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A Weekly Media Criticism from The Shoestring

In a new weekly media column, The Shoestring will reflect on recent local news.

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Civility vs. Human Rights

The Gazette reported on “listening sessions” being held this week in honor of the international day of human rights. The sessions held throughout the city this week are a collaboration between Northampton Connects (see our feature length piece) and the Northampton Human Rights Commission. Staff reporter Bera Dunau doesn’t mention the origin story of Northampton Connects or the controversy and current priorities of the Human Rights Commission in his piece.

According to its founders, Northampton Connects was founded in response to the “polarizing tone evident in some of the debate” surrounding Chief Kasper’s push to install surveillance cameras last year. Although much of self-branding of the organization purports to be about community dialogue rooted in civility and respect, the founders openly admit in a Gazette column that they founded the organization, at least partially, because business owners “sometimes [felt] misunderstood and targeted” by the camera debate.

The Northampton Human Rights Commission, for its part, changed its mission after two members stepped down in 2016 when Mayor David Narkewicz and City Solicitor Alan Sewald advised the commission to not lend support to Hotel Northampton workers’ efforts to unionize. It is worth noting that according to Article 23 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights that “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” But the HRC has since pivoted, introducing a “Civility Pledge in honor of International Human Rights Day in an effort to encourage people to approach each other with civility in all interactions,” according to a press release promoting the listening sessions.

By giving a lackluster portrait in parties involved, The Gazette doesn’t give enough information for people to make up their own minds about whether civility is a potent enough weapon to stand up for human rights. –WM

Word Salad

In his article on Mayor Narkewicz’ decision to cancel Chief Kasper’s planned trip to Israel, Dusty Christensen, published the following quote from Mayor Narkewicz in the Gazette,

We were not making a statement pro- or anti-Israel, or pro- or anti-ADL, or pro- or anti-Jewish Voice for Peace,” Narkewicz said.

Christensen’s piece continues, “After hearing a range of different opinions on the trip, including some who thought it was unfair to single out Israel for such criticism, Narkewicz said he and Kasper came to the decision that canceling the trip was best for the city.”

Printing Narkewicz’ quote as if it makes any sense and without acknowledging that our Mayor declined to answer WHY he and Kasper cancelled the trip normalizes the all too frequent word salads spoken by politicians in response to questions they don’t actually want to answer. The question remains: Why did Narkewicz and Kasper cancel the trip? – JM

Another Day, Another Israel Junket

Continuing with the local-public-figure-recruited-to-go-to-Israel-for-“cultural exchange” theme, staff writer Luis Fieldman reported this Thursday in the Gazette that Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle is currently smack dab in the middle of her very own 10-day tour of Israel. Kudos to the Gazette and MassLive for making this a news story at all—before Wednesday the only available coverage of this trip was LaChapelle’s Mayoral Facebook—but no kudos for whiffing completely when it came to asking tough questions.

Chief amongst those questions: why Israel? Though these articles do talk of “best practices,” learning from entrepreneurs and business leaders, and even a truly bizarre equivalency between the infrastructure needs of Israel and Easthampton after River Valley Co-op’s expansion into the small city, there is no clear answer to this question. But even more curious than what is included in these articles is what is excluded. The Gazette’s coverage was particularly superficial, omitting any mention of the words “Palestine”, “conflict”, “occupation” or “colonization” from the entirety of its 600 words.

Also omitted was the fact that LaChapelle spent December 10th, Human Rights Day, in Israel and retweeted a post from the Twitter account of U.N. Human Rights; this despite the fact that the actual U.N. Human Rights Council has condemned Israel more times than the rest of the nations in the world combined. Perhaps she feels the Tweet offsets the approval connoted by her trip.

This is a political trip. By excluding even basic political analysis in coverage of this trip, the media shirked its duty to provide information within a meaningful, human context. While the editors of larger local news outlets and the public officials that grace their pages may feel Israel’s ongoing human rights atrocities (including the jailing of children, violent repression of dissent, and well-known occupation and colonization) are an impertinent detail in this story, large portions of their constituencies may disagree with this assessment. — HG

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Will Meyer , Harrison Greene, and Jules Marsh are co-editors of The Shoestring.

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