A friend shared with me The Reminder's Editor Michael Dobbs' Jan. 2, 2013 column "Looking forward to 2013 news-makers." I was stunned to read his comments regarding my hometown of East Longmeadow.
In it he wrote: "In East Longmeadow, the big story will be how the town government will change with two new members of the Board of Selectmen. With the resignations of Jack Villamaino and Jim Driscoll, will residents see a difference? There was plenty of criticism – and some of it justified – that there was a 'good old boy' attitude in East Longmeadow that was reflected by decisions made by some members of the board. I hope there will be a new era in the town."
"Plenty of criticism – and some of it justified – that there was a 'good old boy' attitude in East Longmeadow?" Did I miss something? A news story or a published article perhaps? How irresponsible of Mr. Dobbs to make such an egregious and unsubstantiated accusation! Plenty of criticism? I challenge you Mr. Dobbs to share with me and your readers your abundance of such criticism and I insist that you specify exactly which occurrences you personally feel are "justified!" I have been searching diligently since reading your column for any such criticisms and found nothing! I even Googled the words "East Longmeadow" and "Good Old Boy." Other than your column, the only other reference found was a comment by a resident complaining about a business six years ago that was investigated, and found to be completely untrue.
Is the total sum of the plentiful criticism you write about? Is this the level that your journalistic standards have reached? Tossing out such accusations with no verifiable proof to support them is very irresponsible. It's the kind of behavior that has somehow become acceptable in today's society. I expect that type of behavior from bloggers and trolls and people who just want to be heard and feel important.
A good example of this is the Dec. 10, 2012 Reminder letter to the editor written by Peter J. Cokotis entitled "Research Candidates." In it Mr. Cokotis writes: "For example, there has always been a strong perception that 'friends' were hired." How irresponsible is that statement? Aside from being completely untrue (as were most of the issue[s] he raised), by stating, "there has always been a strong perception that 'friends' were hired" it implies that there is truth to the statement. A strong perception by whom and what does "always" mean? [Were] there open, public forums conducted where this topic was discussed by real people?
Were there complaints lodged and investigated? This is all "news" to me! In my 14 years of public service, I was involved in hiring I believe 12 department heads. Only once did the town hire a candidate that I had a previous association with and I had disclosed our association prior to the hire. We posted and published the job, conducted a customary, standard search and the individual hired was identified as the best qualified by far, and the decision to hire was unanimous.
The truth is, Mr. Cokotis, like the bloggers and trolls, are not journalists, but you are Mr. Dobbs. And because you are a journalist, you have to conduct your business with much higher standards. In its preamble, the Society of Professional Journalists state: "Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues."
In their Code of Ethics they state that journalists are to "seek truth and report it. Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible. Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing. Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability."
By my account, you have failed to follow these standards in your Jan. 2, 2013 column. It might seem insignificant to you, but to make an unsubstantiated accusation which involves such negative connotations about my service to the town I have called home for all of my 46 years is something I take very serious. Provide the facts, and I would welcome the opportunity to have a discussion on this topic.
James D. Driscoll
Editor's response: Mr. Driscoll, did I accuse you of breaking any law? No. Did I state there was a perception of a "good old boy" attitude in East Longmeadow by some? Yes.
I was surprised by your letter and its tone. You frequently expressed approval of how this newspaper covered the Board of Selectmen during your tenure and you are very well aware of the criticism I and other staff members received by people who thought we were protecting you.
I suppose that doesn't count at this time. I'm not sure why you chose to bring in Mr. Cokotis into the fray, other than to make a sweeping statement about criticism directed at your performance as an elected official.
You asked for instances in which people might draw a conclusion other than your own. Do you remember the controversy about the hiring of the town accountant and how the Select Board decision went counter to the recommendation of the Appropriations Committee?
How about the hiring of the Information Technology Director? That also proved controversial as the candidate approved by the Select Board did not have the criteria listed for the job at that time.
Then there was the instance of the building inspector receiving a $20,000 raise over a two-year contract. That also raised some eyebrows.
East Longmeadow Cable Access Television has also been an issue with the hiring of a friend of yours, who did have considerable experience in the field, to the more recent hiring of a woman who was in some sort of relationship with another member of the board.
There was also the matter of the promotion of a police sergeant that ultimately included the intervention of state officials.
In my 12 years as managing editor I'm happy to say that my staff has strived to be as accurate and prudent as we can in the reporting of the news. The result of the cooperative efforts has been a solid reputation with both readers and newsmakers.
Letters with accusations such as yours are not the norm, but establishing a discussion on the points you addressed is part of my job and I'm pleased to do so.