Mark Palermo

Public Grief, Private Lives
He Was Our S.O.B.
Long Ago Saturday Nights at the Circle 9
The Dark Side of Vaccinations
Wine: Where Ignorance and Pretension Find their Loudest Voice
A 1976 Journey in Search of Self
The Machinery of Mass Dreams
The Outlaw Georgie Bush
Sex Offender Registries Out of Control
Extreme Makeover for Airheads
The Fault Lies not in the Stars, but in Ourselves
Reconsidering George Carlin
If You Think Liberals Are Jerks...
She Couldn't Do Her Chores
Remembering Viktor Frankl
One Day on the Farm-1977
A Fresh Look at Meat
How the Real World Works: A Lesson
30 Bucks for the Human Touch
1929 All Over Again
An Old Man's War, A Young Man's Fight
More Things in Heaven and Earth...
Our Dumbed-down Public Discourse
Bread, But No Roses
Earth's the Right Place for Love
Read This Before Enlisting
Poison Is Good for You: The Fluoridation Scam
Ron Paul:He Makes Too Much Sense
War Is a Racket
Brazil's National Orgasm Day
Calling all Liberals!
Why I Don't Get Flu Shots
What is Community?
Haverhillicus Homocrisicum
If You Wanna Be a Junkie, Why?
Do We Know His Family?
Scam: Youth Sports
A Subsidy for the Human Touch?
How Not to Be Boring
If the Bread and Roses Strike Were NOW
America's Problem with the Body
Columbus Day? or Renaissance Day?
Depleted Uranium Weapons
Mitt Romney: A Clintonian Republican
A Checklist for Conservatives
On Torture and Torturers
Pimp of the Nation
Romney is a Jerk
Hypocrisy and its Champions
The Dumb Society
The Men's Taverns of Yesteryear
On Dittoheads!
Let China Sleep
2004 McDebates
Animal Rights Page
US Wealth Distribution Chart
Public Grief, Private Lives

(Four young boys died after falling through and being trapped under the ice on the Merrimack River on Saturday, December 14, 2002. This article was published as a letter to the editor in one of the city's Spanish language newspapers, Rumbo.)

On December 15, the Tribune published a front page-photo of a fireman recovering the body of Victor Baez, one of the boys who fell through the ice near Water Street. The photo touched off a controversy in the community, and apparently even an internal debate among the Tribune staff, as to what is and isn’t newsworthy. On December 16, in response to the protest, an editorial in the Tribune full of pompous, inflated rhetoric, called the picture “powerful” and justified publishing because it “conveyed a sense of grief that words cannot possibly describe.” And because it “authenticated the scene of the tragedy” -whatever that means.

When I was growing up in Lawrence, I heard older people warn kids many times that Mr. X “values his privacy.” So don’t bother him. That was a stock phrase back then that had a clear and specific meaning. Funny, I haven’t heard anybody use this expression in about 40 years. Maybe it’s because people don’t value their privacy any more. Any day you can turn on the TV and hear people confessing their family secrets in front of 50 million viewers. Telemarketers calling you during dinner. Strangers checking your buying habits. This commingling of the public and personal has exerted a profound effect on the news, lowering standards of public discourse the same way a low tide lowers all ships in a seaport. Add to the mix an element of media-inspired hubris, more easily observed- but made of the same stuff- in small town weathermen who deem each advancing northeaster “storm of the century” of “storm of biblical proportions,” and one can see why the newspaper industry, transformed into spectacle, has lost its sense of who it is, what it does, and who its readers are.

The Tribune’s publishing of that picture called to mind another such incident about twenty years ago where an old man had been robbed and stabbed to death in his apartment. The Tribune published a front- page picture of the man’s blood-stained bed. Here too one could argue that the picture “authenticated the scene of the tragedy” or “conveyed a sense of grief.” But if the Tribune really lived by such a specious premises, then autopsy and crime scene photographs could be considered journalism, and we might call them “powerful.” And what of the man’s family that had to see the vulgar, pornographic image of their loved one printed and distributed all over the Merrimack Valley? Well, he was, after all, from Lawrence- which brings us to another question.

While the photo of the boy was not nearly in as bad taste as the previous example, it demonstrates the same underlying principle. The Tribune editors would do well to ask themselves if they would have chosen to publish the picture if the boy had been the son of an affluent family? Or an influential family? Or a socially prominent family from the Tribune’s own exclusive North Andover community?

Is private grief open to the public? Are private emotions on display for the world? Of course a balance must be struck between the public’s right to know and the privacy of that same public. There can be no purely objective standard here; this is not math or science. So we must look inward to that purely subjective, but fundamental question. If that were your child, how would you feel about the Tribune being a “partner” in your grief?
I find it encouraging that there was internal dissention at the Tribune over this photograph. Whoever has raised the question has discretion and wisdom- and doesn’t need to read articles like this. The Tribune should listen to them. While the coverage of the tragic loss was otherwise sensitive, the Tribune nevertheless lost an opportunity to show restraint and good taste. It is notable too that neither of the city’s two Spanish language newspapers chose to publish such pictures. What lies at the heart of the Tribune’s actions and the desire to justify them is a flawed understanding of what the mission of a newspaper is. The newsman, Edward R. Murrow once said,” Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar.”

December 2002