For the second time in three years, a journalist has been assaulted on the job in Alaska, but this time the victim says she doesn’t think she was the intended target.
Radio Kenai news director Jennifer Williams suffered bruises and lacerations to her face and chest on Tuesday when an object tossed from a passing motor vehicle hit her. Williams was at the time covering a Planned Parenthood rally dueling with a cross-street anti-abortion rally in Soldotna.
In a telephone interview today, Williams said she had just finished talking to anti-abortion protesters and walked across the street to interview a pro-abortion activist.
She was in the middle of that interview, she said, when a motor vehicle went past, someone yelled “you’re going to hell,” and she felt an object hit her face and chest. She was not paying attention to the traffic, she said, so she doesn’t know what sort of motor vehicle was involved, and the woman she was interviewing saw nothing because her back was to the road.
“I grabbed the woman I was interviewing,” Williams said, and the two of them moved farther from the road and closer to the bulk of protesters.
“I didn’t realize how bad I had been hit,” Williams said. “The adrenalin happened so fast. They were yelling at us out of a vehicle. I thought maybe it was an egg.”
It wasn’t until she later got into her truck that she realized she was bleeding. She reported the incident to the Soldotna Police Department on Wednesday and returned to the scene of the attack with an SPD officer, but they found no hint of what might have hit her.
The officer thought it might have been a heavy plastic bottle given what appeared to be burn-like abrasions where it hit her, Williams said. She later reported the attack on the radio.
Since then, she said, the outpouring of support from both anti- and pro-abortion activists has been overwhelming.
“Both rallies, the pro- and the anti- have been great,” she said. “We live in a small community” where people are generally pretty tolerant.
The previous assault on an Alaska journalist happened in the capital city of Juneau in 2017.
In that case, Anchorage Daily News reporter Nat Herz – now at Alaska Public Media – reported being slapped by state Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, in a Capitol hallway.
Herz was less upfront than Williams. He filed a report with the Juneau Police Department accusing Wilson of assault, but then refused to answer questions about the incident, claiming instead to have provided “a full and detailed account” to a colleague at the newspaper.
Wilson obliquely admitted to touching Herz, but said “It was not an aggressive act. I have an inner child that sometimes gets out….I have no ill will for Nat.”
There were no witnesses to the incident, and it was never fully clear whether Wilson smacked Herz across the face hard enough for the slap to be heard, simply patted him on the cheek, or something between.
No charges were ever brought against Wilson. The state’s Office of Special Prosecutions investigated and concluded it would be hard to make a case against Wilson. The state early on rejected the idea of an assault charge and considered a lesser, misdemeanor charge of second-degree harassment.
In a letter to the Juneau Police Department, Chief Assistant Attorney General Andrew Peterson eventually wrote that “it is unlikely that the state will be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Senator Wilson acted with the specific intent to harass or annoy Mr. Herz,” KTUU.com reported.
Journalism is one of Alaska’s safest professions. Injuries are rare; deaths even more so if one discounts the documented hazards of the sedentary lifestyle. An increasing number of studies tie long periods of sitting to early death, and many journos spend a lot of time sitting.