Newspaper Publisher Accused Of Harassment

MICHELLE WILLARD, The Murfreesboro Post

A local Gulf War veteran said she is being harassed for speaking her mind.

Sara Mitchell reported to the Murfreesboro Police Department that she has received threatening phone calls and her husband’s car was egged after she called advertisers from The Rutherford Reader, a Rutherford County-based weekly newspaper.

What was more concerning to Mitchell was that her phone number and address appeared on the Stand Up for The Rutherford Reader Facebook group, and last week her phone number was printed in Publisher Pete Doughtie’s weekly column.

“I was not expecting this,” she said. “Now, I have to try to figure out if they are harmless bullies or something worse. If we all join forces against this madness, maybe there won't be enough hate to go around.”

Doughtie said he has no comment on the police report or Mitchell’s allegations.

Mitchell’s troubles started in mid-July after she had called a few of the advertisers from The Reader to express her displeasure at the content of the newspaper.

The Reader regularly prints, along with local columnists and announcements, columns from and other sources that are critical of Islam. For example, a guest column appeared in the Aug. 2 edition by Darrel Whaley, from Murfreesboro-based Kingdom Ministries Worship Center. The column was titled “No Muslim is a free man” and alleged Muslims are attempting to take over America.

Mitchell said she has seen similar material in The Reader over the years. So, on July 16, she called its biggest advertisers and told them she will not support their businesses as long as they support The Reader with advertising dollars.

She said she received a phone call from Doughtie at 7:30 p.m. July 16.

“He threatened a lawsuit because he says you can't just go around calling anything hate speech,” she said, adding Doughtie then asked her where she works and what her address is, which she declined to answer.

The next night someone egged her husband’s car. Since then, she has received threatening phone calls from various people.

One came at 12:50 in the morning, July 19. A woman, who called herself “Marjorie Smith,” asked Mitchell why she was threatening Smith’s husband.

Another call at 10:30 the same night was from a man, calling himself “Mohammed,” who said “thank you for your support. Thank you for sucking my big, fat c***.”

“The obscene guy said his name was Mohammed, but I doubt it. He had a very heavy – probably faked – accent,” Mitchell said, adding there was another phone call where the caller asked if she was a member of the Rutherford County Democratic Party, which she is.

She said she thinks it is too much of coincidence that the harassment and vandalism started within a few days after calling The Reader’s advertisers. And she’s particularly concerned about her address being posted in the Facebook group.

“It's definitely too much of a coincidence,” she said.

This isn’t the first time a defiant reader has garnered the ire of The Reader.

In 2010, Anthony Mijares said he complained to several companies about The Reader’s content. The paper was subsequently pulled out of local Kroger grocery stores and a KFC.  

Doughtie allegedly threatened to sue Mijares but never filed. Instead, he printed Mijares’s home address along with the words “Combat Him” in the paper.

Mijares said nothing came of it but he “considered it a threat of violence” and talked to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about it.

“I spent three weeks wondering if I was going to get assassinated,” Mijares said.

He hasn’t actively campaigned against The Reader in months, except for a call two weeks ago to the American Honda Motor Company’s headquarters in California to tell them about a local car dealer, who advertises in The Reader.

“This is the last thing that I did,” Mijares said. “It’s been six months and not because I’m scared, but because I have other things to do.”

Mijares believes it was that phone call to Honda, and a subsequent column in The Daily Breeze, a newspaper in Torrance, Cali., where Honda’s headquarters in located, that precipitated Doughtie printing his home phone number in The Reader’s Aug. 2 edition.

Others in town claim to have been harassed by Doughtie and those associated with The Reader, including George Manus, owner of Out Front on Main, a local theater that stages plays with adult content.

Manus allegedly got a strange call last year from Doughtie about an e-mail to The Reader.

Doughtie accused Manus of sending an offensive e-mail from his e-mail address, and threatened retaliation against Manus and the theater.

“I thought it was an idle threat,” Manus said, adding the theater is supportive of the local Muslim community.

“He was trying to negate our involvement of the Democrat Party and support of the mosque,” Manus said.

Mitchell said the harassment is likely done by “a small, vocal minority."

“It is time for our community to heal,” she said.