Imagine what would have happened if the bully from A Christmas Story had been given a newspaper. We’d probably all be reading petulant op-eds comparing Ralphie to a terrorist while his buddy Grover Dill and other like-minded people filled the letters section with ill-reasoned personal attacks and threats, demanding to know, what’s Ralphie’s angle? Does Ralphie have a financial stake in bringing down bullies? Is he aware the bully was, in fact, older than himself, making him an abuser of the elderly? And what the hell’s the deal with that Free Willy movie, while we’re at it? The whale’s tank had more than 18 inches of water, so why are all these stupid people rooting for the whale to find a better life? And how many times do we have to call that little kid a terrorist before the title sticks?
This premise might seem absurd, if you’re one of the 95% of the county population that neither reads nor is aware of the existence of, The Bay News. But for those of you familiar with the newspaper whose managing editor ran for Morro Bay mayor in 2010 while continuing to cover city politics in the newspaper, the bully from A Christmas Story is a pretty apt metaphor, even if it does disservice to the reputation of nine-year-old Scut Farkus, who we can at least assume would probably outgrow his childish behavior. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to run for public office while continuing to cover local politics, but I have these people called editors who expect that we all abide by these things called ethics. It’s a total downer, and I commend Neil Farrell for finding a gig at a paper with no oversight.
This is where I would usually refer to a lengthy list of Farrell’s quotes proselytizing for the old guard, but that’s impossible on account of the fact that the public doesn’t have access to old editions of The Bay News. Don’t misunderstand me: it’s absolutely for the best that Farrell’s words are here today, gone tomorrow, but it does make it somewhat difficult to hold the managing editor accountable for his rants, biases, and well, let’s just call them adventures in so-called reporting.
Fortunately, we do have a series of letters illustrating Farrell’s attempt to bully the activists protesting outside the Morro Bay Aquarium. And apparently Farrell’s attitude is catching on, based on a letter by one Tony Ventimiglio who attacked the protestors by implying they have some secret financial interest in the aquarium’s downfall. Because people don’t really care about an animal’s welfare unless they can somehow used that interest as a meal ticket. Wait a minute, that’s exactly what the Tylers have done, turning a supposed “rehabilitation” facility into an income.
But it’s Ventimiglio’s last paragraph in which he temporarily borrows Farrell’s bully torch to great effect: “Perhaps I should organize protests outside of your classroom to bring attention to your false allegations and incendiary tactics used against the owners/ operators of the Aquarium. Maybe then you would understand the terror that you are inflicting on business owners that are aged 89+. Pretty fine example of elder abuse if you ask me.”
Point the first: referring to peaceful protest as an act of terror is about the biggest load of horseshit I’ve encountered since the Budweiser Clydesdales traipsed through my front lawn. And if the portly Ventimiglio is planning on waving an American flag and shotgunning a 12-pack of Oscar Meyer hot dogs this 4th of July, he’d do well to remember that this country’s freedom was founded on an act of protest, and it wasn’t peaceful. Maybe he’d like to call the American revolutionaries terrorists and call up the crown to back up his opinion. Ventimiglio’s argument seems to go: The Tylers are so old we should let them do whatever they want, however inhumane or neglectful. Which reminds me, I need to make plans to retire in Morro Bay, where I’ll apparently be allowed to do whatever the hell I want on the grounds that I’m old and if someone disagrees it’s an act of terrorism and/ or elder abuse.
Then there’s Farrell’s condescending letter to one of the protestors in which he defends Ventimilgio’s use of the word “terror” by saying, “Just as it’s not up to you to decide whether what you say is offensive, it’s not up to you to decide whether your actions are ‘terrorizing’ someone else. That is for the targets of your criticisms and your protestations to decide, not you.”
In a letter to another dissenter Farrell admitted that the aquarium “is sad” but went on to express his unwillingness “to join with people I consider obsessed extremists and quite frankly a little dangerous.”
Spoken like a true bully. And that’s the heart of my beef with Neil Farrell. He has taken what was intended to be a noble profession—comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable—and mangled it into a soapbox for the status quo, a weapon for the good old boys and the old guard against anything and anyone progressive or new. And because of this, no one who dissents with his views—which are abundantly clear despite his supposed responsibility as a reporter to fairly capture both sides of an issue—will ever get a fair shake in his so-called paper.
Toward the end of the patronizing rant, Farrell states “I prefer to take the high road,” in what I can only assume is an attempt at levity. Because the high road does not involve hurling insults at peaceful protestors because you happen to like the people who own the business they’re protesting. Nor does it involve childishly taking pot shots at the new Morro Bay city council because you ran out of Metamucil this morning and change makes you wary.
Shredder bullies bullies. Send challenges to firstname.lastname@example.org.