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Tampa writer threatened

News editor

Not long after the May 9 edition of the Marion County Record was published, contributing writer Jane Vajnar of Tampa received a call from a man who identified himself as Todd Joyce.

The caller implied he would have Vajnar beaten up if an article she had written that week wasn’t taken off the Record’s website, http://marionrecord.com. Her article that week included a recounting of researching whether another Tampa resident’s cousin had been part of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in World War II — research prompted by an angry phone message from Joyce the week before after an article that mentioned the raid.

“I can’t understand why he’s so upset about this thing,” Vajnar said on Saturday. “I thought that I was very tactful.”

Vajnar said she was only trying to set the record straight by sharing the results of her search. She wasn’t able to determine conclusively one way or the other whether the person involved had been part of the Doolittle Raid — the first U.S. air raid against the Japanese home islands during World War II in April 1942.

Thursday morning, Vajnar called the newspaper about the threat. Because it was unclear whether the threat against Vajnar was credible, the Record removed the story from its website temporarily.

Vajnar contacted the Marion County Sheriff’s Department. A deputy sheriff spoke with her about the call. On Saturday, Vajnar said she didn’t think the threat was credible.

“It’s a pretty empty threat,” she said.

On Monday, Marion County Sheriff Rob Craft said no contact had been made with the caller, because no valid phone number had been found yet.

Hoch Publishing Company President Eric Meyer said threats against journalists cannot be tolerated. The Record is published by Hoch Publishing Company.

“We take the security of our staff — and their responsibility to keep society informed — very seriously,” Meyer said. “Whether they are producing a major investigative report or routine community correspondence, writers should never be subject to threats or intimidation for doing their job of informing the public.

“Even if the threats are less than credible, as we hope is the case here, we believe law enforcement must aggressively pursue criminal charges against the perpetrator,” Meyer said. “Allowing bullies to attempt to silence the free flow of information by threatening journalists represents the worst kind of cowardly, un-American behavior and must not be tolerated, even in jest.

“The fact that the facts in dispute happened nearly seven decades ago and the dispute itself is largely inconsequential in nature makes it all the more ridiculous,” he said.

What Tampa columnist wrote

Editor’s note: Here is what Jane Vajnar wrote that apparently prompted a threatening phone call.

Apparently, it is dangerous for a writer of a local news column to venture into the realm of historical observation. After last week’s column, in which I stated Mary Clemmer’s recognition of the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, I found an angry message on my answering machine.

The caller identified himself as Todd Joyce, historian of the Doolittle Raiders and the son of one of the aviators who participated in the raid. He insisted that Clemmer’s cousin, Lt. Thomas P. Bills, was not connected with the raid in any way.

Assisted by Kim Frantz, we attempted to clarify the question. Clemmer reached Tom’s only surviving sibling, Richard Bills, who told her his brother had sometimes been a bombardier and sometimes a navigator on a B-29 during World War II. He was unsure whether he was in the first Doolittle Raid. Surfing the Internet, Frantz found a website established by Joyce, which purported to list all the personnel involved. If his research is accurate, then Mary may have misunderstood something she was told as a young girl or remembered it incorrectly.

There was certainly no deliberate deception on her part or mine. I appreciate Joyce’s efforts to provide me with information, although not necessarily the tone in which it was presented. Anyway two good things emerged from the controversy. It gave Clemmer a reason to make contact with her cousin Richard, with whom she had been out of touch for a while, and it provides an opportunity for recognizing the heroes of the Doolittle Raid, as well as all military veterans, including Bills, who have risked their lives in the service of our country.

Last modified May 16, 2012

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