IT’S AN ELECTION YEAR, A TIME WHEN THINGS START TO ‘GET FUNNY’ … THE PLANET COVERS EVENTS NOT ‘OBJECTIVELY’ BUT ‘IMPARTIALLY’ … AS ALWAYS, WE LOOK FOR THE TRUTH
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, JAN. 31, 2013) — Let THE PLANET assure all friends and foes of Mayor Dan Bianchi: We are not out to unduly sing his praises on the one hand or needlessly cut him down on the other. We say this, because this is an election year, and the conversations are getting weird. It happens every two years, as predictable as the landing of the swallows at Capistrano in the feast day of St. Joseph.
People must understand that, as the sitting mayor, Bianchi has the spotlight. “He da man,” as the drunkards might say on the 13th hole in Phoenix. It is at once one of the percs and penalties of being Hizzoner: You make news and headlines whether you want to or not. That means that since Pittsfield is often included in our daily universe of topics, Bianchi and the doings of his people fall within our corral.
Like It or Not, ‘He Da Man’
Thus, when we write about Contractgate, Tailgate-gate, his handlings of Spectrum, or the performance of his departments heads, we do so not from any hidden agenda or to “do the bidding” of shadowy forces that people with great imaginations want to say lurk in between the lines we write. We do it because “he da man” who finds himself as CEO of a constitutionally chartered corporation known as the city of Pittsfield. He wanted it. He got it. He’s in the kitchen, the place where, as Harry Truman told us, is sometimes gets mighty hot.
Be it on the air, in print, or in cyberspace, THE PLANET has faced accusations like this (“He’s pushing a hidden agenda”) concerning every mayor going back to Ed Reilly. The long, gray line includes Gerry Doyle, Sara Hathaway, and Jimmy Ruberto. The accusations, fevered though they might be, come with the territory. Every mayor gets in the office as a result of a fair amount of support. That is, after all, how one wins an election: You tally at least one more vote than your opponent.
A new mayor, consequently, assumes office with the support of many people who think he or she is the next new loaf of Wonder Bread. The sun rises on this person, and these well-meaning mother hens want everyone else to love the new mayor, uncritically and unquestioningly. Bianchi has such people circling the wagons and has had since Day One. They have his best interests at heart, no doubt, but they have done him more harm than good.
The Goal of a Good Reporter/Commentator: ‘Impartiality,’ Not ‘Objectivity’
In our position here at THE PLANET, we have to step above the fray. The fawning gushes ill-fit our pubic persona, and the same holds true for the prejudicial pot-shots. We have to assume, going in, a position rather like an umpire. We must try as hard as we can to be impartial. That’s the only way to fairly make the call.
Let us explain that last word. “Impartial” = n., adj., a condition of neutrality; fair-minded, just, without favoritism, even-handed.
That is the proper stance for a journalist going into to a story, because it is only from a position of political or ideological detachment that one can be open enough to arrive not just at the unadorned facts of the case but the truth of the case.
Many people confuse the pre-condition of “impartiality” with “objectivity.” It is a mistaken notion that a good journalist is “objective.” The very fact of choosing to pursue story A versus story B is a judgment. When you get into story A, the type of questions you ask, and to whom you ask them, are judgments. And so you assemble your information, usually many times more stuff that you can actually use. You make decisions: what quotes to leave out, what quotes to include. This process of judgment begins the moment you focus on this story as opposed to that and does not stop until the story gets published.
Stories with a Moral Dimension are Different
The “objective” journalist divides the story in two and presents both sides, 50-50. The 50-50 add up to 100. On routine reportage — covering a meeting of the zoning board of appeals, say, or reporting police logs — that approach is fine. The reporter isn’t interested in truth. He or she is there as a human tape recorder, the eyes and ears of his or her readers or audience. On other kinds of stories, however, giving 50 percent to each side, so to speak, does the readers and audience a disservice.
These are the stories with a moral dimension. There is a right and a wrong. The reporter’s job is to enter the story impartial (“objective,” if you will) so that he or she can find out who is scamming whom. Sometimes that is not possible and one cannot tell. More often, though, if one has enough sources and remains diligent to the story and determined to get at its core, you find the scales of justice tipping in one way of the other, sometimes slightly and other times preponderantly.
Back to cases. Our coverage of politics in Pittsfield would have to, of necessity and by definition, involve a substantial amount of weighing in on the performance of the mayor. During an election year, this coverage takes on heightened, almost symbolic importance to those who have a dog in the fight. To those people, every question you ask drips with animosity and ill-will. We assure those folks, however: That is not the case. We love Dan Bianchi. We love Jimmy Ruberto. We love Sara Hathaway. We love Gerry Doyle. We love Ed Reilly. Get the point?
Needless to say, so we should say it, Bianchi will have people out there this campaign season who have a vested interest in seeing him re-elected. He will also have plenty of folks whose bread would be better buttered if he did not win. Try stepping into that maelstrom as THE PLANET, and you can appreciate the situation. Your every word is judged, parsed, weighed, stamped, filed, briefed, and debriefed. It is rather like walking a tightrope, blindfolded, that stretches over a pit of roiling lava. You have people at each end of the rope jiggling it. Oh, and by the way, you are juggling chainsaws.
We love every minute of it!
So no, we aren’t carrying out anyone’s hidden agenda. We aren’t being fronted by a Super-Secret organization that has ulterior motives in mind. There’s no SPECTRE, THRUSH, or Winter Hill Gang here.
Why can’t people simply accept that we operate THE PLANET, free, without subscription, as a public service? We do this in the same way as Dan Bianchi is, or should be, serving as mayor.
TOMORROW ON THE PLANET: The latest in “Attorney Wars” and more. You won’t want to miss it.
“PER ASPERA AD ASTRA”
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.