Monthly Archives: September 2009

What we still don’t know about Dan Totten

The Globe and the Herald today report that Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten is suspected of signing someone else’s name as a countersignature on his paycheck. So here are a few follow-up questions:

  • Is this something he did regularly?
  • Did other union officials know it?
  • Have other union officials done the same?
  • Was this money to which he wasn’t entitled? (Surely he was entitled to his paycheck.)

To be sure, Totten, whose union is the Globe’s largest, shouldn’t have signed someone else’s name on a check, and it kind of sounds like he’s admitted that, according to the reports. But we still don’t know whether we’re talking about ill intent or just a seat-of-the-pants management style.

Harvey Silverglate goes after the feds

Harvey Silverglate at the Harvard Book Store. (Click on photo for a larger image.)

Harvey Silverglate at the Harvard Book Store. (Click on photo for a larger image.)

Friend of Media Nation Harvey Silverglate packed the house at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge last night at an event for his new book, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent.”

The book is about what Silverglate describes as an increasing tendency by prosecutors to abuse their discretion by charging people with crimes they didn’t even know they’d committed. A noted civil-liberties lawyer, Silverglate described most of his clients as people “who committed the act but committed no crime.”

Since the mid-1980s, Silverglate said, the criminal-justice system has abandoned the ancient principle that there can’t be a crime without criminal intent. Referring to cases in which law enforcement has withheld important information, he said, “There’s something wrong with a system that knows there’s evidence of innocence and hides it.”

And he described prosecutors as “kidnappers and extortionists” for threatening targets with lengthy prison sentences and then demanding that they testify against others as the price of having those sentences reduced. Such testimony is notoriously unreliable, he said, quoting Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz (who wrote the preface) as saying that such witnesses are taught not just to “sing,” but also to “compose.”

Harvey and I go back many years at the Boston Phoenix, where I had the privilege of editing his column, and where we later collaborated on several articles. Harvey also was the inspiration behind the Phoenix’s annual Muzzle Awards, which I’ve been cranking out, with his help, for 12 years.

Last night the Phoenix newspapers’ executive editor, Peter Kadzis, and the Boston Phoenix’s editor, Lance Gould, were both on hand, as was Harvey’s wife, the photographer Elsa Dorfman, whose work has appeared in the Phoenix. “Three Felonies” was edited by Catherine Tumber, a former Phoenix editor who’s now working on a book about the significance of small cities.

Kadzis interviews Silverglate about “Three Felonies” in this week’s Phoenix. Kadzis writes:

At this curious moment in history, Silverglate’s book might not shock either the left or the right. For some time now, the two opposing wings of the American centrist polity have been alarmed by the predatory nature of our national government. For those in the middle of the political spectrum, however, Silverglate’s book should be a bracing wake-up call. Liberty and freedom are being compromised, one prosecution at a time.

Indeed, it’s Silverglate’s advocacy for such notorious bad guys as the financier Michael Milken and the accounting firm Arthur Andersen that takes “Three Felonies” out of the realm of political polemics and transforms it into an important book.

Meltdown at the Boston Newspaper Guild? (II)

More on the charges against Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten, whose union is the Boston Globe’s largest, from the Boston Herald and the Globe.

I would be very cautious about drawing any conclusions based on the sketchy information that’s come out so far. This could be serious. Or it could be factional warfare.

Much more to come, I’m sure.

Meltdown at the Boston Newspaper Guild?

I will confess that I have been following contretemps within the Boston Newspaper Guild from afar, at best. But from the looks of an e-mail sent to Guild members this afternoon and obtained by the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly, it appears that a total meltdown is under way.

Dan Totten, the controversial president who led the union in talks with the Boston Globe’s corporate owner, the New York Times Co., during the spring and summer, has had his financial authority suspended, and an audit is being conducted, according to the e-mail from the Guild’s executive board.

This comes on top of a recall effort led by some Globe staffers who have accused Totten of inadequate communication — which another way of saying that the $10 million in concessions approved during the summer cut health benefits by considerably more than union members say they’d been led to believe.

Journalism ethics in real time

Melissa Bailey

Melissa Bailey

Melissa Bailey, the managing editor of the New Haven Independent, has written a fascinating story for Slate’s Double X on the steps she took to protect the identities of the fiancée and the ex-girlfriend of Raymond Clark, who’s been charged with the murder of Yale University student Annie Le. Bailey writes:

We learned the girlfriend’s identity, as well as the names of Clark and his current fiancee, before their identities were public. This was in the days after Le had disappeared but before her body was found, when slews of national reporters had descended on our city to find clues to the killing. As we chased the story, I wanted to break news — that’s my job. But I also wanted to shield the women caught up in the case from an onslaught of judgment and national attention that would make things harder for them.

Bailey writes about the decision to use material from the women’s Facebook and MySpace pages even while withholding their names. The Independent also withheld Clark’s name until he had been formally charged, even after New Haven police put it in a press release and repeated it at a news conference.

Her essay is an interesting, close-up look at applied journalism ethics. I’m not sure whether I’d have made the same calls as the Independent. But I’m impressed at how much thought went into Bailey’s and editor Paul Bass’ decision-making.

A missed opportunity

I don’t want to make it look like I’m in the tank for fellow Northeastern professor Michael Dukakis. So I’ll leave it at this: Paul Kirk will probably do a fine job as interim senator. But Gov. Deval Patrick could have made a better pick by choosing former governor Dukakis.

Joan Vennochi and Margery Eagan have more to say. And the Herald’s Jessica Van Sack and Hillary Chabot note some conflicts Kirk will need to avoid.