7.29.2005

Earth to Tom Mountain

Mission Control Houston: Earth to Major Tom ... Earth to Major Tom .... Come in, Major!

Major Tom: (Garbled Shouting)

Cape Canaveral: We just had him ... he was coming in so clear!

Mission Control: This happens almost every week ... clear as a bell one minute, then launches into deep space the next.

Cape Canaveral: (Sigh) Another trip to the lunatic fringe ...


Readers of the Newton Tab can probably figure out what I'm getting at: Tom Mountain's July 27 column, "Norman Swerling Deserves Better."

Swerling, as practically everyone in Newton now knows, was the Newton drivers education teacher who was accused of sexually assaulting one of his students. A week or so ago, he was found innocent of all charges. Now he is in a struggle with the city to get back his teaching job, and back pay while he on unpaid administrative leave from his job pending the outcome of the case.

Mountain's column points out that Swerling has been seriously wronged not only by the false charges of the case, but also by school administrators who are dragging their feet rehiring him, compensating him, and apologizing. Mountain argues these points quite well. But then, he delves into the issue of how Swerling's teenaged accuser should be treated, and goes completely off the deep end:

In early colonial times, such a lying accuser would have been dragged to the Newton town common, put on public display in the stocks, pelted with refuse by an angry public and then banished forever from the community.

If only that option were open to us now.


Say what!? When I saw this last line, at first I laughed, but then I paused -- this isn't tongue in cheek -- or at least it doesn't seem that way. Could Mountain be serious?

Maybe not, but the damage has already been done. It's a pity, because his column was lucid up to that point, and had a chance to win over some readers to his point of view.

And he has only himself to blame. As I pointed out in an earlier post, only a minority of Tom Mountain columns are good. The rest are flawed. Many bad Tom Mountain columns are based on bogus or poorly researched premises. Others some start out on solid footing but descend into ill-informed bombast, hyperbole, bigotry, or, like this example, tasteless comments.

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