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Opinion: Paper’s coverage limited at best; editorials are worse

I have been following the paper’s coverage of the town hall project, and the associated conversations on the editorial page, with great interest, shifting to surprise, dismay, frustration and anger. I am still uncertain how I feel about the project itself, with too many vague details and unanswered questions to allow me to be a sufficiently informed voter.
But I am not uncertain about judging theIndependent’s role in the affair, as its journalistic coverage has been extremely limited, lacking multiple perspectives and voices, and prioritizing the arguments and authority of certain selectboard members over other elected officials and citizens. I write that with disappointment, as I am friends with a number of the paper’s journalists and staffers, and have often praised theIndependent as a model of a local paper thriving by serving its community.
However, my frustration with the news coverage is nothing compared to my outrage over how the paper’s publisher and editor, Angelo Lynn, has misused his perch above the masthead to misrepresent opposition to the project, mislead readers about the process, and attack citizens writing to the paper. While a publisher has the right and even obligation to weigh in on important issues, Lynn’s litany of rude, condescending and often inaccurate editorials go beyond his role as a newsman arguing a point, and into the realm of aggressive, ill-mannered punditry more befitting sensational tabloids. (I certainly hope that the paper’s poor news coverage of the issue is not being swayed by Lynn’s editorial stance, as that would be a clear case of journalistic malpractice.)
Lynn adopts two particularly inappropriate tactics. First, he attacks others for his own sins, such as accusing letter writers of being “uncivil” when they wrote to protest his characterization of the project’s opposition as employing “Tea Party tactics.” In his recent editorial from Nov. 7, he laments such critics as “a handful of people (that) get together with similar talking points and pound away at that message” — a fine description of his own style in writing editorials. He sanctimoniously decries letters that “spread falsehoods or half-truths,” then proceeds to cherry-pick information to support his own arguments while failing to mention other important points. He characterizes his critics as a small minority of obstructionists, while there have been many more letters questioning the project and process than praising it in recent weeks — although more ink has been given to supporters through Lynn’s own lengthy editorials.
Second and even more troubling, Lynn abuses his position as editor by responding to letters before readers even have a chance to read them, offering a “pre-buttal” on his page four editorial in anticipation of a letter on page five. Readers then consume a letter that instigated his response as framed by Lynn’s context, not on its own merits; this practice violates the principle of letters to newspapers as an open democratic forum. Recently, he suggested that the editor’s job is to “temper the tempest” created by the so-called “bullies” via a quotation from Emerson — but as I understand it, Emerson is referring to the “bullies” of government leaders, not ordinary citizens questioning the actions of those elites.
To me, the real bullying is when the owner and editor of our community’s primary media outlet directly attacks citizens for taking an interest in town politics and expressing their opinions in an (allegedly) open forum. I know a good number of citizens who have been intimidated from writing to theIndependent, for fear of unleashing this “editorial tempest” upon them, a sad state of affairs for a small community.
As I assume this letter will prompt Mr. Lynn to seek to “temper” my uncivil accusations and half-truths, I decided to save him time and offer some material for his inevitable “pre-buttal,” in my humble attempt to capture his recent writing style:
“Jason Mittell’s letter claimed to support editorial fairness, but it was destroyed by his own McCarthyesque name-calling and lack of full disclosure. He claims that readers have been too intimidated by my reasoned discourse to write letters, but unless he names names of these critics, how can we know they are real, especially when compared with the vast majority of Middlebury residents whom I am certain endorse the town hall plan? Additionally, the potential conflict of interest posed by my own wife’s role in Vermont economic development initiatives was printed in the paper (via a helpful letter to the editor on Nov. 7), but Mittell failed to reveal that his own wife is Ruth Hardy, chair of ID-4 school board and a member of the project’s steering committee. Given that she is beholden to the voters that elected her and the children served by Mary Hogan, we must dismiss Mittell’s criticisms as unduly influenced by those narrow special interests.”
I look forward to my bullying being further tempered.
Jason Mittell
East Middlebury

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