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Jack Zaleski, Published August 31 2013

Zaleski: Just a phone call from a nut, but …

Nasty phone calls come with the job. I expect them. I enjoy some of them, especially when the caller is a skilled, informed debater.

The nature of editorial page opinion and commentary, either written or in cartoons, guarantees some readers will be at least irritated, at worst infuriated. It’s the infuriated nutcases who seem unable to understand the purpose of opinion/commentary pages. I unapologetically classify them as “nutcases” because, if the shoe fits …

A few weeks ago, a caller strayed from legitimate anger to foul language and then to threats. I didn’t think much of it after the first call, which I ended when his mouth took on the character of a cesspool. But he called again and again. I tried to be civil, but after a string of irrational and profane abuse, my civility was sorely strained. I told him what I thought of him.

Then he got sinister and threatening. He demanded to meet me outside The Forum building “to settle this.” I declined. He said he’d wait for me until I came out so “we could settle this.” I said that was a stupid idea. He disagreed and said he would not only wait for me but “for anyone else” who came out of the building so “we could settle this.”

That was enough. I was concerned because that day I planned to walk from The Forum to an eye clinic a couple of blocks away. If this goon was as loony as he sounded, he might show up for a confrontation. And given the threat to other Forum employees, I called a Fargo police lieutenant I know for advice.

I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. The lieutenant said it was wise to be cautious. I agreed, and he dispatched an officer and squad car to The Forum. As I walked to my appointment, the squad shadowed me to my destination, then went back to keep watch at The Forum’s employee door. Nothing happened.

Still, it was comforting to know the police were on the scene of what turned out to be only a lunatic’s rant. Haven’t heard from the cracked caller since that day.

The police are busy. They’ve got more important public safety issues to deal with than threats to the newspaper from an apparent nut or drunk or whatever. Yet, the police response was prompt, professional, appropriately

low-key and, I must say, welcome.

Police sometimes get a bad rap in the media about all sorts of things: how they handled a crime call, or a labor dispute that makes news, or for writing too many traffic tickets. It comes with their territory. But when police are asked to respond to the small stuff – a phone threat, for instance – it refreshes the meaning of their mandate: “to protect and serve.” I, for one, appreciate it.


Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.