LOCAL VOICES: Firefighter fires back at Register editorials

Adam F. Butler Sandusky firefighter In an Oct. 4 editorial, the Sandusky Register continued its inflammatory, unsubsta
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


Adam F. Butler

Sandusky firefighter

In an Oct. 4 editorial, the Sandusky Register continued its inflammatory, unsubstantiated rhetoric against the Sandusky Fire and Police departments, referring to public safety operating costs as a "three-ton gorilla."

Allow me to make another primate reference, namely those monkeys who try to get peoples' attention at the zoo by flinging their feces. Sure, it's sensational and memorable, but it's still feces. Unfortunately, the editorial primates at the Register seem similarly motivated. They sling it and wait to see where it sticks.

What's the motivation? One can only guess, but it's an inescapable fact that daily newspapers are experiencing an unprecedented decline. How better to work against that decline than to delve into sensationalism, to replace the drudgery of fact checking and corroboration with the sparkle of accusation, innuendo and an overall dumbing-down of the issues? This is a disservice to the readers and to the quality of the public policy discussion.

This is not a blanket condemnation of the paper. In fact I feel a certain empathy for those Register employees who do good work while shouldering the excesses of the editorial team.

Admittedly the Register editorial staff is fairly single-minded in clinging to its narrative about bloated bureaucracy and badge-wearing fat cats who bristle at any suggestion that they live more frugally. It's colorful and easy to digest, rather like a sugary cereal. However, the wags at the Register have done a curious change-up in supporting this narrative. The Oct. 4 editorial labeled the move by Fire Chief Meinzer to temporarily close a fire station as a "political move" and "irresponsible and unnecessary." Yet the paper proclaimed on August 16, "Close a fire station if need be." I ask these folks, do you ever read your old submissions before writing new ones?

(Editor's note: The Aug. 16 comment to which the author refers was part of a list we said city officials should examine before voters would, in our opinion, take seriously the claim the city had made a sincere effort to trim the budget. Also, our position on safety force costs has focused on administrative costs, as our staff editorials have made clear. The Oct. 4 editorial referred to the chief's decision to close the fire station when budget cuts were first discussed.)

Let us not forget that this is the same Sandusky Register that, in 2007, reached new depths in journalistic integrity by attempting to smear citizens who happened to legally own handguns. Then, as now, manufactured sensation seems to be the driving force at the paper.

Quite frankly, we are tired of hearing yellow journalists and cartoonists tell us how our department should be managed. We are professional firefighters, and we know what it takes to make our operation run efficiently. Over the past few years, we've all gotten doctorates in efficiency, given the many corners we've had to cut. The police and fire departments are responsible to the people of Sandusky through their elected representatives on the city commission. We are not responsible to the shrieks and moans emanating from a building that used to house a real newspaper.

Matt Westerhold, who seems to be the lead shrieker-moaner, has an interesting habit of using blue-sky thinking and conjecture to support his arguments for further cuts. On the other hand, members of my department have documented for the public the fact that we are answering more calls with less people than we did five years ago. We have pointed out the crucial connection between fire-safety capability and commercial insurance rates. We have shown, in the clearest of language, how further cutbacks in fire personnel will increase call-response times and increase the likelihood of loss of property and life. Westerhold calls these facts "elusive." I submit that they are only elusive to those who will not pay attention. Facts, after all, threaten the Register's narrative, so why let them get in the way? While I'm on the subject , adult male gorillas weigh between 300 and 500 pounds, not three tons. Is that another fact that the Register also finds elusive?