Blog Speech Under Fire

The curious tale of Lynne and Mary Jo... - promoted by david

I doubt most of you regularly read my blog (or the Lowell Sun) unless you like to be bogged down in mundane local political details (in the case of my blog) or drive yourself batsh*t insane (in the case of the Lowell Sun). But if you haven’t read either this week, you’ll have missed a dramatic saga, one that personally and intimately involves me.

The gist: I made this comment on a post from my coblogger about the sitting superintendent of our regional vocational high school, Mary Jo Santoro, in reference to her recent “gender-bias harassment” accusation against School Committee member Erik Gitschier who had been trying to question her about subjects like missing money and other things in his role as her boss:

I admit to not knowing (or having paid attention to) all the details of this crazy ass “harassment” stuff. But I smell bullshit. And if someone – a person in LEADERSHIP – calls wolf on harassment like this, I want her head on a platter. Women have it tough enough without assholes using it as a political tool, making a legitimate harassment claim harder to believe.

Seriously, if this is what I believe it to be, it’s absolutely disgusting, and totally unethical, and she should be hung for it.

The context of the complaint against Gitschier is that she, having made the accusation publicly, has 300 days to file, which coincidentally takes her past the debate and renewable (if there is one) of her contract next year. There are few people on that committee willing to do real oversight; in fact, it’s a cozy little nest of what appears to be rank graft and nepotism, with many Committee members having family who have been hired under the previous Cassin administration (which may have continued under Santoro, I’m not as clear on that). Mary Jo Santoro was his underling and handpicked successor, edging out a really qualified outside candidate whose interview was vastly better than hers.

All that is background to this week. Mary Jo Santoro has made a threat complaint – with police in Tyngsboro – against me, for that comment. As in, she is claiming I am personally threatening her with the commentary.

Why would this be happening when, it’s very plain that under law and judicial precedence, the comment is protected First Amendment political hyperbole? And of course never mind the fact that it’s obvious to anyone who reads it that not one word is meant actually and physically, but as metaphor for accountability – conditional accountability at that, as it is not a direct accusation.

Well, my coblogger Jack has been hammering away in a rash of posts about the abuses we think are happening, using – gasp – facts and figures to question what is going on there. Also, though I can’t be certain, this smells very heavily of a particular former member of the School Board who blames me for his election loss years ago, probably rightfully so. Mike Hayden can’t really stomach the fact I’m still blogging, I think he’s got a very unhealthy obsession with me. Oh, all politics are local…

Why am I posting about this here? Well, though the details may not be of interest to many folks, this has a lot of implications for bloggers, and online commenters, everywhere. The only reason I can come up with for her drastic (and I believe, deliberate) misreading of my comment into some sort of physical threat against her, is to intimidate and silence me, and by extension, Jack, for daring to speak out and question her tenure as a public employee in a leadership position at our public, taxpayer-funded regional vocational high school.

I’ve learned a lot about the law governing this particular incident…indeed I have had something of a crash course…and what I learned is useful knowledge for people who may face similar attacks against them in their own commentary. (The previously linked blog post covers a lot of legal bases, and is worth a read for that reason.)

The most important thing I’ve learned, however, is that to be a brave and honest writer is to face some dangers. The accusation will likely go no where (the Sun reports it’s been forwarded to the DA, who I expect will laugh at it and file it in a drawer). According to the Sun, though:

“She, more than anything else, wanted it documented, what was going on,” Howe said of Santoro.

Right, documented so it could make news at the Sun, so it could harm my reputation and undermine my credibility.

A funny thing happened along the way though. Anyone who already isn’t a supporter of hers has a chance to read my words, and also read her complaint and her words. They can come to their own conclusions. And by and large, the conclusion is that this is an insane accusation meant to chill open and free discussion.

I write from my heart, and from a place of honesty. I sometimes use colorful metaphor and even Maher- or Stewart-like sarcasm (though I am no where near as funny). I’m not afraid to pit my words against hers, because I can stand behind my work and my motivations. A person who cannot stand behind theirs will often strike out blindly and defensively – but to become so defensive means you have something needing defense, that cannot defend itself with its own truth and integrity.

It pays to be careful, but it does not pay to be silent.

In honor of the new Lincoln movie, which I just came home from (you should go see it):

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
– Abraham Lincoln


16 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I just realized

    that the timestamp on this post is 11/23 at 11:23pm. Double happy birthday to me I guess! (Yes, on top of major legal draaaaama this week, and hosting a total of 17 people at my home for Thanksgiving with all that entails, it’s also my freaking BIRTHday.)

