That may not be the case today for the bearded man in a photo attached to this column. We’ve cropped the photo for the sake of decency, but it shows his bare backside hanging out in Wednesday’s sharp winter air and it was aimed directly at St. Catharines Standard photographer Julie Jocsak.
She was in Niagara-on-the-Lake covering the aftermath of a massive blaze that consumed a storage unit complex on Townline Road on Tuesday.
When she began to take pictures, a group of men who did not identify themselves — including our bearded friend — began to harass Jocsak and a female reporter from CHCH news, demanding no photos be taken.
A 15-year veteran of daily newspapering, Jocsak continued to do her job. That’s when this bearded fellow decided to express himself by dropping his pants.
“I was taking photos and waiting to see if someone from the fire department could speak to me when out of the corner of my eye, I saw skin,” Jocsak said. “I didn’t look, because who needs to see that? But a few moments later, I could still see it so I turned my camera and took a photo of him wiggling his butt at me.”
In an anonymous email sent to the Standard, a person claiming to support the cheeky display said the man was upset by the damage caused by the fire, did not want photos taken and was only “adjusting his clothing” — an explanation that has less substance than Donald Trump’s impeachment defence.
“He was wiggling his butt at me. Who adjusts their clothes in public, when it is -15 out, by taking down their pants?” Jocsak said.
As baboonish as this behaviour was, it is not the worst harassment she, or other journalists, face. But it is part of an increasingly troubling pattern of hostility directed at journalists.
“I don’t think this particular incident was gender-based harassment,” Jocsak said. “I was not afraid. This was not like the incident with the anti-maskers in September, which was actually scary.”
While covering a protest by the local Hugs Over Masks group, Jocsak was confronted by a hostile protester who threatened to smash her camera.
Journalists have always had to cope with a level of hostility. But it is something that has ramped up in the past few years, particularly since the Trump drumbeats of “fake news” and “enemy of the people” became part of popular lexicon.
“Most people we meet are great. This (harassing reporters) used to be a rare thing. Now it happens every few months, it seems,” Jocsak said.
Much of the harassment begins on social media, where trolls — mostly, though not exclusively, anonymous — harangue journalists for doing their jobs, often in vulgar terms. Truth and facts mean less to the Twitterati underbelly than scoring what they imagine to be a devastating insult hurled from the digital shadows.
Wednesday night, for example, a local “wellness coach” and opponent of COVID-19 restrictions, Marc Boni, messaged me on Facebook to say “You are the biggest piece of s–t.” It was my first interaction with the man.
Sometimes, the harassment goes much further.
Earlier this week, the Standard reported to police an emailed threat by a person calling for the assault, execution and torture of this reporter, Niagara’s top public health official and the prime minister, in response to a story we published about local COVID-19 deaths.
Since the 2018 Capital Gazette shooting in Maryland — a deranged gunman with a history of harassing reporters burst into the newsroom and fatally shot five people — every newspaper takes these sorts of threats very seriously.
In nearly every instance, this sort of harassment is a response to reporters covering facts, which is sometimes uncomfortable for partisan actors and ideologues.
What they have yet to learn is we are never going to stop reporting the news. The trolls, the harassment and the threats only strengthen our resolve.
Assuming your harassment rises to the level where we pay attention to it, you could face career, or even legal, consequences. We are not about to abandon our posts.
As forour bearded friend, his display had another self-defeating effect: His harassment of a journalist — and not fire recovery efforts, which might benefit him — is today’s story.