By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Gloucester story remains incomplete

I find it interesting that Time magazine’s Web site today carries only an Associated Press story on the resignation of Gloucester High School principal Joseph Sullivan, who blasted Mayor Carolyn Kirk for having “slandered” him. Time hasn’t run an update since June 26, when one of the magazine’s reporters, Kathleen Kingsbury, wrote an item that carried the possibly misleading headline “Gloucester Principal Stands by Story.”

Sullivan, you may recall, was the primary source for Kingsbury’s startling claim that a group of female students at Gloucester High School had made a “pact” to get pregnant and raise their babies together — a story that included such lurid details as girls’ high-fiving each other when they learned they were expecting, and one student being impregnated by a 24-year-old homeless man. Sullivan said in Kingsbury’s June 26 piece that he didn’t recall having used the word “pact,” but that he stood by what he’d told Time.

But as I wrote in June, Sullivan declined to take the additional step of endorsing Kingsbury’s reporting. To this day, we have not heard from a single Gloucester High School student who says she was part of any such agreement with other students, regardless of whether you call it a “pact.” Essentially we know nothing more than we did way back on March 7, when the Gloucester Times reported that officials were worried that some girls were getting pregnant deliberately. That is sufficiently serious to warrant community-wide concern; but it was the notion of a “pact” that made this a national story, and that remains unverified.

From the beginning, Kingsbury has strongly suggested in her reporting and in interviews that she knows who at least some of the pact members are, and that they have declined to go public. I hope she’s working on a follow-up.

Still, it has struck me as exceedingly odd that here, in Oprah Nation, not one of these young women would step forward. Let’s not forget, too, that one pregnant 17-year-old Gloucester High student appeared on national television and denied there was any such pact. Rather, she said some of the students became close after they got pregnant, a claim that comports with some inside knowledge I had picked up around the same time.

Time magazine shouldn’t just be given a pass on this.

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  1. mike_b1

    Speaking of things not to give Time a pass on, how about Ramesh Ponnuru’s Aug. 11 column in which he spreads age-old myths about how a “liberal media” in love with Barack Obama is attempting to sway the electorate – was he watching when that same media gave the GOP attack machine, in the form of the Swift Boaters, ample room to slander John Kerry? The least TIME could do is disclose that Ponnuru endorsed John McCain in the Dec. 3, 2007, issue of National Review (in which, coincidentally, he also complained about a lack of media love for McCain).The Time column: National Review column:

  2. Bill Toscano

    Dan: I think you are being too harsh.Guy quit his job over this. Clearly he stands by the comment.If he didn’t say it, he would have come out right away.Guy is trying to do his job and stop the insanity and he gets thrown under a bus.Reporter does a good, solid story and gets tossed under the other wheels.Just my opinion.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Bill: Sullivan stands by what he said. He doesn’t necessarily stand by what Time claims he said. He has already disputed whether he ever used the word “pact.” Please re-read the statement he issued in June. Key excerpt:”I honestly do not remember specifically using the word ‘pact’ in my meeting with the Time magazine reporter, but I do specifically remember telling Ms. Kingsbury that my understanding was that a number of the pregnancies were intentional and that the students within this group were friendly with each other.”Please note what Sullivan is not saying. He is not saying that any of the students had agreed with one another ahead of time to get pregnant. What he is saying comports with what had been known since March 7.Why have none of these young women ever stepped forward to speak either on the record or on a not-for-attribution basis? Why has no one even been able to find a friend of these young women, other than one fleeting reference I recall in the New York Times?The other interesting thing, when you re-read his statement, is that he admits he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of anything. It’s no wonder the mayor was upset, although she handled it badly. (Like, unbelievably badly.)One possible explanation is that Kingsbury thought she heard Sullivan go one step beyond his actual words. Since she claims to be in touch with these students, I hope she will keep pushing them to explain what really happened.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Jeff Keating, writing on June 27 for the “Greater Boston” Blog: “If you carefully read Sullivan’s statement, he’s clearly rebuking her article…. As I see it, Sullivan had ample opportunity to defend Kingsbury’s reporting and chose not to.”

  5. Matthew

    Whether or not he said “pact” isn’t relevant to Sullivan’s performance as principal.He does not dispute that he said words to the effect that pregnant girls were giving each congratulatory high fives and planning to attend each other’s baby showers. Instead of protecting his students, as was his responsibility, he trashed them. Read my thoughts here if you’re interested:

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Matthew: You are correct as far as you go, but it’s not far enough. Sullivan has never confirmed that he said any of the girls had agreed to get pregnant before the fact. And his statement of June 26, as I’ve tried to show, is in keeping with that.

  7. Don, American

    Why don’t we just forget the sluts? Who cares why the did what they shouldn’t have?

  8. Bill Toscano

    Don: No matter what your opinion of the girls is, this is an important story and should be a point of learning for all educators.”Pact” aside, that many pregnancies in that population says some things are really wrong there. The officials should be trying to solve the problem, not worry about the publicity.Dan: Thanks for that quote. I had not seen that.

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