Monday, July 6, 2009

Score One for Chumney

Posted By on Mon, Jul 6, 2009 at 11:39 PM

0c6c/1246943794-tom_lee_park_fire.jpgOn the theory that journalists, even more than other people, have a duty to update their public statements whenever circumstances require it, I choose to append this note to my online column of July 6 entitled “Candidate Chumney’s Conundrum.”

It seems clear to me on the basis of videos I have seen and conversatons I have had with a variety of people who were present at a Fourth of July fireworks exhibition at Tom Lee Park on Sunday night that accounts by my friends Carol Chumney and Kate Mauldin of vandalism and aggressive behavior by bands of roaming juveniles, possibly gang members, were substantially correct. (I say “friends” because they are that, I have always been pleased to say; that’s a fact independent of circumstances under which either might become either sources for or subjects of an article.)

What both told me in telephone conversations on Sunday night was that these marauding juveniles set large grass fires on the periphery of Tom Lee Park, fired roman candles and tossed firecrackers into the crowd at Tom Lee, and in general were an intimidating presence unchecked by significant numbers of police.

In “Candidate Chumney’s Conundrum,” I did not dispute what Carol and Kate told me. I reported their accounts straight, but balanced them with a statement from a police source that seemed to minimize the problem they reported or in some ways to deny it outright. I had also heard on Sunday night from a media acquaintance who had been at Tom Lee and said he had seen nothing like the incident described. I didn’t cite him in the article, but his account may have further weighted my account in the direction of distanced objectivity.

But again: I have seen and heard enough since then from other eyewitnesses and from two videos on YouTube, apparently posted by Kate Mauldin, that I can say categorically: The accounts by her and Carol Chumney were and are entirely credible, and Chumney, a candidate for city mayor, is entirely within her rights, as I see it, to make what she wants to of the circumstance of ineffective police monitoring.

What, in retrospect, I probably should not have done was to include an account of the Tom Lee disturbance within the larger piece I was already working on concerning candidate Chumney’s prospects and problems in her mayoral race. I was influenced to do so by the fact that, rightly or wrongly and for a variety of reasons touched upon in “Candidate Chumnney’s Conundrum,” her candidacy has aroused a good deal of skepticism in the media — some of it published, more of it private — and that Chumney’s account of the Tom Lee incident might tend to be dismissed, as, for example, some specific criticism of hers regarding county mayor A C Wharton, a rival in the city mayor’s race, had unquestionably been.

I’ll say it again: On the basis of what I know now, what she said about Tom Lee Park on Sunday night deserves serious attention, and she is entitled to make of it what she will as a candidate.

It seems clear to me that Chumney — who, perhaps understandably, reacted negatively to the tenor of the article — seems to have identified me with the general media skepticism toward her candidacy that I was reporting on. It’s the old blame-the-messenger syndrome, though, again, she’s within her rights; sometimes messengers are more than a bit disingenuous and complicit and merit some blame.

I would, however, call her attention to this particular messenger’s climactic conclusion regarding Chumney’s critics: “The fact is, prejudging candidates and their motives is a dicey business. And prejudging the public’s ability to make up its own mind about questions of sincerity or relevance is even dicier.” I would suggest that she either failed to read the lines or misread them, but I acknowledge her right to conclude what she wants to about the article.

What she is not entitled to conclude, however, is that, as she has suggested in widely circulated emailed responses, there is gender bias in the article. Neither her gender nor that of any other candidate is dealt with, either explicitly or implicitly. Neither remotely nor directly. Period. I do not think her mayoral candidacy hinges in any way whatsoever on the fact of gender, nor should it — though she may, in her considerations of what she believes to be bloc voting, think otherwise. She should not, however, invoke the gender issue as a shield against criticism in general — or, if she does, she is surely obliged to cite the offending chapter and verse.

Enough. We start afresh. There is much to admire in Carol Chumney’s mayoral candidacy — not least her determination to forge ahead in the face of odds that would prove daunting to almost anybody else. She insists that she wants to make a difference, and maybe she can. To my mind, she already has — a case in point being her observations about Sunday night at Tom Lee Park.

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