Letters for the week of March 10-16, 2004 

A sound spanking for our "Lunatics" cover treatment; Fingertight isn't about "cute"; and more on gays and the Bible.

"The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum," Feature, 2/18

Nice story, dreadful headline
I am writing to complain about the recent headline that accompanied Susan Goldsmith's story on John George Psychiatric Pavilion. The story was fair, balanced, and thoughtful, as it should have been, when considering such a serious and troubling subject as the problems afflicting our public psychiatric facilities. The headline, however, was not in keeping with her approach. It seemed to try to sensationalize the story and perhaps draw in readers looking for a sordid thrill. It discouraged readers with a legitimate interest in this topic, of which there are many. I felt it was insulting and unnecessary. Not only that, but the patients at John George are not lunatics; they are sick. It is quite crass to depict the series of unfortunate incidents there, including patient assaults, as the patients "taking over" -- indeed, they do not benefit from this behavior.

I am glad that the Express tackles such important topics, and I appreciate the high standards of its reporters. Please do not sell your readers short with crass sell-the-paper headlines.
Rachael Kagan, director of communications, California Association of Public Hospitals, Oakland

Why demonize the mentally ill?
I agree with the points made in your article, but I found the cover art disturbing and offensive. The article was about hospital administrators ignoring safety concerns in psych units. But why was the cover a picture of a severely mentally ill woman with her face morphing into a skull? She was as much a victim as the murdered doctor in this case. Her future is as good as over. You would never have run a picture of a black man with his face morphing into a skull -- you'd be accused of racism. But why is it okay to demonize a woman who has a severe mental illness over which she has no control? The cover was ill-conceived and you owe the mentally ill community of the Bay Area an apology.
Melissa Kirk, Berkeley

You should apologize
I have been a member of the mental health community for quite some time and have yet to be surprised by the lack of understanding from the general public as it relates to our severely mentally ill adults. I was shocked by the title line in Susan Goldsmith's article about the county hospital. I believe you should consider an open apology to the large number of people who have family members who have been served by the county hospital. The clients served, and their families, truly deserve more respect and dignity than was afforded them in the selection of the title for the story. It really detracted from any sense of the story being a professional representation.
James Jordan, Clovis

Proud relative of a "lunatic"
I found your article an interesting account of the events that are going on at the asylum. In fact, it shed a bit of light on the whole matter. I must say, though, that I am appalled at the poor taste in headlines. I have a family member that is, according to your article, one of the "lunatics" and I am sure that you can appreciate my concern -- perhaps just like calling a group of black people "niggers" or Jewish people "burned." It's just wrong. I thank you for being much more responsible for maintaining journalistic integrity (uh, what's that?) in your expression of your free speech and as a representative of the community of journalists (or people who contribute to that community).
Rory Chandler, Oakland

Steeped in stereotypes
I was dismayed by the title on the cover of the Express dated February 18th. The words "lunatic" and "asylum" are steeped in stereotypes and stigma. This title is insensitive to those with chronic mental illness, their needs, and the limited services they receive from places like John George, after years of budget cuts. What were you thinking? Titles like these only deepen incorrect perceptions of those dealing with mental illness.

Why did you not consult the local Mental Health Association or National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to understand how current budget cuts have placed people with chronic mental illness at risk in accessing mental health services? The title was misleading, mean-spirited, and inaccurate. It is Alameda County's responsibility to have a safe working environment for its employees and the people they serve. I am disappointed in your lack of professional and journalistic integrity, in regards to this title.
Michael Weigand, Berkeley

EDITOR'S NOTE
Our cover treatment was indeed inappropriate. We sincerely regret our lapse of judgment.

Visual Art

Bring back art reviews
Whatever happened to the artist spotlights? There are so many East Bay talented artists from the earthy stylings of Mim Weisburd (MimArt.com) to the wild and scary Jim Henson-on-crack art of Nicolas Caesar (Chiller-Thriller.com). I've just noticed that there isn't really a section for art anymore, it's lumped in with culture. Is this a sign that there just isn't a market anymore, or has the saturation of graphic artists made painters, sculptors, and mixed-media artists obsolete? Will we only find new talent in history books?
Brian Karas, Oakland

EDITOR'S NOTE
Actually, visual art coverage has not departed from the pages of the Express, but our former art writer has. Writers who are interested in filling this void should send a cover letter and three relevant writing samples to here or by postal mail to Stephen Buel, East Bay Express, 1335 Stanford Ave., Suite 100, Emeryville, CA 94608.

"Frenzied Frontman Olympics," Down in Front, 2/4

Not just for chicks
I'm a longtime fan of Fingertight and I just recently read your article on them. I thought you had a lot of good points but had some small issues with some of your statements.

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