Mitchell’s Lame Excuse for Information Blackout [OPINION]
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell's love/hate relationship with the media took an interesting twist this week when His Honor chose to defend what appears to have been a media blackout on information related to the shooting of a child outside of Temple Landing.
The shooting occurred between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Monday, but it was not until 10:40 a.m. the following day that WBSM News received a response to multiple requests for information about the incident. That response came in the form of an email consisting of no more than two sentences. That is unacceptable.
The people of the City of New Bedford have a right to information in a concise and timely manner. The Administration and the New Bedford Police have an obligation to meet that expectation.
Mayor Mitchell appeared on my program on Wednesday and defended the decision to ignore media inquiries about the shooting. The mayor seemed to suggest that even telling WBSM News how many shooting victims there were or whether it was a random act of violence would somehow compromise the investigation going forward. Bull.
Temple Landing and the surrounding area has been a hotbed for violence and gang activity for years. Residents of that area have a right to know whether the shooting was targeted or if the neighborhood is under siege in an all-out gang war.
Mayor Mitchell has a competent public information officer in Jonathan Carvalho. The Police Department also employs a public information officer, Lt. Nathaniel Rodriguez. Mitchell appears to believe that a public information officer works a 9-5 shift and that the public should patiently wait until the next business day for critical information regarding their safety.
Since my return to the airwaves in New Bedford some three and a half years ago, it has become apparent that Mayor Mitchell is not a fan of bad news. We have mixed it up on the subject in the past and I suspect that we will again. Protecting New Bedford's public image is an honorable thing to do, but being upfront and honest with the citizenry is more important. The citizens know there are gang issues here and trying to pretend otherwise makes no sense.
In almost any other city of this size or greater, a police spokesman would have emerged with a press briefing or a statement within an hour of Monday's incident. That is unless there is an effort to minimize the incident or keep it quiet. Mitchell mocked WBSM News for getting to Temple Landing story wrong on Tuesday morning. That would not have happened had he and the police provided us with the correct information in time for the morning broadcast.
We understand completely that police cannot furnish the media with information that might truly jeopardize an investigation, but a simple acknowledgment of the incident and some basic facts such as how many people were actually shot or hurt in no way does that.
We strongly urge Mayor Jon Mitchell and the New Bedford Police Department to rethink their policies for disseminating information to the public through the news media. Information can be critical and might even result in leads to help solve these types of crimes. But the information has to be released in a concise and timely manner.
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.