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The Times‘s “apology” (?) for their Voices In Conflict article April 19, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Drama in Wilton, Legit, Theater.

In an op-ed piece in the April 5 issue of the Wilton Bulletin, Barbara Alessi, whose objections led to the cancellation of Voices In Conflict, attacked Theater Arts teacher Bonnie Dickinson on the grounds that, among other things, Dickinson lied to the New York Times about her daughter’s involvement in the matter. In yesterday’s edition, the Times indirectly responded to Alessi’s charges about the accuracy of Alison’s Leigh Cowan’s original article.

Yesterday’s Times correction read as follows:

An article on March 24 reported on a decision at a high school in Wilton, Conn., to cancel a play about the war in Iraq. It also discussed the involvement of Gabby Alessi-Friedlander, a junior, whose brother is serving in Iraq.

The article paraphrased other students as saying that Gabby had “circulated drafts of the script to parents and others in town.” But The Times did not interview anyone who said he or she had received a copy of the script directly from Gabby, and it did not try to contact Gabby for a response. The article also paraphrased comments by Gabby’s mother, Barbara Alessi, who told a reporter that she knew nothing about the play or her daughter’s involvement, but she was not asked specifically about the circulation of the script.

In fairness, The Times should have sought a response from Gabby or her mother about the classmates’ comments, or omitted those statements. Contacted on Monday, Gabby told a reporter that she had never “distributed or circulated” any copies of the script.

In her April 5 Bulletin piece, Alessi alleged that

The New York Times, in writing, has stated to me that Ms. Dickinson made specific statements to the Times concerning my daughter by name. Activities that Ms Dickinson stated that she personally witnessed and ascribed to my child never happened. Why would a teacher make absolute incontrovertibly untrue statements about a student? Is there any other conclusion to draw than that this teacher sought, with specific intent, to publicly malign my daughter and impugn her good name? To this date, The New York Times is scrambling, post publication, to verify Ms. Dickinson’s claims. They will be unable. It was and remains without any factual merit.

Although the Wilton Villager has characterized the Times‘s April 18 correction as an “apology,” it seems more significant for what it left out than for what it says. The Times correction refers only to a single sentence from the March 24 article:

In March, students said, Gabby, the junior whose brother is serving in the Army in Iraq, said she wanted to join the production, and soon circulated drafts of the script to parents and others in town.

In its correction, the Times admits Cowan “paraphrased” the students’ accusation against Gabby, and that Cowan should have asked Gabby, and not just her mother, for a response. But at no point has the Times quoted Dickinson as making any accusations against either Alessi or her daughter – which is the substance of Alessi’s charges against Dickinson.

The Times further admits that Cowan published Alessi’s comment that she knew nothing of her daughter’s involvement, without asking Alessi if her daughter had circulated the script. But if Alessi had just told Cowan she knew nothing about Voices In Conflict, why would Cowan have followed up with a question implying the opposite? In short, I can’t imagine that Alessi is very happy with the Times‘s implicit refusal to substantiate her claims against Dickinson.

And of course all this is pretty much besides the point, which is that Alessi and her family are the only people who objected to the production of Voices in Conflict in advance of its cancellation by WHS principal Tim Canty. On the website set up by the Voices in Conflict students, the vituperation against the students and their teacher continues.

As the Theater Arts II students prepare for their off-Broadway debuts in June, as the administration’s review committee prepares their version of the play, and as Wilton bails out from the recent nor’easter, the deluge continues.

Here is another excellent column from Sarah Littman, posted on MyLeftNutmeg.

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1. CTPatriot - April 20, 2007

Jeff – did you happen to notice that the Voices in Conflict website has disappeared? Looks like the whole thing is gone and not just the guestbook. Interesting timing.

2. Jeff - April 20, 2007

I can’t say I’m surprised — ever since the Public Theater performance was announced it’s pretty much been a troll pit.

No real loss, I guess. My only regret was I didn’t get to ask the troll who called himself “WHD Alumn” if he really thought that Alumn was the singular of Alumni.

3. Jeff - April 21, 2007

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