We Owe Reality Winner Freedom and Praise

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Reality Winner

You could say that the worst realities of the Trump presidency — family separation, unjust imprisonment, denial of the 2016 Russian election breach, our government’s cover-up of that breach, failure to manage COVID — intersect at one place, one person, one reality. 

That reality has a name: Reality Winner. And yes, that really is her name. It has been a source for comedy on late-night television. Hacks like me make wordplays off it at her expense.

Most of us hacks mean well. We’re just trying in our inept way to bring her the attention and sympathy she deserves. 

But it seems no matter how hard or how often we try, we fail her. We write columns and social media posts. Heck, I even wrote a song. And the result is that we get the satisfaction of self-expression while Reality whiles away her youth in prison. She has been incarcerated since the summer of 2017 and is into the third year of a more than five-year sentence. Recently she contracted COVID in a COVID-infested prison, and unlike Paul Manafort was denied compassionate release. 

Her crime: Letting us, aka The People, know that the 2016 Russian breach of U.S. election systems was real — and that our government knew it and kept it secret. 

In my life’s work, journalism, that would be an award-winning, difference-making accomplishment. For Reality, a decorated former member of the Air Force, it’s a conviction for “espionage” coerced by a vengeful government as a cover for its own culpability. 

If this is news to you, or if you know and don’t care — or, worse, if you think she did wrong and deserves what she got — it only proves my point that I and others who have tried to get her story out have failed her. 

This failure is especially frustrating for me because of my personal connections to Reality and her story. She is from Kingsville, Texas, about 40 miles from my home in Corpus Christi. I have come to know her mother and stepfather. Emily Davis, the New York-based actress who portrayed Reality in the an off-Broadway play, is the granddaughter of my high school journalism teacher. Emily interviewed me to prepare for her role. 

It all makes the prevailing ignorance and indifference about Reality harder to take. I don’t understand why everyone else isn’t as outraged as I, or as emotionally devastated as her family. Or maybe I do, all too well. 

My entire profession has failed Reality as it has failed in many of its responsibilities. It confounds me that her unjust incarceration is not a daily rant on every show on MSNBC. She seems ready-made for prime time. As for newspaper journalism, we practitioners tend to assume that if we write it, you’ll read it and, if you do, you’ll never forget. I’ve written several columns about Reality. If you had read and absorbed those, this one wouldn’t be necessary. 

I’ve heard that the “espionage” charge scared off potential support for her, but I don’t buy that. The decision to use the Espionage Act, if anything, should have generated more sympathy for her and a healthy skepticism of our heavy-handed government. I’m sure that the criticisms of Reality by a few influential self-righteous pundits didn’t help. They apparently think everyone is supposed to have an Ivy League lawyer’s knowledge of whistleblower laws. Doesn’t everyone?

The bottom line is that a young woman of no means is locked up for trying to save the country while rich men like Mike Flynn and Roger Stone who betrayed it go free. 

She is in a terrible place I can only imagine because I’ve never been to prison, while her parents suffer grief I can only imagine because no such thing has happened to my daughter. And I, meanwhile, sit on a comfortable couch in a nice house with a full refrigerator a few steps away, writing another column hoping you’ll listen and act. That’s my big contribution. Whoopty!

She deserves more and better, from me and you. Maybe Joe Biden will pardon her. But, truth be told, thus far he and his profession have failed her worse than I and mine.

I wish I had kinder, more encouraging words. I don’t, except these for Reality:

We failed you but you did not fail us. If not for you, we still might not know what we needed and were entitled to know. You are a hero and, by measures that really matter, a success. 

About the author: Tom Whitehurst Jr. spent 40 years in journalism, 36 of them at his hometown newspaper the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. 

Read Reality Winner’s mother Billie Winner Davis’ article here.


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