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(The following letter appeared in The Berkshire Eagle  in response to Alan Chartock's column "I Publius" published February 12, 2000.  It is reproduced here without permission.)
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 effort?

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 involved.

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 those standards.

Your readers deserve better.

Stockbridge, Feb. 12, 2000
© 2000 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and Pittsfield Publications, Inc.
Reproduced here without permission.

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