Over the past three days, Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, has made a number of statements about a story I wrote for Philadelphia Weekly this week. The story was about a secretive and potentially illegal investigation of employees in the City Controller’s Office after a sexually explicit note was found on a bathroom door.
On Twitter and Facebook, Mr. Segal repeatedly referred to the story as homophobic, and by extension the entire newspaper as well. He said the paper is “kicking Tyler Clementi,” a gay teen who committed suicide two years ago as a result of anti-gay bullying. Mr. Segal also compared the note on the door to rape. He stated that Philadelphia Weekly is “supporting hate crimes.” He deleted several comments on his Facebook page left by people who questioned his assertions.
Mr. Segal’s accusations are offensive and defamatory, and his motives are highly suspect.
To exploit the Clementi tragedy as a means to excuse gross abuses of power by public officials is beyond sickening and extraordinarily disrespectful to the Clementi family. To equate words on a bathroom stall to rape is shameful.
The story is not about vulnerable, bullied teenagers. The story is about very powerful men, among the most influential behind-the-scenes operatives in the city who have deep connections to other government agencies as well as a number of media outlets. Their relationship and sexual orientation are of no relevance other than the inherent conflict of interest in a chief deputy city controller’s partner receiving lucrative contracts from the controller’s office.
I don’t know if a hate crime occurred. I would defer to the police and court system to make that judgment. However, since the police were never notified of any crime, it’s difficult to say that even the controller’s office believes that an actual crime was committed. When I was in elementary school and people wrote offensive comments on bathroom stalls, the school erased the writing without launching private investigations that cost an undisclosed amount of taxpayer dollars ($8500 now, according to other reports).
Mr. Segal wondered if we asked the controller’s office if other incidents like the bathroom writing had ever occurred, accusing the paper of “bad journalism.” The office issued a blanket no comment to my request for verification of the events and refused to answer any questions.
It’s worth noting that my column in the “homophobic” Philadelphia Weekly ran on the facing page of a story by Tara Murtha calling for state protections for victims of gay hate crimes.
Certainly Mr. Segal is familiar with basic ethics that would demand he disclose any social, professional, personal or financial relationships with Mr. Rice, Mr. O’Rourke and/ or Mr. Butkovitz if he is going to make such inflammatory comments on the situation, given his reach and status as the publisher of a newspaper.
Any such connections would be extremely relevant, considering that through his statements Mr. Segal gives the impression that he is operating as a de facto PR consultant for the controller’s office, desperately and pathetically trying to spin a story about abuse of power into something totally different.
It’s very curious that a formerly respected civil rights pioneer would so cavalierly disregard what appear to be blatant violations of the civil rights of the controller’s employees under investigation.
I would hope the city has come far enough that we can expose corrupt officials gone mad with power without fear or favor, regardless of their sexual orientation.