The Boston Herald talks to Ben Edelman about the Boston.com T-shirt controversy. This doesn’t sound like it’s over.
The tale of the Harvard Business School professor who flipped out because he’d been overcharged $4 by a Chinese restaurant took an ugly turn Wednesday night. Boston.com, which first reported the story, posted a follow-up claiming that Ben Edelman had sent a racist email to the restaurant owner — and then replaced the follow-up with an “Editor’s Note,” explaining that the authenticity of the email couldn’t be verified. The Boston Herald has a summary of what went wrong. (Boston.com is part of The Boston Globe’s network of websites.)
The original story about Edelman, by Boston.com’s Hilary Sargent, had gone viral. Who, after all, can resist reading about a privileged Harvard professor threatening legal action against a hard-working business owner because the prices on his website hadn’t been updated for a while? So when Boston.com retracted its explosive allegation (carrying Sargent and Roberto Scalese’s bylines) that Edelman was not just a contentious jerk but a racist as well, Twitter exploded.
So what did Boston.com publish? It wasn’t long before screen grabs started to make their way around the intertubes. J. Alain Ferry posted a copy here. What happened was that after Edelman apologized to Ran Duan, whose family owns the Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline, someone claiming to be Edelman sent another email to the restaurant owner, writing, “You may have won the battle Duan, but at least we can agree your menu is a little less slanty-eyed.” That’s followed up by an apology for accidentally sending what was meant as a private joke, which has the effect of making the mail seem more authentic.
Edelman’s domain name, benedelman.org, is easily found on the Web, and it’s not difficult to send an email using any address you like. The Sichuan Garden website offers an email form that lets you do exactly that. One clue is that all of the legitimate emails Boston.com has posted from Edelman are marked as coming from “Ben Edelman,” whereas the racist email and subsequent apology were from “email@example.com.”
Despite the retraction, Boston.com as of this moment is still all-in on the rest of its Edelman package. We’ll see what, if anything, comes next.
Update: Kyle Alspach just posted on this at BostInno. He’s got some really interesting technical stuff.
Update II: Here’s a screen image of a tweet Sargent sent out last night that she subsequently took down:
A huge newspaper deal was announced late this afternoon. The parent company of GateHouse Media of Fairport, New York, which has been on the march since emerging from bankruptcy last year, is buying out Halifax Media Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Locally, the acquisition greatly expands GateHouse’s footprint in the central part of the state: earlier this year Boston Globe owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to Halifax.
Jim Romenesko has the memo from GateHouse chief executive Kirk Davis.
GateHouse now owns almost every significant newspaper property in Eastern Massachusetts (and beyond) other than the Globe and the Boston Herald. The Digital First papers, which include the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Enterprise & Sentinel, are for sale. Will GateHouse scoop them up? What about the CNHI papers, which include The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and three other dailies in that region? How long can they hold out?
Even before its latest acquisition spree, GateHouse owned about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts — mostly weeklies, but also mid-size dailies such as the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, The Enterprise of Brockton and The Patriot Ledger of Quincy. In the past year GateHouse has added the Cape Cod Times, The Standard-Times of New Bedford, The Providence Journal and — in a little-noticed move just last week — Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, New Hampshire, a small but legendary community daily.
GateHouse has a well-earned reputation for cutting staff and compensation, although that hardly makes it unique. The larger story is that its executives clearly believe it can be the last local-newspaper chain standing by centralizing every part of its operations that aren’t strictly tied to local news.
A considerable amount of copy editing is being moved to a facility in Austin, Texas. The ProJo has a nice new press, and no doubt it will soon be printing as many GateHouse papers as it can accommodate — possibly cutting into the Globe’s printing business. GateHouse also owns what Davis calls a “digital services agency” called Propel Marketing.
At a time when few business executives want to mess with the newspaper business, GateHouse has gone all in. How it will end is anyone’s guess. But GateHouse has been down this road before, and it ended in bankruptcy. If Kirk Davis and company have a better idea this time, we should soon find out.
More: “Copy editing” at daily newspapers traditionally refers to editing stories for grammar and style, writing headlines and laying out pages. I am told that the Austin facility’s mission is limited to page design, though some copy editors at the ProJo are losing their jobs.
In a final coda to a longstanding libel suit, the Associated Press reports that the Boston Herald has agreed to pay $900,000 to Joanna Marinova, the woman whom the paper had falsely claimed engaged in “sexual acts” with an inmate she was visiting at Bridgewater state prison.
