letter appeared in The
Berkshire Eagle in response to Alan Chartock's column
Publius" published February 12, 2000. It is reproduced here without
Chartock makes himself the issue
To the Editor of THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE:-
I read today's column by Alan Chartock (Feb.
12 "Police Can't Silence the Truth") because most of it dealt
with the tragic loss of the child who fell into the Housatonic River.
In reading your articles on the rescue effort, I was impressed by the
way that Great Barrington's chief of police dealt with questions from the
media. He declined to respond to several questions relating to the specifics
of the recovery effort.
It was clear to me that Chief Walsh (whom I do not know and have never
met) had concluded that one of his top priorities would be to do everything
that he could to show sensitivity for the feelings of the child's parents
and to treat the recovery effort with dignity and respect.
So I read with interest Mr. Chartock's criticism of the way that, according
to him, the Great Barrington police had improperly treated the media (and,
in particular, him and Channel 13) in their efforts to report on the recovery
effort. The question is an interesting and important one: to what
extent did the police, acting out of a concern for the feelings of the
relatives and believing that the recovery should be treated with dignity,
have the authority to restrict the efforts of the media to cover the recovery
It seems clear to me that Chief Walsh was seeking to prevent unseemly
photographs and video clips in the media. However well motivated
this might have been (and I think that it was very well motivated), should
he have prevented the media from making their own judgment about what they
should publish? That's the tough question.
So Mr. Chartock had an interesting and important topic to write about.
Too bad that he chose to write about himself.
A better and more reflective columnist might have interviewed Chief
Walsh and your own reporters. How did your reporters go about deciding
what questions they would ask? Did they believe that they had an
obligation to seek all the information that they could get? Or did
they believe that they were subject to ethical constraints about what they
should ask? And Chief Walsh might have been asked why he thought
that he had the authority to restrict media access to the recovery. And
Mr. Chartock might have analyzed and weighed the conflicting interests
I tend not to read Mr. Chartock's columns because I find them to lack
any evidence of careful research, thoughtful analysis, reflection, and
detachment -- things that I might fairly expect from a columnist for a
good newspaper who is a professor of political science and communications.
What his columns seem to consist of are his feelings about particular local
officials and, most often, his views about how he is the maligned guardian
of all that is good and true. Indeed, his columns are more about
him than about anything else.
The Eagle has fine reporters and exceptional photography. I believe
that your coverage of local news is careful, thorough, and well-written.
You clearly have high standards. Mr. Chartock's columns don't meet
Your readers deserve better.
Stockbridge, Feb. 12, 2000
© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and Pittsfield Publications,
Reproduced here without permission.