“As a Bloomington resident, I am appalled by this reporting.”

“It’s unclear to me whether you are carrying water for these white supremacists ... your story is irresponsible and ill-informed.”

“I find the overly simplistic and one-sided coverage of this tense situation not only outrageously irresponsible but dangerous.”

“It truly appeared to me, and many others who I have communicated with since your story was published online, that the Herald-Times supported the white supremacist cause.”

“I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by your coverage of the protest event at the Bloomington farmers’ market.”

“Your story about the Nazis at the farmer’ market was disgusting.”

Journalists are accustomed to criticism. I warn the students I teach at Indiana University to toughen up. A young reporter asked me last week: “Does it ever get easier to take?” After more than 30 years of covering criminal justice and difficult community issues, the answer is that it does not.

These excerpts at the start of this column come from emails I’ve received in recent days, long accusatory messages questioning my journalistic integrity. I have been called a liar, a victim shamer, a white-supremacist, a Nazi sympathizer, a person whose motives should be questioned, a supporter of violence and hate. I have apologized twice to the women who answer the phones here at the paper because they have gotten an earful fielding messages from from angry callers.

This past Saturday morning, I was at the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market. I bought peaches from an Amish vendor and a cream-filled cornetto at the Piccoli Dolci bakery stand. About 10:45, I was at the Stranger Organic Farm booth directly across from Schooner Creek Farm’s booth. Several men stood in close proximity to the front of their stall. A petite woman wearing a sundress and carrying a protest sign walked back and forth, weaving between them and market shoppers, quietly and without incident.

The mood quickly changed from uncomfortable to tense to scary, an escalation that happened over a few minutes. Market staff asked Cara Caddoo to move to the market’s designated protest area, but she refused. There was confusion about what to do. Police officers soon arrived, and some of the men near the Schooner Creek Farm booth began shouting about Nazis, using expletives not usually heard at the market. Several Bloomington cops asked Caddoo to move, and when she refused, Sgt. Pam Gladish took the sign, told the Indiana University history professor she was under arrest for trespassing and handcuffed her.

As officers escorted the 40-year-old woman to a patrol car, several men ran alongside screaming at the police for arresting Caddoo and not others. One of the men had a long sheath with a knife hanging from his belt and an officer ordered him to stay back because of the weapon.

I documented what I saw, took a few pictures and interviewed people, including Sarah Dye, the Schooner Creek Farm proprietor accused of having ties to white supremacist views. She said she has been selling vegetables at the market for years and that she wasn’t going anywhere.

Just about everyone who has emailed me this week is upset that the HT has not identified Dye and her business as having white supremacist ties.

“Its owners are members of a documented white supremacist hate group. This is a well-known and clearly documented fact, not an ‘allegation’ and one that basic reporting would have revealed,” one complaint said.

And from another: “Your characterization of Sarah Dye as a peaceful mom simply trying to sell vegetables misses months of careful research that No Space for Hate and other Bloomington organizations have undertaken to show her ties to Idenity Evropa, a known hate group. As journalists, why did you not avail yourselves of their research?”

The Herald-Times has published multiple articles on the farmers’ market developments. We have done our own research. We have reviewed court documents, emails, videos and recordings that so many claim is proof that the owners of Schooner Creek Farm are white supremacists. Direct evidence, it isn’t there.

A few insights into The First Amendment, press freedoms and libel.

When a news organization publishes a false statement that damages a person’s reputation, that’s libel. I make sure, just about every day, to not libel anyone. Not just because I could be sued, but because it’s important that the information we report be accurate. We cannot and do not print accusations that can’t backed up with tangible stand-up-in-court proof.

The strongest support of the claims against Dye comes from the actions taken by Nashville’s farmers’ market, which in June removed Dye from its board of directors — she was the president — and revoked her vendor contract. Board members had heard rumors, and were convinced they were true after viewing a video supporting white supremacy and heard a familiar voice — Dye’s.

Close, but not proof enough for the HT to make the accusation.

The newspaper covers and writes about issues of public interest, such as an allegation that a farmers’ market vendor has ties to white supremacy. The newspaper writes about the actions of people who become public figures by placing themselves in the forefront of a public controversy in order to affect the outcome. In the world of journalism and libel, a public figure is no longer a private citizen.

Cara Caddoo made herself a public figure on Saturday. She stepped, protest sign held high, into the limelight.

Some people are outraged that the newspaper published her address, which along with her date of birth and the mugshot take at the jail, is public record information available to anyone who inquires. We followed our policy, which is to strive to treat everyone the same in order to be fair in our coverage.

And finally, an important reminder: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.

We may not like what people think or what they say, but it is their right. The alternative, the prohibition of free speech and expression, is scarier than the protests that have shut down Bloomington’s farmers’ market.
© 2020 HeraldTimesOnline, Bloomington, IN