An open letter to WTAE


We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from residents who were very unhappy about the July 15 WTAE report about the Immaculate Heart of Mary school. An article in the City Paper went some ways towards debunking this report; but we also felt that the PHCA should respond. Below is our letter to WTAE. We’ll let you know what, if anything, comes of this.

Alex Bongiorno
News Director, WTAE-TV
400 Ardmore Blvd.
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15221

July 31, 2009

Dear Alex,

On July 15, WTAE broadcast a report about the Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Polish Hill that was not based on evidence or facts. Many people in our community were concerned and upset by this report, which strongly implied that the IHM School was being used as a training location for G-20 protesters.

WTAE reporter Shannon Perrine called our organization on July 15 and asked President Terry Doloughty about a trespassing incident that occurred at the school a month earlier. He informed her that some of her information was incorrect. She and a crew came to Polish Hill and interviewed Mr. Doloughty later that day. In the course of that interview, he spoke about some recent burglaries in the neighborhood and the need for residents to keep vigilant. His remarks were taken out of context and used in a way that suggested he was talking about G-20 protesters who might come to Polish Hill. His comments were not related to G-20 protesters or the trespassing at the school.

In particular, implications of events happening at the school resulted in a story that was not based on facts. The language used was vague but implied serious concerns over an incident that proved to be nothing more than six people trespassing. Here is one example from the article:

“Pittsburgh police said it serves as a warning, noting that, in past G-20 summits, protesters have used vacant buildings to train for demonstrations. The building in this case is the former Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School, which sits empty in Pittsburgh’s Polish Hill neighborhood.”

These words clearly imply that G-20 protesters are currently training for demonstrations in the school—which is false, as Mr. Doloughty told Ms. Perrine.

In addition, we are concerned about your handling of comments after the story was aired. When residents attempted to comment on the story on your website; they frequently were unable to register; people who were able to register on one visit found that their registration had been erased when they tried again. And after several days, the comments were removed (a few new comments have since appeared).

Our organization has worked hard to create connections between longtime residents and new residents who are choosing to invest, settle, open businesses, and raise children here in our neighborhood. We have been very successful at community building in our diverse population. Now, some of our residents are frightened, and others feel targeted. We’ve spent a lot of time addressing the rumors that have spread as a result of this report.

We feel the story misrepresents our neighborhood, and we are concerned that it might lead to other problems in the weeks leading up to the G-20 summit. The police have already begun focusing on specific residents based on their appearance, though these residents are law-abiding, generous and thoughtful home-owners.

We believe that the news media should serve the public, but this report did not serve any purpose. We are disappointed that WTAE choose to produce and air this story. Our residents and your viewers have expressed their concerns to the Polish Hill Civic Association. As the voice of our neighborhood we have been asked to respond on behalf of our residents.

In good faith we have three requests: an apology for the misuse of Terry Doloughty’s remarks; an on-air correction to your story, and the promise to not remove current and future comments related to this story from your website.

I would be happy to speak with you about this at any time.

Terry Doloughty
President, Board of Directors
Polish Hill Civic Association