No surprise, I guess, in a country where you can be murdered for flying a Pride flag or shot because you knocked on the wrong door, that you’re nobody until you’ve gotten some death threats. Or at a minimum, a bunch of hurtful, hateful outpourings from strangers.

The central Kansas newsroom of the Marion County Record was raided Aug. 11 by local police, who seized computers, cellphones and reporting materials. The weekly paper put out its next edition Aug. 16. Katie Moore/The Kansas City Star/TNS

Still, I refuse to act like it’s normal that Kari Newell, the Marion, Kansas, restaurant owner whose cockeyed complaint inspired local cops to try to shut down the Marion County Record earlier this month, has since then received more than 600 “please die soon”-type messages.

Yes, these are from folks who apparently agree with me that Newell was mistaken in seeing anything criminal about the journalistic act of fact-checking an accurate report that she’d been driving without a license for 15 years after a drunken-driving conviction.

But the messages she shared with The Kansas City Star’s Eric Adler are no less appalling, either because she wasn’t right on the law, which, after all, it isn’t her job to know, or because vitriol is now so ubiquitous. “Eat (expletive deleted), you spiteful drunk (expletive deleted),” said one of them. Another Newell correspondent called her “the DEVIL.”

It’s not news that we’ve lost the vocabulary as well as the will to disagree civilly, but it is up to all of us to knock it off.

I just finished reading a biography of Thomas More, who often prayed to love his enemies, and told even the same Henry VIII who was having him beheaded for staying true to his Catholic faith that he hoped they’d one day “meet merrily in heaven.”


OK, so most of us are no Thomas More. But this piece of advice, from the wise father of a childhood friend of mine, about how to respond to those folks who for whatever reason are not our favorites, should be doable: “Just say ‘hi,’ ” he’d counsel us, laughing, “but don’t say, ‘How are ya?’ ” (Thanks, Mr. Haskett.)

To those non-favorites we have never met and never will, saying even less than “hi” is another solid option. As is voicing the strongest possible disagreement minus the slurs.

What impact do messages like the ones sent to Kari Newell have? Besides adding to the general toxicity and sense of aggrievement, they only make the martyred recipient more convinced. Which is why the other thing about Newell’s predicament that could not be more typical of dug-in America in 2023 is that she doesn’t seem to have learned anything from this no doubt hideous experience, or see any link between her own overreaction and the one she’s currently experiencing. “I don’t think I can be angry at myself for standing up for myself.”

Instead, even now, Newell seems to see herself as some kind of Diogenes of the Plains, speaking unwelcome truths to the rascals all around her: “A lot of people see straightforward honesty as abrasive,” she told The Star. “People aren’t familiar with hearing the truth.

So her truth is that the only wrongdoing was committed by the Marion County Record when they checked out their tip about her. Somehow, even though the Record ultimately decided against writing a story, she’s sticking to the story that the paper was “hellbent to try to destroy my name.”

Only, “hellbent” Eric Meyer, the Record editor whose 98-year-old mother died the day after their home was raided, says that he does not blame Newell either, but on the contrary sees her as someone who was a convenient catalyst for the police chief who conducted the raid and the magistrate judge who signed off on it.

There are a lot of great things about life in a small Midwestern town like Marion, and like the one I grew up in. But because the people who live there are no different from those anywhere else, being thanked by officials or business owners for even thinking about holding them accountable is not one of them.

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