A Flak’s Bad Day On The Job

Yes, it was indeed a bad day on the job for Chris Hoffman, who until his recent outburst, was a spokesman for the New Haven public schools.

Hoffman pitched a fit last week when a reporter from the New Haven Independent arrived at the Roberto Clemente Academy for “a pre-arranged reporting session,” according to the reporter. When Hoffman realized the reporter was using her flip camera, he grabbed it and told her to “Turn off the camera!” Then he walk way from her, called someone on his cell phone and dropped the F-Bomb.

It was, as my colleague Rick Green adroitly observed, “a collision between old and new journalism.” In this day and age, objecting to a reporter using a video camera is a little like protesting that she has a notepad. Both are now essential tools of the trade. And as a former journalist, Hoffman should have known that.

The thing that amazed me was how irritated Hoffman grew at Melissa Bailey’s persistent questions. After all, Hoffman used to be an investigative reporter for the New Haven Register. And investigative reporters are typically the most annoying and aggressive journalists on the planet. Perhaps Hoffman can dish it out but cannot take it?

I interviewed Hoffman a couple of times when he was a spokesman for former attorney general Dick Blumenthal. I always found him to be quite helpful, so I agree with Rick that one mistake should not be cause for termination. But I think the big difference here is that Hoffman’s transgressions were caught on video.

If the confrontation with Bailey had only made its way into print, both parties could have offered different versions of the confrontation. But, as they say, the tape doesn’t lie. And once up on YouTube, it can go viral, creating a public relations crisis that would have been a blip only 10 years ago.

Or, quite possibly the New Haven schools superintendent was looking to get rid of Hoffman anyway and this was the final straw. One final question: will the city replace Hoffman or will it try to save his $78,793 salary and let the superintendent speak for himself? Judging from the comment threads on the Independent’s website. I’d say there’s a lot of support for the latter.

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