Letter to the Editor

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Letters to the editor

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Andreas Fuhrmann / AP

A National Guard helicopter helps in the search for Tom Bennett on Mount Shasta last week.

During the aftermath of Tom Bennett's passing on Mount Shasta ("Climber tells of doomed descent," April 2), the media greatly added to the anguish and suffering of myself and Tom's family and friends through their eagerness to print or broadcast a story regardless of the accuracy of the facts or the appropriateness of the source.

When I first made it off the mountain, the only thing I had to share with reporters was that I would speak with them at a later time. I said that first I wanted to notify Tom's family and friends personally so that they didn't first hear about Tom's misfortune on the nightly news or the morning paper. I also wanted to make sure I didn't say anything in a way that might be insensitive to Tom's loved ones and wanted to wait until I could speak appropriately about Tom and Mount Shasta in regard to their feelings and privacy.

Reporters responded by making up their own story since I wouldn't share mine on their terms.

Although there were a lot of "bad apples" out there, The Chronicle's Justin Berton was willing to wait until I was ready to talk. He was willing to talk with me on my terms without making demands for details or photo/video for a sensational story. He was respectful and sincere in how he went about contacting me and writing the article. He focused on reporting the story accurately and on a personal level, rather than sensationalizing it.

In talking to reporters I absolutely did not want to aid in sensationalizing the events of that weekend out of respect for Tom's memory and my feelings about climbing in the mountains.

There are a lot of misperceptions in the general public about climbing, and I did not want to inadvertently contribute to them. Not only did Berton's story accomplish this, but I felt that his writing and the prominence given to the article in your paper did much to counteract the ugliness and misinformation built up by the earlier reports, and for this I am grateful.

It seems to me that many reporters get credit for being the first or the loudest in telling a story, and I think these are the wrong incentives to have in reporting. Berton should be commended for the job he did. He should get credit for waiting and producing a quality story with great sensitivity.

Mark P. Thomas, Berkeley

This article appeared on page A - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle