The recent debate in City over the political leanings of the Democrat and Chronicle is amusing but totally misses the real failing of that newspaper, a failing which it unfortunately shares with much of the local media (Metro Ink, January 8).
It matters little whether the D&C or any local news outlet speaks with a liberal or conservative accent when the real problem (and shame) is that they tend to speak without saying anything.
Our local media mavens clearly have the "courage of their subscriptions" when it comes to establishing their editorial and news policies. In other words, they will not write or broadcast anything that might offend advertisers, local business leaders or, in the case of public broadcasting, their corporate sponsors.
Our media have forgotten that their first allegiance must be to the local citizenry and that they have an obligation to keep that citizenry informed as to what is really going on locally by diligently looking behind the scenes and by investigating and reporting on political and financial skullduggery regardless of who gets burned. But sad to say, in Rochester this just ain't happening. Let me point out two blatant examples.
In January 2002 the telecommunications company Global Crossing went belly up and filed for bankruptcy. Having taken over the old Rochester Telephone Company just two years before, the Global Crossing crash became the largest bankruptcy to directly impact the Rochester area and resulted in the loss of tens of millions of dollars of local shareholder investment, millions of dollars in local employees' 401k savings and severance payments, and hundreds of local jobs.
And yet rather than digging into this steaming pile of corporate wreckage to uncover what went wrong, who was responsible for shafting the locals, and whether the failure was avoidable, the D&C contented itself with running a few stories based on company press releases and wire-service stories from cities that had experienced far less economic destruction than Rochester, plus a sprinkling of ex-employee human-interest stories.
While a cynic might conjecture that this lack of curiosity in the collapse of Global Crossing might have had something to do with the fact that the chairman and CEO of Gannett, the D&C's parent company, had served on Global's board of directors, I will assume that this was simply a coincidence.
And not to be outdone by the D&C, our public "news" radio station WXXI-AM, despite having been repeatedly asked to investigate Global Crossing in the interests of its local membership and listeners, has so far steadfastly refused to broadcast any in-depth report on this financial debacle and has remained deathly silent for over a year. How this silence squares with their motto, "AM 1370: Keeping Rochester Informed," I leave to the management of WXXI to explain.
As to the second example of local media lethargy, in June 2000 Frontier Telephone was taken over by Citizens Communications. Now, in just 14 months, three individuals have served as the head of Rochester's local telephone operations and one after another have left the company for "personal reasons" or to "pursue other opportunities."
Although such a turnover is clearly an indication of a major managerial malfunction, and the stated reasons for their leaving are well known corporate code words for "fired," both the D&C and WXXI have so far managed to restrain their journalistic integrity and have scrupulously avoided investigating what's going wrong at Frontier. Instead, they have fallen back on their standard operating procedure of simply regurgitating the company's PR handouts.
So the bottom line is this: If the local media refuse to fulfill their public obligation to investigate the background causes of local news stories and instead elect to operate as if they are simply a bunch of stooges on the payroll of the Chamber of Commerce, why should we give a proverbial "hoot in hell" whether their editorial position is conservative, liberal, or based on the political philosophy of a fortune cookie?
Michael J. Nighan, Crosman Terrace, Rochester
Thousands of children, women, and elderly will be dead. Entire families will be destroyed. American servicemen will be killed. A country will be decimated. All this to get one man. The United States government is not very good at getting just one man. Where is Osama bin Laden?
Don Franklin, Chelmsford Road, Brighton
I have recently received two very disturbing e-mails from members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron. CPT is a group of courageous people, committed to nonviolence, who serve as human-rights advocates, witnessing to human-rights violations. They have had a presence in Hebron since 1995.
Their documentation of the violence perpetrated against Palestinians in the occupied territories, primarily by Israeli military, but increasingly by militant settlers living in the illegal settlements of the occupied territories, serves to enlighten the free world to the activities which are not usually reported by Western media.
The first e-mail, "Population Transfer," describes a systematic practice over the past few months of enforced curfew, essentially a 24-hour-a-day "house arrest," which has resulted in closed shops, areas closed to automobiles and often to pedestrians, and to a large extent, an evacuation of residents from the old city.
Over 2500 shops have been closed, some for as long as two years. Israeli soldiers now commonly search Palestinian homes without cause, often in the middle of the night, and frequently ransack the homes, destroying personal items, urinating and defecating on the floors, spreading terror in the lives of the inhabitants. Children are harassed going to school, sometimes beaten. (CPTers now accompany children to school in order to offer protection.)
The second e-mail describes the ongoing and escalating cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation between Israelis and Palestinians. The writer describes massive land confiscation and settlement expansion, with fear and anger increasing on both sides. He asks simply and pleadingly, "Can anyone in the world intervene to halt this growing tragedy for both sides?"
Recently the national news reported that some 30 to 60 Palestinian-owned shops in one village were destroyed by Israelis, ostensibly to make room for the "wall" that will separate the two peoples, in order to protect Israelis from Palestinian violence, which is, of course, in response to Israel's occupation.
I fear that while the rest of the world focuses attention on Iraq and North Korea, the "transfer" and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland is occurring. It is an outrage. While government officials safely sit in comfortable rooms, designing a "solution," Sharon moves forward with his plan to eliminate the Palestinians from their own land.
"Can anyone do anything to stop this?" Does anyone even care?
Elaine Johnson, Sutherland Street, Pittsford
Writing to City
We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester 14607.
Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than once every three months.