June 8, 2000
All the News
It all began when Times columnist Al Martinez wrote a column about the events at the Pacific Palisades high school. For those of you unfamiliar with the brouhaha, a number of students took it upon themselves to publish an underground paper for no other purpose than to attack some teachers they disliked. In the course of five issues, they accused their targets of being prostitutes and pedophiles. When they promised to print the addresses and phone numbers of the teachers in an upcoming edition, the administration finally stepped in. They suspended 10 students, as I understand it, and transferred the two ringleaders.In his piece, Martinez accused the grown-ups of over-reacting. He felt that a case could be made for both sides, and wrote that, as usual, the truth was to be found someplace between the two opposing factions.Having known Martinez for a few years, I felt justified in writing him a "Dear Al" letter, addressed to his home. In it, I suggested that the students (and their parents) had gotten off lightly. The combination of blatant lies and obvious malice would make them all quite vulnerable to lawsuits, the laws of libel being what they are.
As for the statement that the truth, as usual, was to be found lurking somewhere between the two sides, I found it wholly ingenuous. I gave Martinez the benefit of the doubt, stating in my note that I didn't believe he believed that the truth was invariably subject to compromise. After all, carried to its logical extreme, it would mean that the truth was to be found somewhere between those who claimed that 6 million Jews were murdered by Hitler and those who insist the Holocaust never occurred.
Well, imagine my surprise the following week when I opened the Sunday times and read in Martinez's column the following rebuttal: "One writer, in a stretch beyond belief, challenged my assumption that the truth of the situation lay somewhere between the antagonistic factions. He wrote, 'You might as well suggest that the truth lies somewhere between those who believe the Holocaust occurred and those who claim that no Jews were gassed in the ovens.'
"I didn't even bother to respond."
It's true, he didn't respond. What's false is that during the course of the week, he saw fit to alter what he had originally written. The truth "as usual" was transformed into the truth "of the situation."
Had Martinez written that line in the first place, I would have still disagreed with him, as I don't believe that being transferred to a new school is too harsh a penalty for falsely accusing someone of being a child molester. But I would never have brought up the Holocaust to make my point.
It's true that Martinez refrained from identifying me in print. He simply set me up as a straw man whom he could easily and self-righteously knock down. But I have to suspect that, in conversation, he identified me to any number of people.
In case you're wondering, I wrote a letter to the editor and one to Al Martinez, but they both chose to ignore my response.
None of us can take comfort in knowing that revisionism is alive and flourishing at Second and Spring.
Burt Prelutsky has written for The New York Times and numerous magazines. A noted writer for television, he has written scripts for TV series including "Diagnosis: Murder" and "MASH."