Hank Aaron could have played in Boston — and he’s still the true home-run king

Hank Aaron. Photo (cc) 2015 by David Valdez.

Imagine if the Braves had never left Boston. The great Hank Aaron, whose death at the age of 86 was announced Friday, might have played here. Of course, Boston was a notoriously racist city when Aaron was playing, and we still have plenty of problems. But it’s interesting to ponder what might have been.

Like many fans, I remember watching the Braves as Aaron approached and then surpassed Babe Ruth’s seemingly unbreakable record of 714 in 1974. Braves games were carried on national TV during Aaron’s pursuit, which meant that the entire country could watch. Sadly, the obits all go into some detail about the hate to which Aaron was subjected for having the temerity to break a white man’s record.

On Friday, Twitter was abuzz with the possibility that Major League Baseball’s recent decision to regard the Negro League as “major” might mean that Aaron’s final home-run total of 755 would be revised upward — conceivably by enough to pass Barry Bonds’ steroid-tainted 762. But apparently that’s not going to happen. Mike Oz of Yahoo Sports addressed the matter in December:

One thing that would have caused a tectonic shift in the record books was if Hank Aaron’s 1952 season in the Negro Leagues counted. He hit either eight or nine home runs that season, depending on the source, but Barry Bonds sits atop the all-time home run leaderboard by seven, so either one of those being accepted would have made Hank No. 1 again.

Alas, the 1948 cutoff was chosen because most of the top talent fled the Negro Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, making the leagues more like the minor leagues than the majors by the time Aaron arrived.

That’s a shame, and maybe MLB will revisit the issue. Either way, though, Henry Aaron will always be the truth home-run king.

AP obit of Larry King leaves out his ties to Russia

Larry King. Photo (cc) 2017 by Gage Skidmore.

This Associated Press obituary of Larry King makes no mention of his spending his waning years working for the Russian propaganda outlet RT. But RT itself doesn’t hold back, even touting a 2019 interview King did with George Papadopoulos, a figure in the Russia scandal who was pardoned by Donald Trump just before he left the White House.

We all got a kick out of King during his CNN days, but let’s not revise history.

The Washington Post deletes an embarrassing anecdote about Kamala Harris

This should have been caught. The Washington Post recently updated a 2019 story about now-Vice President Kamala Harris and her sister that included an anecdote about Harris laughingly comparing life on the campaign trail to being a prison inmate begging for water. In order to recycle it as part of an inauguration package, that embarrassing detail was eliminated and new information was added.

But the Post didn’t change the URL. As a result, a moment that Harris probably wished would be forgotten was, well, forgotten, as it disappeared down the black hole of the internet.

Eric Boehm of Reason magazine, a libertarian publication, found it, though, and the Post had to backtrack, restoring the original version and republishing the new version with a different URL. New York Times media columnist Ben Smith took note, tweeting, “This is pretty weird.”

Although I don’t think it was a good editorial decision to delete Harris’ tasteless remark in the updated version, that was the Post’s prerogative. But it shouldn’t have required an inquiry from Reason to restore the original. I can understand why it happened — someone wasn’t paying attention to the technical details. But for all the Post’s vaunted technology, you’d think it wouldn’t be that easy to publish a new story using the old URL.

Boehm writes that the “disappearance suggests something about the Post, and about the way traditional political media are preparing to cover Harris now that she’s one heartbeat away from the presidency.” Well, maybe. I hope not. As I said, this sounds like a screw-up rooted more in technology than editing.

There’s also some cosmic connection between the Post’s error of judgment and The Boston Globe’s unveiling its right-to-be-forgotten initiative. Although I think the Globe is doing the right thing, what happened at the Post is a reminder that you have to be careful about rewriting the past.

Kathleen Kingsbury named opinion editor at The New York Times

Some pretty big news from The New York Times: Kathleen Kingsbury will become the new opinion editor, a position she’d been filling on an interim basis ever since James Bennet was pushed out for running a terrible op-ed that he later admitted he hadn’t read. From publisher A.G. Sulzberger’s announcement:

For those who have worked alongside Kathleen, this announcement will come as little surprise. She’s a natural leader, fearless journalist and creative innovator. She has a wide-ranging intellect, with a passion for exploring the ideas and arguments shaping the world today. A former foreign correspondent, business reporter and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer herself, Kathleen is known in the department for championing her colleagues and elevating their work.

Kingsbury is smart and accomplished, having won a 2015 Pulitzer for editorial writing when she was with The Boston Globe.

