Two years ago, I was told my career was over. I’m still here.

DC summer 2011 with Kate!
DC summer 2011 with Kate!

A couple of weeks ago, I flew to my hometown in northern California to see relatives and briefly catch up with childhood friends. One night, I went to a bar with Crystal, Lauren, and Lauren’s new boyfriend, Andrew, and her dad showed up to say hi for a bit as well. Though we didn’t chat for very long, the first thing her father said to me was this: “So what is the most offensive story you’ve written lately?”

Laughing, I continued to ice my right arm, which was badly sunburned from a beach trip earlier that day. I thought about his question for a moment but knew right away that I didn’t have an answer.

“Honestly, Jeff, I can’t say I’ve gotten anyone riled up in a while. I really can’t remember the last time I infuriated somebody.”

“You must be playing it safe, then,” he replied, winking.

I’m not sure how I feel about that sort of response. If I’m not outraging an entire group of people, I’m meek and milquetoast. If I’m causing someone’s blood to boil, I’m basically Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck. But you know what? I’m actually OK with staying out of trouble, unless I have to stir the pot to further a message that means a lot to me. Two years ago, I was quicker to chase chaos, and I paid for it.

Almost two years ago to the date, I got into my first (and last, at least for the time being) major media feud. Fresh out of college and just seven months into my job, I was green and unnecessarily confident. I didn’t show it like some of the older, more seasoned people at my office, and a few of them actually encouraged me to own my work and take pride in my achievements.

“You need to be more assertive,” one of them told me. “I know you’re only 22, but you’re going to be huge someday. I just know it. So act it.”

Pete and Peggy
Pete and Peggy

I tried my best. I wrote constantly, worked long hours, did more writing when I got home from work even though I had a 5:30 a.m. shift and was absolutely drained by 6 o’ clock each night, and indulged my tireless spirit. Of course, when you lead a go-go-go lifestyle, you’re bound to fumble at some point.

And I didn’t just fumble. I ate sh*t on the pavement and broke several bones, all while trying to drown out the evil clown laughter from onlookers and admit I was responsible for the fall. I was overworking myself and getting sloppy, and a huge public figure was upset and made to look bad as a result of my carelessness.

Though I assumed he would brush it off once I fixed my article, which we edited right after publishing, he saw the irony in the situation and ran with it, as someone in a ratings-driven industry is expected to do. I’d called him out on remarks he made in his sarcastic segment, so he decided to put me on his show that evening. Most people are excited about being mentioned on TV for the first time ever, but this wasn’t how I pictured my first television appearance playing out, especially since he was simply talking about me and I wasn’t even there to defend myself.

The day my story went viral, I sobbed in the middle of the newsroom, only getting up to leave when two female interns insisted I finish my weeping session at a coffee shop down the block. I refused, but Nikki, an intern who became one of my best friends, forced me to pull it together and head outside.

“Laura, listen to me right now,” she whispered in my ear. “You’re not going to do this in the middle of work. I know you’re upset, but you cannot, I repeat, cannot, cry in front of everyone. Now let’s grab coffee.”

Clinging to each of my arms, Katie and Nikki dragged me down to K Street, where they stared into my eyes as I ranted about a myriad of things. About myself. About A-Coop. About letting my exhaustion get to me. About being unfit for the east coast and disappointing lots of people.

“My career is over,” I declared. “I’m never going to be able to get another job again.”

“Laura, you’ve committed your life to writing. This has been your whole life since childhood. Don’t let one slip-up define you,” Nikki said, rubbing my shoulder. “By the way, your eyes are so gorgeous when you cry. They shimmer. You should do this more often and you’ll get a ton of dates.”

Me and Nikki, Vegas 2012
Me and Nikki, Vegas 2012

I giggled, wiping my face before reentering the room, which was dead silent. I had a thing for one of my coworkers, who was covering an event that day, so I was kind of bummed that he wasn’t around. I sighed, wishing he could be there for me and not the others in his place, many of which just didn’t have anything to say to me. I couldn’t blame them, though. I’d diminished their credibility by giving our publication a bad name, and though I would be the one to go down in history as the fool and not necessarily them or the brand, we couldn’t know for sure how it would end.