  2. I can't imagine this complaint going anywhere.

    I have been reading this some on LiL, and I never did understand the harassment complaint either. This superintendent just sounds vindictive generally. She seems to formally complain about anyone in any capacity who dares criticize her. Lynne’s comment is no different than someone saying that heads should roll, a metaphor used all the time in the context of accountability though literally conjures up images of beheading.

  3. The best defense ...

    I hate trite sports metaphors (and nearly all are trite), but I think this calls for one:
    The best defense is a good offense

    Perhaps it’s time for the various communities represented here to launch a massive reality-based expose of the personalities behind this absurd attack (because that’s what it is — personal vendettas launched by small-town cowards accustomed to bullying their way through life).

    This smells of dirt and filth — “documenting” the truth about Ms. Santoro her cronies is precisely what should happen.

  4. Metaphor Considered Harmful

    Leaving the (apparently baseless and vindictive) legal complaint aside for the moment, the passage in question

    it’s absolutely disgusting, and totally unethical, and she should be hung for it.

    illustrates a writing issue that future bloggers might find worth keeping in mind. “Hung” is a violent image, a distraction at best. You’ve already used a stale metaphor (head rolling), and this one mixes the metaphor.

    All of which would be beside the point if the image were strong. But simply saying what I think you mean, in this case, has even stronger impact:

    it’s absolutely disgusting, and totally unethical, and she should be fired for it.

    Substitute “impeached”, “recalled”, or “indicted” as circumstances warrant. Either way, you’re recommending an actual action, a political goal toward which the reader can work, where the metaphor expresses discontent.

    Blogging is hard! And it’s easy to sit back on a winter evening and edit someone else’s prose long after the dust has settled. I’ve been interested in blogging for years, and this is a nice example of the great strength of simple writing in a subject clogged with metaphor.

  5. '"The curious tale of Lynne and Mary Jo..."

    Sounds like the beginning of some sort of song…

    Or maybe a poem about hobbits?

  6. Lynne, two pieces of advice

    because I believe that you are a real influence on positive change in Lowell.

    1. STFU. Don’t sound like you’re whining, whinging, or otherwise complaining. It ain’t beanbag.
    2. Keep on this like nobody’s business. Keep writing about it, with care and enthusiasm. Keep pushing for more transparency. Encourage the Sun, the Globe, the Herald, any newspaper to get on it and stay on it. She’s got nothing, you know it. Keep spilling the digital ink all over it.

    • Oh no,

      quite the contrary, I’m quite amused and striking a funny tone about the whole thing. I even got a running gag out of it. Every time I write some sort of euphemism, I put in a parenthetical.

      Tomorrow should be fun, I get to be on local radio.

      RE the Sun, I know it’s already hopeless. LOL.

  7. One of the best things about your

    your blog is that it will be on the internet for perpetuity and available to blogging is that anyone who might employ the superintendent in the future can find your work.

    When I did my own blog, I got a phone call from a sleazy developer who bilked a neighboring town of several hundred thousand dollars. I did a post using lots of details from a local newspaper with thorough linking. The guy actually called me from Florida asking me to take it down because it was coming up when people googled him. He lost at least one job because of my post. I actually felt bad for him, but then he threatened me with a libel suit, and I hung up.

    • Yeah

      it seems like a REALLY bad idea to throw out accusations of threat against a public blogger which literally looks like total BS.

      However, if Ms Santoro leaves, it’ll be to retire on her fat and generous pension, anyway.

      You should see what the previous admin got in salary and what sort of raises and stuff he got. This woman is his handpicked successor.

      There’s a huge amount of graft and nepotism – it’s not secret that the place there has been stacked with hires of Committee members’ families and friends. The whole place is like a poster child for government gone bad.

      Yet the school seems to get decent results. Of course, those numbers are highly skewed, since the school is able to kick out troublemakers partway through the initial semester and pick and choose students to go there because there’s a lot who want to, as I understand it, anyway.

      • Educational administration

        is in a tough state at the moment.

        There are not a lot of people applying for these jobs, and they are difficult enough politically and technically that you get a lot of people who are articulate and incompetent, extremely overconfident, or just plain out scamming. The money attracts a lot of people though.

        This hasn’t been my personal experience with administrators, but I’ve seen it in the pools of interviewees and in hiring and firing in other local school systems.

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