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Let's Fight Fair

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Dear editors:

As a not-for-profit institution dedicated to public-service broadcasting, Chicago Public Radio/WBEZ welcomes a constructive discussion of its music service. While we are proud of the music we present, we can always learn from those music lovers and musicians who offer advice about enriching what we currently do. As long as the debate concerns content, helping one of the country's best public radio stations become better, we embrace the most critical discussion. Reader columnist Peter Margasak approached the task this way in his critical view of our music service in a Reader article several weeks ago [April 14]. I disagree with Mr. Margasak on some items, and in his overall assertion that the titles we currently select are insubstantial. I think all of us are aware that there are other titles and artists that we could incorporate that would alter the scope of what is presented on our station. Nevertheless, we have no quarrel with his approach. In the end, it was balanced and thoughtful. Obviously, any listener can evaluate our service simply by tuning in.

Much of the follow-up in the letters column has extended this argument about musical styles and taste, but I am distressed at many of the letters you choose to print without a minimum of fact checking or thought about journalistic responsibility. I refer in particular to David Byrd's letter in your May 5 issue. In this letter, he wrote that he heard music director Chris Heim say on the air she was "cleaning house," writing that she "had the audacity to air her dirty laundry" on the night after music host Mark Ruffin left the station.

This is fiction. Yet, no one at the Reader contacted anyone at WBEZ to fact check this. Was it not investigated because, like all of us here at the station, the Reader editors could smell what Mr. Byrd was shoveling? If so, we ask as fellow journalists: why allow Mr. Byrd's fish story the authority of print?

At the end of his letter, Mr. Byrd gets bolder, suggesting, in a charming way, of course, that he kill Ms. Heim: "Perhaps I could personally take her on a boat ride to the middle of Lake Michigan and then make her take a very long walk on a very short plank." As journalists, we know that no discussion of merit can take place in an atmosphere of personal attack, of inciting and threatening language. Yet, again, the editors of the Reader found no need to trim that little bit out, just as they failed to trim the vulgarity that was used to describe a former station employee in an earlier letter.

Chicago Public Radio, as an institution, is accountable to the public, yes. But no station employee is an elected official. They are professionals whose production is a fusion of the talents of many broadcasters working as an ensemble. No matter how much one dislikes station hosts or producers or reporters, one cannot demand their resignations, or sign recall petitions, or run for office against them. One can listen or not listen. One can complain, or choose to be silent. One can support the station in spite of one's displeasure, or choose to withhold support because of it. Although the group of professionals who do this work may be disagreed with, I believe they never can be justly ridiculed in personal attack, or threatened.

There will be those who point out that every day folks happily fling about erroneous information, insults, and bomb formulas in Internet chat rooms. So why should the Reader be any different? The letters column is as freewheeling as those electronic spaces and everyone knows it's only opinion, right? But I submit that the thoughtful have come to understand that the Web can be a warehouse of inaccuracies and misguided emotions. Print still carries with it the credence of journalistic principles, of research and investigation. When we allow people whose information is erroneous to speak unchallenged and unverified, we give their misinformation weight. When we allow people to advocate physical harm, we give them a place in the spotlight.

This is worse than being asleep at the editorial wheel. This is consciously aiming the car at pedestrians.

Torey Malatia

President

Chicago Public Radio

WBEZ 91.5 FM

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