writing 40 weather stories per season.

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