For the rest of the day, I stayed off Twitter, as I was receiving dozens of hateful comments and tweets by the second. I only responded to about 10% of the tweets through my phone, but none of the comments in my article comments section. It took me a while to go back and see just what everyone had said, and some of the things they wrote were:

I register just to tell Laura Donovan that sorry your career is basically over, I’ll be surprise you will still be posting for the Daily Caller from here on. I’m on this site daily but now I think I will reconsider visiting the site, please manage your writer. Especially Ms. Laura Donovan.

Laura, sorry to say but you need to look at another profession, really, I mean it. This was a hatchet job by a moron, yes look in the mirror, that means you. I am sure you feel badly now, but you lack any sense of professionalism and no one in their right mind, even a 10 year old, would not have known what was going on, except you. Rethink your career choice, this is definately not for you.

But I don’t think Ms. Donovan needs to worry about the future of her career. She’s attractive enough to appear on any number of the Fox News shows as a “Republican strategist.” Such gigs don’t require actual knowledge or the ability to discern satire.

I’m going to go ahead and ignore the dripping sexism in that last comment to highlight the fact that these folks were convinced I’d be blacklisted forever because of one botched story at the beginning of my career. Sure I was convinced of the same thing, but that’s because I never stop worrying. My boss was completely understanding and stood by me, even though we both admitted I’d made a mistake. These people, however, didn’t want me to get a second chance, and luckily for me, they were totally off about my future. It hasn’t been perfect, but I’ve learned that I don’t need to dwell on bad moves forever. I know to do better next time, and luckily, the anchor and I walked out of this without any animosity or rivalry.

That night alone, I deleted more than 60 emails without even reading them, ignored my Twitter feed, and sobbed into the phone with anyone who would talk to me.

The first person to check in was my coworker Kells, who recited the segment to me as it aired because I didn’t have a TV. Then I got a call from the guy I liked, who assured me that my little dispute with a big shot anchor was a good thing.

“This means you’ve made it, Laura. Be happy,” he said.

“How can I be happy about this when the whole internet is mad at me?”

“I’m not mad at you,” he said. “You’re doing great.”

Shortly afterward, I talked to my mom, who shared the same sentiment as my friend. The little scandal might turn out to be helpful after all, and I’d be joking about it in no time.

I certainly wasn’t laughing that night. Having woken up to my screaming and crying, my then-roommate Anna walked into my room with a mug of Nestle hot chocolate and rubbed my head, encouraging me to hang in there and remember that everything blows over, even public spats with celebrities.

There was a lot of criticism (some of it warranted) of me during this time, but one blog post that particularly upset me was written by a creeper who framed the story as if A-Coop had stripped me down and then beaten me to a pulp. You decide for yourself whether this is a normal way of describing how it all happened:

Cooper flipped Daily Caller writer Laura Donovan onto her head and used her as a broom Thursday night. Apparently Donovan posted a story (which has since been edited) to the DC mischaracterizing something Cooper had said about that 16-year-old who married that 51-year-old.

Cooper smacked Donovan around, dressed her down, didn’t like it, dressed her back up, bopped her, pulled her, and twisted her for bad journalism. Watch the video.

Here’s what I have to say to this foul, perverse blogger, who, like a coward, didn’t even attribute his/her own name to the post titled “Cooper elbow drops Daily Caller writer”: I didn’t respond to this sludge two years ago because I felt my safety would be at stake engaging with someone like you, but now I realize you were just an ordinary internet user hiding behind your computer, nameless, faceless, and sad.

Before writing about me in a sexually and physically violent way, maybe you should have educated yourself on the statistics and facts on violence against women and realized just how unfunny your asinine attempt at humor would be. Your metaphor crossed the line and went beyond the bounds of civil discourse. So if you ever write about me in such a way again, I won’t hesitate to report you, because your sinister, aggressive, violating tone is not something I deserve to have directed at me, even if I dare spar with one of your celebrity idols.

