‘You won! Your site is no longer blocked.’ — PLANET PREVAILS … FREEDOM OF THE PRESS TRUMPS POLITICAL PARANOIA
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2014) — “You won! Your site is no longer blocked.”
That was the best (for being the briefest and most to the point) among a bunch of communications we received yesterday morning after THE PLANET fought its way back from digital exile at city hall.
Yesterday, THE PLANET shared some thoughts about an issue that captured the local imagination after first being placed on the public agenda when we shared the news — that Pittsfield mayor Dan Bianchi, also more popularly known as TES, The Empty Suit — blocked PLANET VALENTI DOT COM from city hall computers.
Of course, TES did it in the dark, in secret, hoping that it would not be discovered. With our sources, however, not much remains secret in city hall these days, and the mayor’s actions brought about a swift and virile, if not violent, protest from the rank and file in the building. THE PLANET also received much interest in the story as a story from members of the local press, and interest in the story as a case, from several constitutional lawyers who monitor this site because of our slam-dunk victory for the First Amendment in July 2012 in Nilan v. Valenti.
That case made international news on the web. This one would likely have done the same thing, depending on its twists and turns, if the mayor had held onto a ban that could not be enforced. The only thing that happened as a result of Bianchi’s desperate attempt to stop city workers from visiting this site is that he drove many new viewers our way, something reflected in the traffic spike since last last week, when we first reported on it.
In addition to our explorations into the legal ramifications of the mayor’s actions, THE PLANET also sent a communication to Bianchi in the evening of June 21, one that we now make public. We wrote to him:
You have blocked THE PLANET? That’s the best you can do in the face of my honest criticism?
You have heretofore been a disappointment as mayor, as my coverage has reflected since the day you decided to stop talking to me after I didn’t print “the company line” following your mishandling of the Spectrum case (the methadone clinic). In that case, you gave away the store, needlessly, and cost taxpayers $100,000, needlessly. When I printed the truth after following where the evidence led me, you decided to “shut me out.” I got word from former administration members of your actions then and there, which were termed “deeply troubling and petty.”
You’ll recall, prior to the Spectrum, while on your “honeymoon” for the first six months or so of your first term, my coverage was largely favorable.
As you yourself told me after you narrowly won against your opponent, Peter Marchetti, in 2011, I made the difference with my official endorsement. You won by 106 votes, which translates to a swing of 53 either way. Whether it’s true or not that I won that election for you, I believed you were the better man. That’s why I endorsed you.
You made one big mistake, though. You thought that my endorsement meant that I would essentially “shill for you.” I wouldn’t and couldn’t do that. As a writer, broadcaster, and journalist, I have but one responsibility: Truth. Granted, “truth” is an elusive commodity. Nonetheless, every contentious issue contains it. It’s my job to go into the story objectively, get whatever information I can, analyze it, and present it. As a reporter, I present the facts as I have learned them. As an analyst, I present the truth as it reveals itself, again, without bias or preconceptions.
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Since you first got on the council, and for your 10-year stint there, we ha[d] a good working relationship. I thought you could handle the spotlight. I was wrong. Some people are meant to be understudies. They choke in prime time. That, I’m sorry to say, has been the story of your days thus far as the CEO of the city we both love. You have let yourself, and your electorate, down. You reacted to my tough but fair criticism by “taking your football and going home.” By “hiding under your desk.” That came as a surprise to me, although your political opponents are now having a good time saying to me, “I told you so.”
My professional career goes back to 1975. It encompasses newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, movies, speaking, books, and almost any other medium that uses words. The journalistic part of that career, the bulk of it, has been driven simply by a belief that the writer’s first obligation is to the truth. His second obligation is to “We The People.” Yes, I believe strongly in the role of the press to be the Fourth Estate, serving as a watchdog over the three branches of government. Do you share that belief? If so, why would THE PLANET be banned? Why do you refuse to engage me?
As you know, I have managed to work around your refusal to return my calls, emails, and FB messages — handily, in fact — by simply getting comments from other people involved in the various news stories that have occurred with regularity on your watch. These sources include both your supporters and opponents, although the former have become harder and harder to reach after you apparently sent them orders that they are not to contact me, return any of my requests for comments, or in any way talk to me. You will be proud to know, however, that you have several good people “on your team” who have defied your orders and who have no problem speaking to me. Of course, they do so under conditions of strict anonymity, because they know how spiteful you are when people dare to defy you — even when you are in the wrong. The stories, much to everyone’s dismay, have been all too frequently detrimental to the health, welfare, and well being of our beloved city.
As you are probably aware if you have consulted your crack legal team, your actions have “opened yourself and the city up” to some tough responses that are at my option now. This is due to the fact that neither The Berkshire Eagle, nor, as far as I have been able to determine, any other “news and commentary” website (Slate, Drudge, Huffington, MSNBC, Fox, etc. etc.) has been blocked at city hall. It appears that you have singled out PLANET VALENTI DOT COM.
Are we that much of a threat? Answer that realistically, not politically.
I am honored, naturally, that my site has taken such root in city hall. I have some of my most loyal followers there. Your actions, moreover, have driven a whole lot more traffic to my site. For that, I suppose I should thank you.
I would ask you, however, to reconsider your actions. A democracy is only as good as its ability to allow and encourage a free debate of ideas, including (and especially) ones that may be unpopular. My site has been extremely popular both at in the city large and in city hall, but I realize not so much with you. That’s fine. As I have done numerous times, if you have a problem with anything I say, broadcast, or publish, I am more than willing to give you “equal time” to respond. You have chosen not to accept that invitation, which only suggests that my comments about your administration have been largely spot-on. Nonetheless, once again, I invite you to share your differences with me — preferably in public. If you prefer, we can do it in private.
This invitation is extended in earnestness, resolution, and, if I may, friendship.
There is no reason we cannot have a productive, if adversary, relationship. Remember that I am a member of The Fourth Estate, a role I take seriously. As such, I am inherently pre-disposed to be skeptical of official government pronouncements. In my long career, I have found that to be the best attitude “going in” to any story. If the story has truth behind it, it will stand up to hard questioning. If it doesn’t … well, we know what happens then. At that point, official actions get treated to a healthy dose of sunshine. We dare pull back the curtain, and We The People are the better off for it.
We shall continue to do that while renewing our efforts, once more, to engage you in debate, discussion, and dialog on the issues and actions relevant to the city of Pittsfield, the county seat.
Give this some thought. It’s your choice, my Right Honorable Good Friend.
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You may now judge for yourself on this case. The response our readers took and the pressure they put on the corner office played a role in the mayor reversing course.
See what can happen when enough people participate in the government THEY OWN!
“That’s my last duchess painted on the wall, / Looking as if she were alive. I call / That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands / Worked busily a day, and there she stands.” — Robert Browning, “My Last Duchess,” (1842).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.