I am normally a great fan of the New York Times (NYT). But this weekend I’m sorry to say the NYT did a real hatchet job on Malibu and all of its citizenry. The gravamen of their charge is that we are a bunch of over rich, over privileged, uncaring and unfeeling elitists. Perhaps we all know one or two people in this town who fit that description, but overall I would say it is almost totally untrue.
First, a little Journalism 101 explanation of how a newspaper does a hatchet job — there are lots of tools at your disposal. First, you decide whether or not to do a story and then choose who will write it. Some stories are not worth doing unless you can make them sexy, and some reporters are factual but sometimes dull. Others just love raw meat and can turn an ordinary flower show into a blood feast. Once you’ve got the story written, the question is whom do you quote and, if you’re looking to make a point, it always helps if you find someone a little bit outrageous. Do you put the quote high up in the story, so it’s on the front page (assuming you’ve decided you want this to be on the front page), or do you bury it somewhere near the end of the article? Then you get to the most important part: The editor writes the headline and picks a photograph, in this case to run on the front page.
The thesis of the NYT is that we are splitting up our school district because the affluent Malibu parents selfishly don’t want to share our contributions to the PTA with all the other less affluent schools of the district. The print headline says it all — “Share PTA Aid? Some Parents Would Rather Split Up District”. Then, just in case you miss the message, there is a picture of two young, clean-cut very waspish looking Malibu kids of about 10 or 11 dancing very properly at arms length. About the only thing missing in the stereotype is the girl isn’t wearing white gloves and the boy a bow tie, both of which I assume is apparently now passé everywhere.
The question about what to do about PTA funds and how to divide them is a legitimate area of discussion and has perplexed many school districts, but that is not what this story was about. This was a story that started out with a thesis, and then set about finding the people to support that thesis, along with all sorts of good things the shared money was doing in the minority communities. Bottom line is — How could we be so selfish?
We have a story this week about a very nasty incident that happened in Western Malibu where some 12- and 13-year-olds allegedly threw some rocks at a disabled young man and his caretaker. There were some very nasty things said that may even put it into the hate crime category. Still, we shouldn’t rush to judgment. I started out defending some kids in juvenile court and it’s apparent that young kids sometimes do some very stupid and often nasty things. When you ask them why, they usually haven’t the faintest idea. As I think back, I did some pretty stupid things — in fact, there was a time when my mother’s hope was if I were lucky I would get a sympathetic probation officer. There is an occasional bad seed, but most kids smarten up and turn into decent human beings. It’s important we identify something when it happens and not just sweep it under the rug, but at the same time, we’re the adults and we have to stay level headed and avoid being unnecessarily punitive.
This week is both Passover and Easter. It’s a time when families gather, generations mix and we try to pass on friendship and love and a sense of being something larger than just ourselves. Our kids have to know they are part of a larger world and that we care about all of them, and they have an obligation to care about each other.
Happy holidays to all.