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Monday, October 15, 2012

Separating fact from opinion in Bizarro Charlestown

By Linda Felaco

George Tremblay thinks the “benighted” readers of Progressive Charlestown are lazy and stupid. The Planning Commissioner and wannabe CCA Town Council member actually signed his own name to a comment here on the blog stating as much (read it for yourself here). But I know our readers are a savvy bunch and have often supplied us with information that we might otherwise have missed. Our readers “get” our mix of hard-hitting investigative reporting and snarky opinion, and they know how to tell which is which.

But in Bizarro Charlestown, not so much.

The Westerly Sun just published a lengthy recitation from Planning Commissar Ruth Platner listing various and sundry “vicious lies” she says we’ve told, claiming we’ve “attacked” her “almost daily.”

This is in fact a lie. 

We often go for days, sometime an entire week, without even mentioning her name, never mind attacking her. Oftentimes we invoke her name in reference not to her personally but what we’ve dubbed “the Platner Principle,” namely her insistence that the only land uses that are permitted are those specifically endorsed in our zoning codes. In fact, we’d very much like to write less about her, but unfortunately, she’s currently the head of the Planning Commission, and the Planning Commission has usurped so much power, making itself the most powerful political body in this town and inventing powers for itself found nowhere in our Town Charter, that it’s pretty much impossible to write about town affairs without mentioning her.

Though she flatters herself if she thinks we’ve attacked her with “as much force and venom as is used against national political candidates.” No, I will take Platner’s word for the fact that she is indeed a U.S. citizen and isn’t in fact the love child of a teenage Kansas slut and an older married Communist (the latest “birther” theory, in case you hadn’t heard). Thankfully, we know full well that the influence of Charlestown politicians doesn’t extend to the rest of the state (witness the CCA’s failed efforts to persuade other rural towns, forget urban ones, to join them in their crusade against affordable housing), much less the rest of the country.

But we’re working on not having to write about her at all after November 6.

It’s strange that someone who professes to be so concerned about people being “smeared” by “lies” on the internet would then repeat those very same “lies” to an even wider audience than we have here on the blog without offering a single fact that would demonstrate that anything we’ve written was false. Guess everyone is just supposed to take Ruth’s word for the fact that they’re lies.

But it’s downright hypocritical for Platner to shed crocodile tears over the alleged harm she claims we’ve caused to people’s reputations and careers when she and her friends in the Charlestown Citizens Alliance ran a vicious smear campaign against former Town Administrator Bill DiLibero, resulting in his ouster, and blackballed Melina Lodge from the job of compiling the data for Tremblay’s bogus Affordable Housing analysis. Platner and Sonquipaug Mayor Joanne D’Alcomo also conspired (unsuccessfully for once, fortunately) to get a Progressive Charlestown commenter fired from his job.

And as CCA’s webmistress, Platner has total control over what the CCA publishes on its own website, including any number of vicious, insulting, slanderous, and downright nasty comments, not to mention all those “Guest Posts” by “Voice of the CCA” Michael Chambers, which have been dissected in the rest of the Bizarro Charlestown series.

Platner clearly has been saving up this list of hers for a long, long time—21 months, in fact; since the blog was first launched. Yet she seems to have overlooked a crucial point: Here on Progressive Charlestown, when we make mistakes—and we do, and we’ll continue to do so, being only human after all—we admit and correct them as anyone with any shred of journalistic integrity does. If Platner had ever offered us any information that was contrary to anything we’d written, we would of course have checked it out the same as we’ve done any other time a mistake has been pointed out and, assuming we could confirm the information given, corrected what we’d written accordingly.

But no, Platner prefers to disseminate her charges against us in the Westerly Sun, which publishes them verbatim without fact-checking them.

Most of what she calls “lies” are actually differences of opinion or point of view. And that’s what makes her charges even more arrogant. Readers know that we report on what takes place at public meetings of the Town Council and various commissions. Reporting is a very difficult skill. I challenge Ms. Platner to try to master it herself. People speak faster than anyone can write or type; some people project their voices better or speak more clearly than others—Platner’s words are notoriously difficult to make out—and, particularly under CCA leadership, meetings are often conducted in “code” or without sufficient background material being available beforehand or are never made available, making it difficult to parse what’s being said. Sometimes, it’s like pulling teeth to get the records.

So it’s entirely possible for two people to come away from the same meeting with different interpretations of the proceedings. That does not make either person’s report of the meeting a “lie.” Though I’ll grant you that once a meeting has passed through the CCA spin cycle and come out as an e-bleat, it’s generally unrecognizable as the same meeting we were at. It is the height of arrogance to censor people who view events in a way that differs with CCA’s orthodoxy, as Platner and her CCA cohorts have, and try to get them fired.

But Platner calls our opinions and speculations “lies” as well. Now, here on Progressive Charlestown, we essentially hold a mirror up to the actions of our town government. If anyone dislikes what they see in that mirror, I would suggest that they have the power to change that reflection themselves, by changing what they do that gives that perception, rather than faulting the mirror.

I’ll cite just one example from Ruth’s 1138-word list of what she calls “lies,” because it relates to something I wrote: She claims we’ve described her “commitment to land conservation as a sexual fetish.”

This made me laugh out loud.

I vaguely recall saying something about the thought of tying up land as open space giving Ruth multiple orgasms or something along those lines. I never expected any rational reader to think that meant I was reporting that as a fact. I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of what goes on in Ruth and Cliff’s bedroom. Nor do I care to, thank you very much.

Yet as soon as I wrote that, Ruth, or perhaps it was Cliff, jumped all over it, anonymously of course. Which is really dumb because all it served to do was call attention to an offhand remark that probably no one else would’ve even noticed otherwise. Of all the less-than-flattering things I’ve ever written about Ruth, I never dreamed that would be the one that would get her knickers in a twist.

And now she’s turned it into a “sexual fetish” and published it in the Westerly Sun, which has probably got people rushing to the blog searching the archives for it.

Truth is indeed stranger than fiction in Bizarro Charlestown.