One of the great ironies of the Fourth Estate is how they are constantly trumpeting The Public’s Right To Know regarding other precincts, but they just can’t stand it when the spotlight is turned on themselves. For example, the studied reticence of the Burlington Free Press whenever it takes a chainsaw to its already-diminished staff.
Another example: In my four-plus years of blogging, I’ve said plenty of harsh things about almost everyone in political circles. When I meet these folks, they tend to be perfectly genial, or at the very least polite.
Not journalists or editors. When I criticize the failings or shortcomings of Vermont’s media, they often react with a pained squeal. There’s only one person who’s blocked me from their Twitter feed, and it’s a staffer at a certain Vermont newspaper. Once, the chief of a major media outlet took time out of his (or her, I ain’t telling) busy day to hector me for being critical of a certain reporter’s work. I was honored by the attention in a perverse way; at least I know they care.
This is a roundabout way to get at the latest Big Story in Vermont media: the DUI arrest of Catherine Nelson two days before her installation as publisher of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.
She bounced her vehicle off multiple inanimate objects in downtown Rutland, and blew a BAC twice the legal limit after being pulled over by the cops.
Er, I should say “allegedly bounced her vehicle,” since her attorney has cautioned us not to jump to any conclusions. Perhaps her vehicle and the objects sustained damage independently from a passing meteor or a ne’er-do-well with a baseball bat.
But let’s get to the point, which is outgoing publisher R. John Mitchell’s oddly inconsistent accounting for his knowledge of the incident.
See, when he announced Nelson’s accession to the newsroom on Monday, he didn’t mention the incident. That’s a real oopsie if you’re trying to maintain a workplace atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. And there’s a big fat contradiction in the Mitchell timeline.
First, he told a Herald reporter that “he was aware Nelson was cited for drunken driving prior to announcing her promotion Monday afternoon.”
Elsewhere in the story, he asserted that “What I know, I read on our website.”
Problem. “Our website” didn’t post anything about Nelson’s DUI until Tuesday afternoon — and only after VTDigger first broke the story.
So, well, if he knew about it Monday, he must have gotten his information from another source. Say, maybe the police? They’ve been known to tip off Prominent Businessmen when their charges run afoul of the law.
He also insists that the incident has no bearing on his views of Nelson or her qualifications for the job. Which, okay, if you say so; but if Mitchell made that judgment based on a scrap of information on his paper’s website, he is a piss-poor chief executive.
Indeed, it’s hard to believe that Mitchell would put his family’s baby in the hands of a drunk driver unless he was fully and completely informed about the facts of the case, and had sound reason to trust Nelson’s stewardship.
At the very least, he could have postponed the announcement. It’s not like anyone knew it was coming. I have to conclude that either he knows a lot about the case and still believes in Nelson, or he has nonrefundable plane tickets to a sunny retirement destination.
Whatever, it’s just one more example of a journalistic enterprise wilting under the same kind of pressure they like to put on others.
For the sake of his family’s shrinking empire, whose very lifeblood is a small cadre of reporters and editors working extremely hard for little pay, Mr. Mitchell might want to get his facts straight and provide a more coherent rendition of events.