Not the enemy of the people

August 21, 2018
Category: Newsletters

Dear President Trump,

I am a widow with two young children. My husband  —  and their father —  was a journalist, a lifelong newspaper man. He was young, just 41, when he died of a fast-moving and painful cancer two years ago, but he had an old soul.

He told stories of forgotten everyday folks, the ones you say you care about and built your election around: the elk hunters, the seismologists, the rock climbers, the bar keeps, the small business owners and the pro wrestlers. He told their stories in a beautiful, simple, and truthful way.

He was the most honest person I have ever known.

Mike Brick

Mike was the child who told the babysitter exactly what homework he had, and later the reporter who made the second and third calls to ensure a name was spelled correctly. He learned to read from The Washington Post and started his own newspaper in elementary school called The Potomac Post.

As a reporter in New York, he was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that told the story of every single victim of the city’s 9/11 terrorist attacks. Later, he wrote a highly regarded nonfiction book about a struggling high school whose students were poor children of immigrants. He always wanted to tell these stories, and he did — up until a few months before he died.

I often think of the stories he didn’t get to tell.

It is gut-wrenching and physically painful to hear you call journalists “the enemy of the people” and question their patriotism. You’re talking about not only my husband and my children’s father, but about Mike’s many close friends and co-workers.

When Mike was diagnosed with cancer his editor offered us his spare room for the twice monthly trips to Houston for chemotherapy. Upon going into hospice, Mike’s best friends and fellow reporters pulled together a collection of his articles and published them as a book.

They took turns reading the galleys to Mike in the hospital bed we set up in the living room. They filled his life with love and laughter and made sure he knew in his dying days that they would help take care of me and the children. They traveled on short notice to be at his funeral and sing songs he had written at the wake afterword. I received many emails and letters from his colleagues whom I had never met expressing their love and admiration for him.

These are the best people in the world, the ones who search for the truth and seek to help others.

Last summer you said, “I really think they don’t like our country,” referring to journalists. Mike loved this country. He loved his adopted home of Texas and he wrote many stories about the struggles of its hard-working people. He covered national stories in Texas like the collapse of Enron and the rampage at Fort Hood. He proudly wore jeans and black cowboy boots with a reporter’s notebook lodged in his back pocket to go to work every day.

The last trip we took before he got sick was to New Orleans, another of his favorite cities. He spent time there in 2005 covering Hurricane Rita and the aftermath of Katrina. He wrote about abandoned pets, a church that sprung up under a tent in a parking lot and about con artists trying to trick people into giving up their personal information. It broke his heart to see the damage those storms brought to a place he loved so much.

He always had an affinity for nature,  going back to his childhood near Washington, D.C. Last summer our family and close friends gathered in West Virginia to spread his ashes in the Shenandoah Mountains. We sang songs and planted flowers  —  lupines that resemble the bluebonnet ,  the state flower of Texas, the place we chose to build a family and where he died.

Mike lived a minimal life without many personal possessions aside from his record collection and shelves full of books. He wanted to provide for his family, though, and that is something that wasn’t always easy to do on a reporter’s salary. After our son was born we realized that New York City was growing too expensive for us and we decided to move back to Texas. Mike was a freelancer for a while and I know it was demoralizing for him to have to pester publications to pay him.

No one goes into journalism for money. The people who do these jobs do them because they are called to them; they feel a duty to tell stories or expose wrongdoing.

The truth is that journalism is a brutal profession with constant layoffs, stagnant wages and long hours, yet somehow, in your mind, this is elitism.

What am I to say to my children, who are still struggling with their grief, when they hear you demean journalists like their dad? You are sullying their father’s name and the names of his best friends and many colleagues. You are belittling a profession that has been respected and protected since the time of our country’s founding.

Your words aren’t those of a person who knows how to lead and who has nothing to hide; they are the words of authoritarian leaders and tyrants  —  the words of a small man hiding behind a big desk who has no idea how to do his job.

That is what I must say to my children.