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Thoughts on cheap shots
An open letter to Joe Fitzgerald

BY STEPHEN M. MINDICH

Dear Joe,

After reading, watching, and listening to last weekís media coverage of the New Yearís Eve beer party thrown by my 16-year-old stepson, I wrestled with what ó if any ó comment I would offer on the situation. Given the vituperative attacks on my wife in the media for over a year now, I thought my capacity for outrage had been numbed.

And then, bathed in the multimedia excess that swirled around this non-story, I read your column.

Like all the coverage and talk-show drivel relating to this event, it was cheap, flimsy, exploitative, distorted, and out of proportion. (A notable exception to this sorry performance was Channel 5ís Amalia Barreda, who had the professionalism to get the facts right and to put the story in some sort of context.)

As the husband of Judge Maria Lopez and the involved stepfather to her children, I was in equal parts incensed and dispirited by the coverage. And as publisher of this newspaper, I suffered another painful reminder of why so many hold our profession in disrepute.

On the surface, your column appears to be a model of reason, but like the Boston Heraldís absurdly overplayed page-one story (JUDGE LOPEZ UNDER FIRE FOR SONíS BOOZE BASH), it misreports and distorts the facts. More heinously, it seeks to wound my wife by attacking her son, a minor. Just because the equation is so transparent (son goes wrong, mom must be bad, therefore she, as a judge, must be pilloried), doesnít make it any less vile.

And vile it is. You pepper your column with cases of other teens who drank at various keg parties and cite the adults who were supervising them as saying, "Whatís the big deal?"

Well, that wasnít the deal at our house. Here are the facts: my wife and I were on vacation in London. Our boys ó a 16-year-old high schooler and an 18-year-old college freshman ó were left in the care of their father, who lives a few blocks away. (They were not, as the Herald and so many others reported, "unsupervised.") The 16-year-old lied to his father about his whereabouts and violated explicit instructions that no one was to be allowed in the house. (Which part of "no one," I later asked him, didnít he understand?) He also violated the well-understood and unequivocal family policy prohibiting underage drinking. His older brother dropped by the house, found the beer party going on, and tried to stop it and roust the participants. When his efforts failed, he had the good sense to call the police.

So whatís the story here? One boy does wrong, the other does right. They are both from the same house, the same family. So what conclusions can we draw? Maybe that life ó whether in the family or in the public realm ó is complicated. Itís not black and white, as so many sanctimonious politicians, commentators, or cynical media manipulators would have us believe. One young man made a mistake, and he will suffer the appropriate consequences. Another made a difficult choice that could have put him at odds with his brother. I suggest, in the name of decency, that these are private matters best left in the private realm.

But I must be naive. Think of the tens of thousands of dollars that television, radio, and print media spent on this story. And they didnít even get it right. Yet headlines were created, the airwaves hummed, talk-show lines were jammed. That, Iím sad and furious to say, is apparently the only thing that matters in todayís media world.

There were several similar cases in my own community that night, but no one has focused on them. Is this a serious problem or a witch hunt? No charges of running a "disorderly household" have been filed against anyone but my wife. Come to think of it, why wasnít I cited? Itís my house, too.

Joe, you and I know the answer. Itís all in the context.

Over a year ago, my wife, Judge Lopez, a 14-year veteran of the bench, rendered a controversial decision that brought upon her the wrath of many politicians, media people, and citizens. This is not the time or place to discuss that situation, except to say that it was an honest decision and people of conscience can disagree about it ó vociferously if they wish. But disagreement and disapproval do not grant anyone the right to wage a perverse campaign of thinly veiled and venomously inspired personal persecution.

I will admit to a degree of trepidation as I write. Thatís not characteristic of me. But having read what you and so many of your fellow Herald staffers have written, Joe, and having listened to the even more malignant comments they ó as well as others not from the Herald ó have made on the air, I know the bile you can spawn. If you doubt me, just look at your own Web site. Here are two representative postings:

"Posted by John Anderson on 01/07/02 07:15:22 EST. Oh yeah, what adult in their right mind leaves two teenagers home alone while they go to Europe? The only message Lopez will send is that of acting like a Cat covering crap. Just like she did with the shemale case. Sheís arrogant and projects the attitude that the rules donít apply to her or her kids."

"Posted by Bill on 01/08/02 05:32:06 EST. Lopez is a signal, an omen of Americaís demise under a relentless wave of undesirables from south of the border and elsewhere. For Gods sake, the woman condones violent and sexual assault by perverts against children. Her values represent something that our european/christian foundation cannot fathom. Thanks to the likes of Ted Kennedy and his Immigration Act 1965, we are lying as a nation, face down in the shallow end of the gene pool."

Joe, meet your public. Frankly, they scare me. And so do the herd instincts of tabloid journalism. Perhaps you and your like-minded colleagues should reflect on the concept of glass houses and stone-throwing, and ask yourselves whether the ugliness you produce and engender is really what you want your place in life to be about.

Stephen M. Mindich

Publisher and chairman

Phoenix Media/Communications Group

Issue Date: January 10 - 17, 2002

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