I’m not sure why there seems to be such a disparity between the $900,000 reported by the AP and the $563,000 cited last March by attorney Jeffrey Pyle in a guest commentary for Media Nation.
The details of the case are enormously complex. Here is what I wrote when the jury verdict against the Herald was handed down. It includes links to more background information.
Boston Herald editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen makes a minor error in her explanation of how the racist cartoon linking President Obama and watermelon toothpaste made its way into the paper.
“For two weeks I have remained silent,” she writes at the start of her column, which appears today on the Herald’s op-ed page. In fact, Cohen took the hit right after publication, telling media blogger Jim Romenesko that she was “guilty as charged” for not anticipating the outrage that Jerry Holbert’s cartoon would provoke.
Which is to say that Cohen deserves credit for taking responsibility right from the beginning, and for writing a heartfelt apology today — explaining that she saw the cartoon and approved it unthinkingly. “It’s my job as an editor to see around corners, to look at all the possible meanings and nuances of words and of images.” she writes. “It’s my job and two weeks ago I failed at it miserably.” (Here’s what we said about the controversy on “Beat the Press” on Oct. 3.)
She absolves Holbert of harboring any racist views. She reminds her readers of the division between the news and editorial operations. And in this case, she says, her usual practice of having an editor from the news side take a look was not followed.
I’ll take Holbert and Cohen at their word that there was no racist intent. But Holbert drew a racist cartoon and Cohen published it. The Herald recently announced that it has asked the NAACP to get involved, and that’s a good step. But I continue to believe that the larger issue is a lack of diversity in the newsroom. I’m not saying that an African-American editor should have seen the cartoon before it was published. Rather, I’m suggesting that when people of color are part of the day-to-day conversations that take place in any workplace, these things are a lot less likely to happen.
And surely someone should have had the foresight to turn off comments on Cohen’s column. That way we would have been spared the anonymous troll who calls Gov. Deval Patrick “one of the most obnoxious race pimps ever.” Again, it’s a matter of what kinds of conversations are unfolding among journalists on a regular basis.
In any event, kudos to Cohen for a straightforward, no-excuses apology, and to the Herald’s management for coming to grips with a serious lapse in a serious manner. Let’s hope it leads to action.
Smart move by the Boston Herald: The paper will work with the NAACP following publication of the racist cartoon involving President Obama and watermelon-flavored toothpaste. More links:
Update: I’m not sure when this was added, but Herald editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen tells Romenesko that she vetted the cartoon: “Herald editorial page editor Rachelle Cohen tells me neither she nor artist Jerry Holbert saw anything wrong with the cartoon. ‘Jerry doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,’ she says. He chose watermelon because he had just seen that flavor of toothpaste in his house, says Cohen.” So now we have the cartoonist and his editor both claiming that they didn’t see any racist intent in the watermelon reference. At best, this speaks to a lack of diversity in the newsroom.
To their credit, the folks at the Boston Herald clearly and quickly understood that they had a problem on their hands Wednesday after publishing an editorial cartoon by Jerry Holbert that was racist in its effect, if not in Holbert’s intent. The cartoon depicted an intruder in a White House bathroom asking President Obama if he had “tried the new watermelon-flavored toothpaste.”
Holbert went on the newspaper’s online radio station to apologize, and said he understood he compounded his error when he failed to notify the Herald that his syndicate had told him to alter the cartoon so as to eliminate the racial inference. And today, the paper publishes a straightforward apology. On the editorial page, Holbert apologizes again.
But now it’s time for the Herald to close the circle. Even if Holbert didn’t understand why African-Americans are offended by stereotypes of black people as placid, happy watermelon-eaters, are we to believe that editorial cartoons somehow leap onto the pages of the Herald with no intervention on the part of editors?
Here is an excerpt from a well-sourced article at Wikipedia:
While the exact origins of this stereotype remain unclear, an association of African Americans and watermelon goes back to the time of slavery in the United States. Defenders of slavery used the fruit to paint African Americans as a simple-minded people who were happy when provided watermelon and a little rest. The stereotype was perpetuated in minstrel shows often depicting African Americans as ignorant and workshy, given to song and dance and inordinately fond of watermelon.
I agree with my WGBH colleague Emily Rooney of “Greater Boston,” who said last night (above) that she believes Holbert when he says he had no racial intent — but that someone at the Herald should have caught it before publication. The Herald should tell us who approved the cartoon and why.
In case you missed it, here is how the story unfolded on Wednesday.