That aside, I thought all the drama would fizzle by the following day, and while I got fewer hurtful tweets then, I also received fewer frantic phone calls and texts from concerned friends. Noticeably absent was the guy I liked, who admitted he’d chosen not to watch the segment but ignored my text messages. We’d established that there was an attraction, but maybe it just wasn’t enough. The silence stung, not just because I’d been blasted on TV that week, but because I was worried he’d stopped returning the sentiment.

At 8:30 on Saturday night, I shot him a text about going out for drinks. He invited me to meet up with him and his friends in Adams Morgan, and in the scorching summer heat, I stormed the city, hoping to finally take my brain off work for an evening. We laughed about the situation for a few minutes before moving on to another topic, but I immediately sensed something was off. He wasn’t looking me in the eye, and it seemed like he was going out of his way to stay out of my bubble. On a cab ride to another bar, he’d flinched when I accidentally bumped into him in the backseat. Clearly that hadn’t been a come on or advance from me, yet he was sending a message that nothing was going to happen between us. A part of me wanted to laugh that this person who’d liked me just a week earlier now squirmed at my accidental touch, but for the millionth time that week, I understood the right moment for laughing would present itself later.

When we said goodbye at the metro stop at around 11:50 p.m., I broached the subject, only for my suspicions to be confirmed. I’d been charmed by this young individual, and the feeling was mutual. That was the worst part of it all: I knew I liked him the second we met, yet it could never be more than a crush.

“We’re coworkers, Laura. Let’s not forget that.”

“That’s not the real reason,” I said, swallowing to rid myself of the lump forming in my throat. “You just don’t like me enough. Dating coworkers isn’t a big deal at our office. No one cares.”

I was only hurting myself by firing accusations his way and trying to talk him into considering me, but he handled my intense, defensive response with ease, claiming he really did think I was special but that the colleague thing was too much given his place in life.

“I just moved here, ya know. But I don’t date coworkers. That’s my rule.”

“Well who said I would date you anyway? We’re not dating,” I spat, immediately regretting my words. I hadn’t meant it at all, and I still have no idea where my remarks came from, but once they were out there, I knew there was no redeeming myself. “OK, sorry. I don’t mean that. I just … have to go home. Night.”

Descending the metro steps, I tried to find that lump in my throat, but it was gone. I couldn’t cry, as much as I wanted to. The moment to weep had passed, and all I could do was laugh about the turn of events that had taken place over the past 72 hours. My whole life changed on Thursday, and at midnight on Saturday, I’d been rejected. The three-day period was comically bad and horrendous, and I just had to find humor in it so as not to totally shut down.

After texting Nikki and Crystal about the situation, I sent him a text as well, clarifying that I hadn’t really meant that I’d never date him. I’d be lucky to see him romantically, I stated, and would be patient and respectful of his wishes. The message was well-received, and he said it was a shame we worked together because I was “really cool beans.” I LOL’d for the first time in days before managing to nod off on the train, which took me back to northern Virginia and away from the disaster I’d created in D.C.

Two years have gone by, and for the most part, I haven’t ruffled any feathers since. I’m not afraid to do so now, but if I’m going to fight, it’s going to be over something I’m passionate about, not a mistake I have no choice but to live with and own up to. I’ve done a lot of great things and written many pieces of which I’m proud, and I know there will be many, many more happy moments than dramatic, shameful ones. I’m starting to see that the tough experiences don’t have to cast a dark shadow over everything I love either, and that’s the best realization I’ve had in the aftermath of all this.

Also, I’m not going anywhere, so you better get used to me, scandals or not. 🙂

Cannes, summer '10
Cannes, summer ’10

8 thoughts on “Two years ago, I was told my career was over. I’m still here.

  1. Awe 🙂 Journalism can be a brutal field – we’re expected to have all the (correct) answers and one tiny mistake can turn into a media nightmare. Thanks for sharing your experience – love how you recovered though. You go gir! 🙂

  2. I know a thing or two about slipping up. You’re one of the best journalists I’ve ever personally known. Sound the alarm and raise hell.

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