IS THERE MORE TO THE MATTOON RESIGNATION THAN MEETS THE EYE? COULD BE, COULD BE, BUT THEN AGAIN … plus … EGAD! ANOTHER SNOW STORM VISITS AS CITY HALL, SCHOOL DEPARTMENT ACT MATURELY (or “BRING OUT THE NAPOLEON HATS”)
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, MARCH 19, 2013) — Happy St. Joseph’s feast day to you! We thought we emptied the notebook yesterday, but there were a few other items left over from Quick Hits and Hot Licks. Please be so kind as to allow THE PLANET to share them with you.
MATTOON RESIGNATION STORY: MORE TO IT THAT MEETS THE EYE?
We present a bit of amplification on the Donna Mattoon resignation post from yesterday. THE PLANET had that information before anyone else, last week, in fact. We received word from a good source, good enough to go with after we heard a similar tale from a second source, this one from within city hall. Under usual circumstances, we would have run with the story immediately, and in cyberspace, immediately means just that. This time, however, we decided to wait until Mattoon confirmed. We sent her not one but two requests for comment. In other words, THE PLANET played it their way. As with everything we do, we had a reason.
Playing It Their Way
Politicians, including the corner office, frequently complain that we run with items without their input, so we decided to give them the chance. We often do, not because we need it for the story but as professional courtesy. For THE PLANET, it was a win-win situation. If Mattoon had gotten back to us in a timely way, we would have that information. If she ignored our request, we would confirm what we know to be true that a handful of others find it hard to believe. In fact, we had a small wager on this, and in light of Mattoon’s “I’m not here” act, THE PLANET shall be enjoying our spoils having won the bet. It was with a Household Name in city politics, but we can’t tell you who.
“Playing it their way” cost us the scoop as we knew it would, since the Boring Broadsheet had it on Sunday, but it was worth it. In fact, in this situation, we wanted them to have it. Not hard to see how that worked. The mayor’s office would rather have a “friendly” medium gloss over the story. As soon as THE PLANET started poking around, we predicted Mattoon’s mad rush to the BB. It doesn’t get friendlier than the BB, which too often loves its “news” spoon fed from politicians, PR people, and others with a pitch and a dog in the fight.
Yesterday, Mattoon finally responded, tersely, to our second request for comment, saying only: “I received your original message on Friday night at 8:23. By then I was long gone from City Hall and in NY for the weekend. Just seeing both now.” In her mind, that is enough to be able to technically say, “See, I answered the call.” And what, we ask? The Internet doesn’t work between NYC and the Fortress of Solitude? Her excuse doesn’t wash. That brief few words comprised the full extent of her comment on our several questions concerning her surprise exit. She didn’t actually confirm the resignation one way or the other and didn’t share any other information. Guess she showed us! The funny thing is, we had almost all of it anyway.
Public officials acting with power on behalf of citizens and being paid by those same citizens have a personal, professional, and moral responsibility to respond to the press honestly, fully, completely, and in a timely way. When they regularly do not do so, but cherry pick the opportunities, it is a near-certain sign that they’re hiding something. That’s been our experience going back to 1975, when we first got our hands on a typewriter in a real, honest-to-goodness newsroom. It’s been like that ever since. In the Poconos, we ran up against and covered organized crime. We got to know some of the Northeast “players,” and let us tell you: The Tony Sopranos were often more responsible in this regard than the duly elected public officials.
Faster than a Speeding Bullet
THE PLANET handled the story in this manner to point out the game they like to play with us and other media that has the audacity to question, probe, and follow up. Carrying over journalism protocols to the web changes the nature not only of how we get information but also greatly changes the time clock. Because anyone with internet access is a potential source, we literally have “spies” in every office of the city and most in Berkshire County. Over more than a score of years covering Pittsfield and Berkshire County, we have built up a huge Rolodex of sources. The presence of iPhones, iPods, iPads and the like has expanded our source base incredibly.
That, our dear friends, is the biggest change in the way stories find the sunshine. Back in the print days, all a public official had to do was control the commercial media. In Pittsfield, that meant controlling The Boring Broadsheet. At one time, when the paper was the Berkshire Eagle, independently owned, and a bit feisty, that was a challenge. After Media News Group bought the Eagle at a fire sale in 1995 and ran the paper into bankruptcy (it’s now owned by a holding company), controlling the local daily became a piece of angel food. Then, local radio eviscerated the broadcast newsrooms. The GOB had what it wanted and what all dictators have craved: control of the press. Today, however, in cyberspace, they can’t control the flow of information. All it needed was an outlet, legitimate by pedigree and journalistic chops and fearless in its search for truth. All it needed was THE PLANET.
