Second & Flume: Press charges

On sending a message that violence toward journalists won’t be tolerated

Melissa Daugherty

Over the short time Rob Berry has lived in Chico, I’ve seen and heard various descriptions of the guy, some of which aren’t fit for print. He is, shall we say, a controversial character. He also has a legion of followers in his social media group that mainly focuses on homelessness. For those people, he can do no wrong.

Until recently, perhaps.

Because for all of the divergent descriptors—“homeless hater,” “park protector,” etc.—there’s a new one that nobody with eyesight should deny: bully.

I say this after watching a video of Berry assaulting a woman during a recent press conference outside of City Hall. Yes, assault. That much is unequivocal. The clip shows Berry come up from about 6 feet behind Karen Laslo, then step directly in front of her before immediately “butt bumping” her, sending the diminutive photographer backward.

Thing is, Berry intended to use his rear-end to shove Laslo, who takes pictures for a local online magazine called Chico Sol. Intentional is the key word here, because deliberately applying force to another person is pretty much the textbook definition of assault.

But don’t take my word for it—watch the video or, better yet, get it from the horse’s mouth. In his Facebook group, Chico First, Berry admits to doing it on purpose. In the first sentence of a long missive—titled “I have a sin to confess. Are you listening?”—he says he regrets bumping her.

Regrets that he got caught perhaps, because he certainly isn’t remorseful. Indeed, he spends the rest of the write-up in justification mode—blaming Laslo, including calling her a bully. In a really disturbing part, he appears to be writing directly to her: “So you got me, Karen. I gave you what you wanted and I’m sorry for that.”

Berry tries to diminish the severity of his actions by equating them with the other self-described “sins” he confesses: talking on the phone while driving and having his dog on a leash that’s too long. In a separate gag-worthy post, he laments that “old, white males are the last demographic that is fair game for all manner of abuse.”

See, in Berry’s mind, he’s the victim. He was goaded. Berry references the fact that Laslo moved in front of him while he was filming. I watched his video, which is edited. At one point, it shows her walk by the camera with her hand up, presumably either to shield her face or to momentarily block his view. At another, her head comes into the frame, though it’s clear from someone else’s video—which shows another vantage point—that there’s quite a bit of space between them. That’s when he goes in for the bump.

I don’t get it. It’s like the guy thinks the City Hall campus is his private property. I mean, someone could have done cartwheels in front of him at the press conference, and that would have been a perfectly acceptable use of that space. Sure, it would’ve been bad timing. And, sure, Laslo was rude. But last I checked, those things are lawful.

In Berry’s initial unrepentant post, his sycophants make light of the situation. That includes a former police chief, Mike Maloney, who calls Laslo a “wench.” Few people tell Berry he was out of line, though I suspect some simply didn’t want to engage him.

The quasi-apology came only after video surfaced that made it clear he was in the wrong. Point being, if he’s sorry about anything, it’s that somebody captured a full picture what happened. As for the response from his adherents, let’s just say they don’t seem as enraptured by the mea culpa.

Given Berry’s history of lambasting a Chico Enterprise-Record reporter—a months-long narrative that has been fomenting in his group and others—what he did to Laslo is a dangerous escalation. Sadly, his belligerence exemplifies the kind of hatred folks in the press have been increasingly subjected to since the start of the Trump era.

After watching the video, I reached out to Chico Sol’s editor, Leslie Layton. I learned that she, too, had been shoved that day—by an unidentified man.

I’ve personally been the target of death threats during my career, so I don’t take any form of violence lightly. Laslo should press charges. Making an example of Berry is the best way to send a message to others that harming journalists won’t be tolerated.

About Melissa Daugherty 75 Articles
Melissa Daugherty is an award-winning columnist and editorial writer who started her career as a higher education reporter at a daily newspaper. Daugherty spent 17 years at the CN&R, eight of them as editor-in-chief. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is her super power.

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