Tag Archives: Maria Sacchetti

Walter Robinson to return to the Globe

Walter Robinson

Walter Robinson

The legendary Walter Robinson is returning to The Boston Globe after seven years as a distinguished professor of journalism at Northeastern University.

All of us in the School of Journalism were saddened when he told us recently that he planned to leave for an undisclosed new position. Today we learned that he’s been called back to the Mothership.

While at Northeastern, Robby led a pioneering class in investigative journalism that regularly produced front-page stories for the Globe. He is going to be difficult to replace. What follows is Globe editor Brian McGrory’s memo to the staff.

I am delighted to share the news that Walter Robinson, the highly decorated former Globe editor and reporter, is returning to our newsroom for what he describes as a “third act,” and what I say is a great development for our organization.

Robby, fresh from seven years of teaching investigative reporting at Northeastern University, will assume the position of part-time editor at-large. In practical terms, this means we’ll get his services about 20 hours a week, more often, I suspect, in shoulder seasons, and perhaps less when the fairways or his two grandsons beckon. We’ll work all that out.

Robby will apply his monumental talents to his own projects, meaning the town’s power brokers will again live in dread of his strangely low voice on the other end of the line. I’ve also asked Robby to help reporters and editors across the enterprise think in more investigative terms. This work will be in addition to the Spotlight Team and our Metro-based investigative squad, not any part of either. Robby will report to [managing editor for news] Chris Chinlund and me.

I feel a bit foolish reciting the accomplishments of someone so well-known and pivotal to the Globe across so many decades. But Robby has won virtually every major reporting award to be had, most notably the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 when he led the Spotlight series on pedophilic priests and the efforts by the Boston archdiocese to protect them. Robby has been the Spotlight editor, the Metro editor, City editor, White House correspondent, Middle East bureau chief, a lead reporter on four presidential campaigns, and as a pup, a City Hall and State House reporter. In truth, Robby, who is 68, never entirely left the Globe fold, having been a consultant to the newsroom for the past seven years, and a very valuable one. Over that time, he worked with more than 100 Northeastern students to produce a steady stream of page one stories. Indeed, one more is in the writing stages now.

Our investigative reporting is quite simply the most vital work we do; look no further than last week’s extraordinary Spotlight series on off-campus student housing, or Maria Sacchetti’s stunning story this week on the FBI agent who shot Ibragim Todashev, for proof of that. We need more, and Robby’s return will help guarantee we get it.

Look for a restart date on June 15.

Brian

Naming names: Did the Globe make the right call?

redactedPreviously published at WGBH News.

We’re going to be hearing a lot about The Boston Globe’s decision to publish the names of the FBI agent and State Police troopers who were involved in the Florida shooting death of Ibragim Todashev, the Tamerlan Tsarnaev associate suspected of taking part in a triple murder in Waltham.

The story, by Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti, reveals that FBI agent Aaron McFarlane is a former Oakland police officer with a troubling past. The article raises serious questions about how law enforcement handled the investigation of perhaps the single most important figure connected to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. Here is some background to keep in mind as the discussion unfolds.

This past January, David Boeri of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) reported on the FBI-State Police interrogation that ended in Todashev’s death. Here’s what Boeri had to say about the names of the agent and the two troopers:

In the course of our investigation, WBUR has learned the names of the law enforcement officers involved in the shooting. We are not releasing the names at the request of both the FBI and the Massachusetts State Police, which cited specific concerns for their safety.

In today’s Globe article, we learn that the FBI agent’s name is Aaron McFarlane, and that he “has previously been publicly identified in a blog about the Boston Marathon case.”

That prompted Boston magazine editor-in-chief Carly Carioli to tweet:

(And by the way, in March Boston published its own long investigation into the shooting. The article, by Susan Zalkind, was also the subject of a one-hour segment on public radio’s “This American Life.”)

Carioli’s tweet leads to a site called “The Boston Marathon Bombings: What Happened?”, which on May 3 revealed the names of McFarlane and the two Massachusetts troopers, Joel Gagne and Curtis Cinelli. (As best as I can tell, that’s the first time any of the three officers was named.) According to the site, the names and uncensored crime-scene photos were obtained from PDFs of public records using techniques that sound similar to what the Globe did. The Globe offers this description:

The Globe obtained their names by removing improperly created redactions from an electronic copy of Florida prosecutor Jeffrey L. Ashton’s report — which in March found the shooting of Todashev justified — and then verifying their identities through interviews and multiple government records. Those records include voting, birth, and pension documents.

On May 5, the same “What Happened?” website revealed some of the problems McFarlane had as a member of the Oakland Police Department that are at the heart of today’s Globe story.

I should note that though the “What Happened?” site appears to have broken some important stories, it also traffics in rather, uh, unusual rhetoric. For instance, here is a photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, bloody and injured as he surrendered in Watertown, beneath the headline “2013: THE YEAR AMERICA BEGAN HUNTING DOWN AND SHOOTINGS[sic] IT’S [sic] OWN TEENAGERS. WHY?”

By all indications the Globe has been careful to do its own reporting — which it would in any case, but which is especially important when dealing with material like this.

Which brings us to the question I imagine we’ll be debating in the days to come: Should the Globe have released the names of McFarlane, Gagne and Cinelli? I’d like to hear arguments on both sides. But keep these three things in mind:

  • The official investigation into Todashev’s death had not been completed when Boeri was doing his reporting for WBUR in January. Since then the three have been cleared by investigators, and the matter is no longer pending.
  • Police officers are doing the public’s business, and we have a right to know as much information as possible about serious matters such as the Todashev shooting. Consider a much more routine example, reported by the Salem News, in which the Essex County district attorney’s office named officers involved in a fatal shooting in the course of disclosing the results of their investigation.
  • Because of the “What Happened?” report, the three names were, in fact, already out there. Whatever calculation Globe editors might have made if this had occurred 20 years ago, it is simply a reality that a mainstream news organization can no longer act as a gatekeeper to prevent the public from learning information that it can find out elsewhere. This change doesn’t call for lower standards, but it does call for different standards.

I realize I’m putting my thumb on the disclosure side of the scale. But I think withholding the names would have been a respectable decision as well. As Sacchetti writes today, “Even Florida, which often identifies such officers, declined to do so in this case, citing concerns for the investigators’ safety.”

At this early stage, I can be persuaded either way, and I’m curious to see and hear what others have to say.

Justice and the immigration system

The Marty Baron era is ending with a bang. As you no doubt already know, the Boston Globe this week published an exhaustive three-part series on the justice system and illegal immigration.

Called “Justice in the Shadows,” the series — reported by Maria Sacchetti and Milton Valencia — looks at illegal immigrants who have been released and committed serious crimes (including murder) because their home countries don’t want them back; at others who themselves have been treated unfairly, such a Lynn woman who died in custody; and, today, at the separate court system that has been set up inside prison walls.

The series is accompanied by videos and links to relevant legal documents. And there could be more to come: the Globe has sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to obtain “the names of thousands of criminal immigrants it released in the United States over the past four years, sometimes with tragic results.”

It’s also yet another reminder that important public-service journalism like this simply can’t be done without large, well-funded news organizations.