It was a match made under the pearly gates. Today, anyone with a smart phone in any city office can shoot up information, and they often do. They don’t want their names used, of course, and we have NEVER burned a source. That assurance of protection has long been one of our sacred trusts with sources. Thus, we found our niche as a crusader a la Captain Midnight, Batman, the Lone Ranger, and any other rogue crime fighter you wish to name. That’s why we enjoy our little references to this type of comic-book black-and-white approach to justice, such as the “Fortress of Solitude” and the “Secret Squadron.”
In running with the news in such a manner, we have found our niche. THE PLANET has never advertised. We’ve relied on word of mouth, a means of proliferation more adept than the viral nature of cyberspace itself. Our daily audience amounts to several thousand hits, with a large number of unique hits. By any measure, we could be seeking and finding advertising, but we presently do not run THE PLANET as a commercial medium. At some point in the future, that may change, but for now, it remains this way. We have made our money. We have much more interest in a different kind of pay … and payback.
Public Officials Slow to Catch On
We receive an incredible amount of intelligence, tips, dropped dimes and the like. Often, we can verify a story in lighting speed, far faster than the subjects of the story tend to operate. It’s amazing, though: Public officials — politicians, especially — have not caught on to how the web operates as a news medium. They tend to operate as if Abe Michelson is still wearing his green eyeshade sitting behind his manual Underwood and smoking cigars back in the day when print was king and you could smoke in the newsroom.
Mattoon’s clumsy handing of our requests also points out how naive she can be for someone with a media background. She apparently believed that if she did not respond to us, the story could be “controlled.” Her actions also made it sound like she has something to hide — that
* perhaps she didn’t leave the city hall position of her own accord or,
* realizing that in 14 and a half months, her boss hasn’t exactly lit the city in fire, she needed to jump ship and fast.
* Or could it be that, desperate to leave a sinking ship, she called her old boss at IBM and asked for job back?
* Or has there been a falling out of some sort between the two branches of the Wojtkowski Klan, Branch Bianchi and Branch Bowler?
We don’t know, we don’t care, and we would not assert any of these scenarios as fact — we only point out that they have been floated within and without city hall with the implication of truth.
At minimum, it would appear to be an accurate statement to say that Mattoon’s resignation isn’t exactly as she presented it to the BB. That’s all we care to say about this — for now, anyway.
STORM UGLOO, ULOO, ULALUME … WHATEVER
Gosh. Berkshire County got a few inches of snow overnight. What shall we do? Anxiety. Another sleepless night. Nervousness, fright, trepidation, consternation, perturbation, flap, fluster, cold sweat, swivet, and tizzy.
In Pittsfield, Mayor Bianchi and his depeartment heads met in the War Room, called in the National Guard, and ordered anyone seen on the streets between 10 p.m. and “whenever” to be arrested and hauled into a secret basement room at city hall. There offenders will sit under McDonald french fry lights while Kathleen Amuso and Kathy Yon read from the minutes of school committee meetings going back 10 years.
Yes, our dear friends, with the advent of (egad!) a winter snow shower, panic and hand-wringing set in at city hall and the school department yesterday, overnight, and today.
* Mayor Bianchi was seen watching The Caine Mutiny strawberry scene over and over again while eating sand.
* Police Chief Mike Wynn could be heard in his office singing “Hava Nagila.” He left word that under no circumstances could he be disturbed, unless it was a deli delivery boy dropping off lox and bagels — only when Wynn orders it, he wants locks instead of lox. Can’t have enough security, you see.
* Meanwhile, interim school department super Gordon Noseworthy was insisting his name was “Nicholas,” that he was from Medina, Spain, and that he was his own father. His assistant, adjunct, associate, and adolescent superintendents tried to disabuse Noseworthy of his fantastic notions, chanting, “It’s for The Children, for The Children, for The Children.”
* Finally, at the DPW, an order had been put in for the Collected Speeches of Nikita Khrushchev”— all 27 volumes. When the volumes came in, they were fed into the Heap Big Red Magic Pothole Machine while a secretary played a tape recording of John Barrett laughing hysterically.
Aren’t you as glad as THE PLANET to know that the city of Pittsfield can handle winter snow the way adults do, with soberness, no nonsense, and no big deal?
See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain
See, they return, one, and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
And half turn back. — from The Return by Ezra Pound
“Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast / In a field I looked into going past / And the ground covered almost smooth in snow, but a few weeds and stubble showing last.” — Robert Frost
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.