Can You Speak in Baby Talk?
The Montgomery County Commissioners' meeting on Wednesday got infantile.
"Can you speak in baby talk?"
These words were uttered by a reporter of a large metropolitan newspaper at the Montgomery County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday. I had visions of the E-Trade baby giving a report on the county's 911 radio system.
The baby-talk question was asked in response to a report of a county engineer who is working on the emergency radio system in Montgomery County.
In terms even a newspaper reporter can understand – Montgomery County has a problem with its radio system.
It is old. It is so old the manufacturer does not make the parts to keep it running anymore. The concern is the backup systems may not be stable enough to carry the load for an extended period of time.
As an IT consultant, I know it is a dangerous situation for any company to run with equipment for which you cannot easily get replacement parts. This puts any company at risk.
With county emergency services – we are talking 911 here – it means people’s lives are at risk.
I know this not because I have special superhuman powers of deduction and my x-ray vision reaches through the internet (you have nice cheekbones), but because I have attended other Montgomery County Commissioner meetings as well as my township meetings where this has been discussed and reported on.
This issue has been discussed since the beginning of the year. Today was at least the second time nearly every police department sent a representative to the county commissioners meeting to get the commissioners to act. (And they did act – please refer to David Powell’s story for the real detail.)
It is not the first time I have been to a country commissioners meeting where a reporter asks questions with no knowledge of the issue and does not have the facilities to receive a response. Had this reporter been prepared for the meeting by reading up on this issue or maybe some of the technical aspects of the difference between an analog or digital radio system she would have been able to at least have some understanding of what the engineers are presenting and why.
These county employees are more than happy to talk off-line to give a reporter – or for that matter any citizen – an idea of what they are doing. These are people who are proud of the job they do.
(During the meeting my mind kept drifting back to the Baby Talk comment. I imagined a disco ball descending from the ceiling of the board room with Barry White music being turned up and the three commissioners dressed in Hugh Heffner bathrobes going up to the reporters and… Oh, sorry.)
It is not the first time a print reporter has sat in the front of the room and drove the entire proceedings to a screeching halt with comments that don’t make sense.
For instance, in another exchange with the country employee, the large metropolitan reporter questioned the engineer’s honesty. Almost immediately Chairman Matthews jumped to the defense of the county employee stating in no uncertain terms that the reporter could not question the honesty of the employee. The reporter responded with a curt – “That’s my job.”
I started thinking about her job, as I am also "reporting" on the proceedings. I am a little different since I am writing opinion or analysis, but I want it based in facts. So I go to these meetings and ask a question or two also – sometimes as a citizen and sometimes as a columnist. One of the great things about the time we live in is that you can actually see which reporters are doing a good job because the county broadcasts the meeting on cable systems. You can compare what they write to what actually happens at these meetings.
The way this reporter is doing her job is hurting all of us. At what point are we allowed to turn on the people who serve us? For what reason would the guy who is trying to get the best emergency service system for all of us do something stupid with the measure of respect we give to everyone? Do we go up to the guy putting the lettuce out in the local supermarket and question his integrity to his face? What gives reporters this inflated sense of self that they can bully people around with nothing to back them up?
Look, if the reporter has proof of something that is one thing, but do you really think if a guy is on the take he is going to whither from a question from someone who is sitting in a public commissioners meeting asking for things to be translated into baby talk?
(Sorry, I just had a vision of Bruce Castor handing pacifiers to the reporters.)
Later in the meeting another reporter from a much smaller newspaper worked her magic. She accused the chairman of the commissioners of political grandstanding after the chairman spent about a minute singing praises to a high level employee who did a really good job on an unpopular issue. The employee took a lot of heat with grace during the summer and accepted his boss’ praise with class.
The reporter – not to see anything nice done – accused the board of playing some sort of election year games by passing a resolution saying some employees are doing a good job. She said they have never done this before, at which point the chief of staff produced papers showing that the commissioners did the exact same thing last year.
Here's the irony – the reporter in question attends all the meetings and obviously cannot recall what happens at them – even AFTER furnished with proof. There is something lacking in a person when they make an accusation, are shown proof the accusation is false, and then keeps on going without a blushed face or apology. Talk about being somewhere but not being there.
We have a lot of problems in this country. Yes, trust in the government is one of them, but unprepared newspaper reporters abusing those who serve us – with no proof of malfeasance – may be part of the reason we are paranoid of both the government and the media.
(Darn it – now i have Paul Anka's version of "Having My Baby" repeating in my head.)