A few weeks back, two people filed public disclosure requests seeking all the emails I’ve sent to city council members—in one case, going back many years, and in the other, going back forever. (I’ve redacted the names and contact information from the requests). One of the requesters seemed to be hoping to blow the lid off some conspiracy between me, the council, and homeless advocate Alison Eisinger related to homeless encampments; the other seemed obsessed with a story I wrote about misogyny directed at female city council members over the arena deal last summer, in which I mis-identified the date and context in which two talk radio hosts gave out council member Sally Bagshaw’s phone number, and also wanted copies of every email in which any council member or council staffer had ever mentioned my name or the name of this blog.
That, as I said on Facebook at the time, is unusual! I’m a private citizen, and it isn’t common for people to go on witch hunts for journalists’ emails, but it happens. (Pro tip, though: If you’re going to go hunting for conspiracy theories, narrow them down so it won’t take the city 15 years to produce all your documents!) Around the same time, another individual had taken it upon herself to call my employers, potential employers, past employers, and even other media outlets where I’d merely appeared as a guest, in an effort to make it hard for me to get work or do public appearances. (I’ve seen a lot of these emails and they typically describe me as irresponsible, not a real journalist, unethical, and motivated by some kind of vague, nefarious hostility—basically the email equivalent of the comments I was getting on Slog back in 2007.) The person was also upset about my views on homelessness, and lives in the same North End neighborhood as the two records requesters.
I’ve struggled for a long time with what to do about harassers. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, I don’t like the attention, and I certainly don’t understand why people form negative obsessions about people they don’t know. I’ve blocked a few people on social media, including one person who created a dozen or more new Facebook profiles every day (you know, Facebook – the place where you can’t hide behind fake names?) to get around my blocks. I briefly blocked another person who sent me nearly 100 increasingly threatening private messages in a few hours one weekend afternoon. Typically, I unblock these people once they’ve simmered down, because I try to be an open book; only a few have concerned me enough to talk to a lawyer or law enforcement.
I’ve been living my life online for a long time, and I’ve been the subject of online abuse for just as long. But I have seen a shift recently, not in the level of anger, personal vitriol, and gendered name-calling (the very name of this blog is in part a response to people’s incredibly clever comments about knowing what my middle initial stands for) but in the prevalence of conspiracy theories, as if the city, journalists, and advocates (especially homeless advocates) were somehow colluding to destroy Seattle to make themselves rich at everybody else’s expense. You see this on Nextdoor, certainly. But you also see it in emails to council members—like the one below, which was sent to all nine council members by one of the women who filed records requests for my emails.
Which reminds me of another pro tip: Public disclosure law applies to everyone.
Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2016 11:49 AM
To: Herbold, Lisa <Lisa.Herbold@seattle.gov>; Bagshaw, Sally <Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov>; Sawant, Kshama <Kshama.Sawant@seattle.gov>; Harrell, Bruce <Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov>; Juarez, Debora <Debora.Juarez@seattle.gov>; Gonzalez, Lorena <Lorena.Gonzalez@seattle.gov>; O’Brien, Mike <Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov>; Johnson, Rob <Rob.Johnson@seattle.gov>; email@example.com
Subject: NORTH PRECINCT
Seattle City Council Members: Dec 13,2016
It is my understanding the N Precinct has lost all funding for a new building. It is clear per your FB Ms Sawant that you truly don’t give a FUCK about law enforcement! And before the rest of the CMs take issue with my language this is your co council members words per a quote she referred to recently from an article about not giving 13 FUCKS as a grown women!
I find the lack of leadership within this council to be appalling and harmful! You stand for nothing and cave to everything. You continually glorify in constantly appointing people to different committees or positions. Yet when it comes to THE SEATTLE POLICE DEPT policy decisions you are ineffective!
You are elected officials you were elected to form policy that serve and protect ALL PEOPLE of the city and you are failing!
Your lack of leadership regarding law and order in our city is in my opinion criminal! The NORTH END is the LARGEST area to be covered yet has the least amount of officers working out of a building that NONE OF YOU would ever work out of. You sit in the glass palace of downtown doing what regarding public safety ? Evidently not much as crime is going up! Tax paying citizens of this city deserve way better then what any of you are doing.
If your agenda is to make this city a living shithole then you are doing a great job just look around. It is a matter of time folks before the National Guard is called in and I am not joking!
I personally think the FBI needs to get involved and soon, as it appears a money making racket out of the homeless situation is occurring.
When you have $100s of millions of dollars leaving this city into the hands of providers who are not held accountable. There is no transparency. And yet the homeless numbers are increasing! A federal investigation is needed to weed thru this mess you all have created.
In addition if you all had done a better job accounting for past spending maybe the Feds would have recognized the City of Seattle state of emergency regarding homelessness over a year ago! The way you spend money with no accountability its not surprise the FEDS are looking the other way. You don’t spend wisely to begin with why give you more?!
In closing you should know that I do live in the North End and I can guarantee you that if I call 911 and do not receive a response in a timely manner and it leads to anyone in my family being harmed this city will see a lawsuit the likes they have never seen. THE OFFICER SHORTAGE, THE LACK OF PROPER TRAINING FACILITIES and having laws on the books that officers are told to not enforce are what is causing a rapid decay in this city and you all policy makers are on the hook. Its called DUE PROCESS !
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5 thoughts on “Fan Mail, Public Disclosure, and Conspiracy Theories”
(Not going to respond to “Seattle Man” because of his disrespectful tone.)
Erica, I don’t get it. I thought you prided yourself on your close relationship to local politicians. But now, all of a sudden, you’re denying them. Look, this is pretty standard for journalists. I’m not saying it’s a bad practice in general. All I’m saying is that, in your specific case, it has given rise to some resentment of you among ordinary citizens whose interactions with government you have been reporting on critically. Take that as friendly advice, a word to the wise. You can either blow it off or take it to heart; the choice is yours.
Now, as I say, it’s not necessarily unethical of you to ask politicians for scoops on stories. In some cases, though, it might be unethical for politicians to GIVE you those scoops. Especially when those scoops involve their constituents. To return my claim (and your denial), I DO have proof that you have a pipeline to City Hall. Moreover, the proof I have is suggestive of unethical behavior by at least one City official, and possibly more. The question is: Having challenged me to back up a claim, will you now allow me to do it?
David, none of us can prevent how we “are perceived.” I don’t know what “colleagues” you’re referring to, but any perception that I’m part of an “ole boys’ network” (ha – first time I’ve been accused of THAT) are both paranoid and sadly mistaken.
First off, let me say that I am against stalking and intimidation of all kinds, be it online or off. So if there is someone stalking Erica, and they’re reading this, then please know that you are in the wrong and should stop. Having said that, I now want to ask Erica a question:
Erica, I have heard reports from colleagues I trust that are you chummy with City Council members and have a direct pipeline to City officials. I’ve also heard that if you ask for public records, you get them post haste, while everyone else has to go through the process and wait wait wait.
Can you speak to these charges? Because if they are true, that would obviously give rise to resentment. The City is getting a reputation for being in the pockets of special interests, and if you are perceived to be part of some good ole boy network, that means that you are part of the problem.
I disagree w/ Barnett on almost everything (well a bit overstatement but I am hardly friendly to her views).
But I don’t like it when I hear vague “reports” (and by the way being friends with somebody is not against any law) I get suspicious of YOU.
So what have you heard? And from whom?
Some facts, my friend.
Otherwise, in the most polite manner possible, may I suggest you STFU.
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