Member Newsletter No. 4

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You can now ask the Globe to remove an embarrassing story about you from Google search

There’s a difference between rewriting history and making some of it more difficult to find. Which is why I think The Boston Globe is doing the right thing with its “Fresh Start” initiative, more commonly known as the right to be forgotten. The proposal was announced by Globe editor Brian McGrory last July, and is being formally put into effect today. In a Globe story, McGrory says:

It was never our intent to have a short and relatively inconsequential Globe story affect the futures of the ordinary people who might be the subjects. Our sense, given the criminal justice system, is that this has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. The idea behind the program is to start addressing it.

The idea is that the Globe might have reported on some past embarrassment about you — a minor arrest, or an arrest that led to a conviction that was not reported. You can appeal to the Globe to have the story updated or removed from Google search. The story would still exist. It couldn’t be removed from the print edition, obviously, and many libraries still carry newspaper microfilm archives. It wouldn’t even be removed from the Globe’s servers. But no longer would one of your less stellar moments rise to the top of a Google search about you, interfering with employment prospects and other aspects of your life.

In some ways, Fresh Start is similar to Gannett’s move in 2018 to take down mugshot galleries from its newspaper websites, which it extended to the former GateHouse Media sites in 2020 after that chain was merged with Gannett. “Mugshot galleries presented without context may feed into negative stereotypes and, in our editorial judgment, are of limited news value,” the company said in explaining its reasoning.

The Globe’s Fresh Start is a good step because it solves a problem without going too far. It merely restores the situation that prevailed before the internet, when you had to put some work into finding information that had been published about someone. That tended to separate those with a legitimate interest from the voyeurs.

It’s also a better solution than the mandatory right-to-be-forgotten laws in effect in Western Europe, where Google under some circumstances can be ordered to remove information about certain people. The First Amendment would make that impossible in the United States.

Thus it’s up to the media to take voluntary steps. As the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics puts it, “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

More: Arun Rath of GBH Radio (89.7 FM) and I kicked it around on Friday.

N.H. legislation would make it harder for the public to access police records

A bill filed in the New Hampshire legislature would make it more difficult for the public to access police records, reversing a recent decision by the state’s supreme court that requires greater openness. The New England First Amendment Coalition reports:

Senate Bill 39 intends to exempt police personnel files, internal investigations and other law enforcement records from the New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law.

If made law, the bill would overturn a New Hampshire Supreme Court decision — Seacoast Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Portsmouth — that ruled such documents were not categorically exempt under the public records statute.

Is President Biden senile? Peter Baker of The New York Times wants to know.

I suspect we’re going to see a lot of this as mainstream journalists, terrified of being accused of bias, seek to even up the score after four years of covering the worst president in our history. In his lead story on President Biden’s inauguration, Peter Baker of The New York Times writes:

At 78, Mr. Biden is the oldest president in American history — older on his first day in office than Ronald Reagan was on his last — and even allies quietly acknowledge that he is no longer at his prime, meaning he will be constantly watched by friends and foes alike for signs of decline.

What on earth is that supposed to mean? Not only is it unsourced, but we have no idea about the nature of those sources. Close aides? Members of Congress? Some guy who shook his hand at a fundraiser pre-COVID? More to the point, what does it mean that Biden is “no longer at his prime”? It could be anything from not having as much energy as he once did (almost certainly true) to, uh, wandering off at night.

Biden showed no signs of fading during the campaign, and in fact he only grew stronger once he realized he was going to have to fight for the nomination.

If there’s a reason to write a fully reported story on Biden’s mental acuity, then by all means do it. Otherwise, Baker and the Times shouldn’t let themselves be used as a conduit for fishing right-wing talking points out of the sewer and flinging them into the mainstream.

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NPR to GOP official: What peaceful transfer of power?

I’ve been pretty critical of the #bothsides manner in which NPR covers politics. So it’s only fair to point out that Ari Shapiro wasn’t having any of it earlier this afternoon when U.S. Rep. Young Kim, R-Calif., started lauding the peaceful transfer of power.

Shapiro interrupted and reminded her that that’s exactly what we didn’t have this time. Yes, today was peaceful. The post-election period was not — especially two weeks ago.

At last: President Biden and Vice President Harris

That was a deeply moving, even emotional, event. Like many of us, I had waited for this day for four years. We still have a long way to go. But with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in office, and with the worst president in history now gone, we have a chance at a new beginning.