Thursday, January 08, 2009

Chestnut Hill Yokels

The following letter to the Chestnut Hill Local was killed by the editor.

Since I've spoken to a lot of puzzled Local readers, unable to decipher what last week's opaque front page "story" on Jimmy Pack's firing was about -- the editor saw fit only to say that since it was accomplished at an executive session which is closed to the public, he could only characterize the charges against his old friend -- I'd like to shed some light.

The reasons for getting rid of Jimmy hark back to a list of complaints about his "inappropriate" remarks over the past six years to various CHCA officers. These had to do with working conditions, and later, restrictive changes being forced on the Local: it could no longer run pieces by Ed Feldman and Jim Foster very often for ex. -- they were too "negative" and "critical" -- and so could only appear at five week intervals (!). Naming names was to be de-emphasized, in order to cut down "nastiness" and "negativity", too -- though what names have to do with those qualities beats me. Only "positive" stories about how well shops along Germantown Avenue were doing (!), and booster comments about upcoming civic events, were really welcome.

Pack, who is a bit of a drama queen at times, would point out that such restrictions were Kafka-esque, and Orwellian: "The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech in the press!" he'd yell at some lumpen-technocrat, more interested in top-down power lines than journalism. A careful list of his infractions was kept over time, the way high school social committee girls do when accreting evidence for "most popular" lists . . .

The actual thing that got him fired though were his remarks to board member Rob Remus after a meeting Nov. 20th, in which Remus, representing an ad hoc committee critical of the Local's financial performance, had proposed some draconian measures to correct the situation -- like cutting ad staff commissions in half, eliminating a production department position (which it accomplished by sacking Pack), and trying to sell national and regional ads in the Local(!). "Way to go!" Pack alleges he told Remus, and then, again allegedly, maintains that Remus made some brutal, anti-homosexual remarks to him. Which Remus denies.

Remus reportedly aired his side of the affair to Dina Hitchcock, VP of Operations for the CHCA, and she, one of the recipients of Pack's blats in earlier years, quickly got the ball rolling to broom Jimmy -- he admits to having called her "a witch." This was accomplished Dec. 18th, without having heard Pack's side -- he was on vacation with his family in Connecticut, having skipped his summer break, and according to Hitchcock, she couldn't find his number.

But an attendee at the executive session that voted to fire Pack Dec. 18th, maintains that the execs agreed on the importance of keeping the Remus incident quiet. Any allusion to alleged prejudice or physical threats would play badly as positive PR on the Avenue.

Why the editor of this paper, who has gone along with most anti-free press rules imposed on the Local since his arrival 2 1/2 years ago, agreed to print such a bloodless, four paragraph bulletin from CHCA Central instead of a real story, is a matter of economics, I'm sure. He has two kids, a house and a wife to support.

But he was rough on his old friend, and even preceded my op ed piece of Jan. 1, 2009, protesting Jimmy's firing, with an editor's note proclaiming: "Rob Remus has denied making comments to Jimmy Pack that called his sexuality into question, see page 1."

Editor's notes customarily come at the end of letters or op ed pieces, columns or stories, so as not to signal to readers in advance that he doesn't credit what's to follow. And that was the agreement I had with Mr. Mazzaccaro.

John Lombardi
Cherry Hill, N.J.

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