The reporter who some officials of a rural Oklahoma county would like to kill, according to his newspaper's surreptitious recording of their discussion at a county commission meeting, is leaving his family's newspaper, citing threats and stress, Paige Wiliams reports for The New Yorker.
|Chris Willingham, photographed through the paper's|
window. (Photos: Joseph Rushmore for The New Yorker)
Sheriff's Capt. Alicia Manning "was investigating several suspected pedophiles," Williams reports. "Manning told a TV news station that 'possibly other people in the community' who were in a 'position of power' were involved . . . and referred to Chris as 'one of them.' Without citing evidence, she accused him of trading marijuana for videos of children. Chris, stunned, suspected that Manning was just looking for an excuse to confiscate his phone. But when he started to lose music students, and his kids’ friends stopped coming over, he feared that rumors were spreading in the community. . . . He developed such severe anxiety and depression that he rarely went out; he gave his firearms to a relative in case he felt tempted to harm himself."Chris and his wife Angie had "suppressed the occasional urge to leave the Gazette, knowing that they would be hard to replace," Williams writes, but now it was clearly an option. On March 6, he sued Manning and Clardy in federal court for “slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” They denied the allegations, and Manning's response said that whatever distress Chris suffered was within the limits of what “a reasonable person could be expected to endure.”
|Editor-Publisher Bruce Willingham in his "clutterbucket of an office"|
"People wanted to hear the recording, not just read about it, but the Gazette had no website," Williams reports. "The Willinghams published an oversized QR code on the front page of the April 20 issue, linking to a Dropbox folder that contained the audio and Angie’s best attempt at a transcript. They eventually put Chris’s articles online. In a rare move, the 17-member board of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association voted unanimously to suspend the memberships of Clardy, Manning, and Hendrix. . . . [Idabel Mayor Craig] Young was among those who hoped that Gentner Drummond, the attorney general, would depose the sheriff 'so we can start to recover.' But on June 30, Drummond ended his investigation," saying that the conversation was “inflammatory” and “offensive,” but not criminal. But Chris's latest story reports that Manning is under FBI investigation.
Williams ends her story this way: "Bruce and Gwen worried that the ongoing stress would drive Chris and Angie away from the Gazette — and from McCurtain County. Sure enough, they’re moving to Tulsa. Angie told me, 'We’re 40 years old. We’ve been doing this half our lives. At some point, we need to think of our own happiness, and our family’s welfare.' Bruce protested, but he couldn’t much blame them."
|McCurtain County (Wikipedia map)|