It’s Super Bowl week, and part of that extravaganza extraordinaire is Media Day, where the players are forced, upon pain of a $50,000 fine, to face reporters and answer questions both relevant and as irrelevant as, in one Denver player’s case, whether he thought a unicorn would make a good pet. (Duh, yeah it would! Next question!)
Some controversy had swirled around Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch’s disinclination to talk to reporters and whether he would have to pay 50 large to avoid what for him is obviously a very uncomfortable situation. While watching a story on this on ESPN Tuesday night, I thought to myself, damn, I wish I could enforce fines like that on stubborn sources.
If you read our front-page story on the dispute between Mayor Gallo and Alderman Will, you know things are not currently rosy between the paper and the mayor. The mayor is alleging numerous misdeeds on the part of this paper and its writers, which boil down into this statement he left on my voicemail Friday before last: “Your paper has gone out of its way to make me look like a moron.” (My response: “Well, no, your honor, we do our job and report the news and if you don’t like the way our reporting, the accuracy of which we stand behind 100 percent, makes you look maybe you ought to rethink what you’re doing.”) Shortly before he said he wasn’t talking to us ever again (for at least the third time since he took office), he said he was imposing the same policy upon the media (and, it would seem, certain aldermen) County Executive Mike Hein imposed when he took office — all requests to speak with department heads have to go through the boss’ office first; department heads (police chief, fire chief, public works, etc.) are not allowed to speak with reporters unless that speaking had been approved by said boss.
This is a bunch of bull, reflecting only a desire to control information and intimidate journalists (and, it would seem, disobedient lawmakers) into toeing the line in fear of being denied access to sources. Department heads may report to the chief executive, but these people are not private employees, or chattel of whomever appointed them. They work for the people and are paid from tax revenue the people are compelled to cough up, not Shayne Gallo’s or Mike Hein’s pockets. The reason we want to interview department heads is not so much to see if there’s some kind of difference of opinion between them and their boss — but if there is, and that difference impacts the operation of the people’s business, then the people have a right to know about that. We want to interview department heads because they’re always closer to the situation we want to write about than the dude in the big office, so their information is always better. We also want to know if the department heads know what they’re doing as independent public servants; if they can’t always hide behind their bosses, we’ll know if they know what they’re doing and if they were hired for their skills rather than their connections. So we as journalists reserve the right to seek comment from department heads — it’s not our job to enforce elected officials’ media policies. Far from it, in fact. We’ll keep on doing our job the best we can. As Jesse’s been saying around here this week, cops don’t stop investigating just because witnesses stop talking.
So does this mean Gallo, like Hein before him, will never take our calls again? Maybe; this is how the mayor ended his voicemail to me, in a tone approaching, but not quite reaching, the one he used with Blaber last year: “We’re done, Dan. You will never get any cooperation from me again, and you’re stuck with me for the next six years!” Strange way to announce he’s running for a second term, but hey.
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Like thousands here at home and millions around the world, I was saddened to hear of the passing of Pete Seeger. Truly one of the greats has left us; his impact on our valley was tremendous. Before Seeger and the Clearwater, the Hudson was basically an open sewer and free-for-all toxic-waste dump, abused and shunned. If it wasn’t for him, who knows what the Hudson would be like today. The Clearwater reconnected the people with their river and reminded us all of how sacred and needing of our care it is.
I’m glad my fiancée, who knew him personally and looked up to him immensely, and I got to see him a few times before his passing — joining him and many others at the Towne Crier recently in singing “This Land is Your Land,” with Pete banging out the song’s chorus’ beat with his cane, was a spine-tingling moment I’ll never forget. Every time I’ve been in his presence, the goodness he projected touched everyone around him and reminded us all of the best of what our hearts contain, and how we can share that best with others. In a time full of so much doubt and trouble, his example shines and will always be there to guide us. Rest easy, Pete.