My journalism career started in 2013, when I was 20 years old, with the press secretary for a New York City mayoral campaign calling me a “cunt”—on the record—to a national news outlet in response to one of my stories.
If I were easily offended, I would’ve stopped right after reading the resulting headlines. But as it turned out, I have a very high tolerance for the sort of colorful, mangled language critics often apply to reporters—in particular female reporters—they don’t like.
Still, I couldn’t have anticipated how much that episode would set the tone for the ensuing three years and the 2016 election.
On Labor Day morning just before 10 a.m., I posted a story on Facebook written by my colleague, Brandy Zadrozny, about Donald Trump’s second wife, Marla Maples. Zadrozny, I said, was the only person I knew more obsessed with Maples than me. I called it a “great” story.
A few minutes later I received a familiar notification: Mike Krawitz, a Republican candidate for the West Deptford, New Jersey, township committee, had left three comments on the post.
“Bill. Clinton. Cheated. On. Hillary. :). With. Multiple. Women,” he said.
“Fuck. You. Olivia, I. Hope. Somebody. Rapes. You. Today. :)
“Hope. You. Get. Raped. By. A. Syrian. Refugee. :)”
I should stop here to explain that my Facebook page is a cesspool of trolls and similar lifeforms who respond to everything I say with vitriol. I use Facebook as a means to share my stories, and so I keep it public, rarely posting things of a personal nature there.
The total shitshow this has produced has become something of a running joke among my friends, who will often jump into the comments to mock or bicker with the angry old men (it’s always men) sharing their crazy memes in response to my stories or announcements that I’ll be appearing on cable news.
In my two-plus years at The Daily Beast, I’ve mostly been assigned to cover Republican candidates, so the majority of feedback (read: hate mail) I get is from readers who sympathize with those candidates. Supporters of Rand Paul called me a “bimbo troll,” while defenders of a white supremacist running for office labeled me a “plastic surgery addict” and “probable jewess.”
Trump fans like Krawitz have their own vocabulary altogether, as a quick glance at my Twitter mentions will show you. It’s difficult for me to say what kind of reaction I would’ve received if I’d been writing about Democrats. For all the talk about Bernie Bros, I can only remember receiving one message from an aggrieved Sanders fan.
But a lack of decorum and blatant misogyny do appear to be pervasive on the far right. And the nomination of Trump, a candidate who mocked his female primary opponent’s face and suggested Megyn Kelly asked him hard questions because she had her period, suggests an institutionalization of the sentiment. At Trump rallies, after all, it’s not uncommon to see people hawking or wearing T-shirts that read “Trump That Bitch!”
Still, Krawitz was different.
In Democratic West Deptford, he’s a perennial candidate of little consequence. The local Republican Party describes him as a longtime resident and member of the community who “offer[s] a different perspective in [the] campaign.” What he does for a living, if anything, is unclear. In 2008, he made news when he impersonated Democratic Party boss George Norcross on the phone in order to get put through to then-governor Jon Corzine.
Now in his early forties, he’s pictured on Facebook appearing chubby in an ill-fitting suit, with a receding hairline that emphasizes his sweaty forehead. On his personal page (although I never accepted his friend request) he mostly posted photos of his hero, Donald J. Trump. But on my page, since December 2014, he diligently commented on the majority of posts with a curiously distinct grammar to convey increasingly angry sentiments.
“Olivia. You. Call. Yourself. A. Journalist. ?” he asked on Dec. 9, 2014, in response to my story about the impending collapse of the Trump Taj Mahal. “I. Invite. Olivia. To. Contact. Me. So. I. Can. Show. You. Around. The. Taj. Mahal. I’ll. Pay. For. Everything. Mike.” He left his phone number.
A year later, he was still at it. “Stupid Olivia. go back up Obamas. Ass. :)” he said on Dec. 11, 2015.
And on Aug. 10, 2016, he said, “How’s. The. Gun. Crime. In. Democrat. Chicago. Olivia. You. Ugly. Stupid. Cunt. :)”
Krawitz’s long history of posting grammatically unsound comments of this nature on my Facebook page makes it difficult to believe his claim, and the claim of the West Deptford Republican Party, that he was hacked on Monday.
Gloucester County Republican Executive Committee chair Jim Philbin distanced himself from Krawitz, whom he claimed he doesn’t know “personally” and called for his resignation in a press release on Tuesday. West Deptford’s voters, of course, were already unlikely to elect him before he added supporting the rape of female journalists to his campaign platform.
In an additional statement to The Daily Beast, the West Deptford Executive Board said, “We have been informed he is resigning.”
But the fate of political discourse in America is less certain.
News publications (including this one) have made a big show of eliminating comments sections in recent years, arguing, correctly, that they are little more than safe spaces for bullies. But increasingly, every other public forum is becoming like that, too.
And in the age of Trump, bullying has been rebranded as telling it like it is.
Using obscene or threatening language is a point of pride, proof that you’re beholden to nothing but the truth. And anyone who can’t handle that? Well, they’re just a politically correct loser.
When a former reality TV star can become the Republican nominee while offending and belittling entire genders, races, and religions, why wouldn’t a man seeking local office think that encouraging the rape of a woman he hates is OK?
Among people who exist publicly, like reporters do, “Don’t read the comments!” is a common refrain. It’s a suggestion that by ignoring the segment of the population who hide behind their computer screens and spout off, you can render them powerless.
At one point, that might’ve been true.
But it’s no longer a question of what the journalist—who chose a career that invites public criticism—can handle.
We are now existing in the post-shame era of American politics, where the comments have come alive—and they’re running for office.