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

Globe acknowledges bias in Brandeis report

The Boston Globe, in an “Editor’s Note,” acknowledges that a biased report on Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s recent commencement speech at Brandeis University was produced by a correspondent who had written blog posts opposing Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. (Via John Carroll.)

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43 Comments

  1. Bob Gardner

    So if you criticize Israel in a blog you’re out but if your son is in the Israeli Defense Forces you’re okay?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: You should be held responsible for your own work, not for what a member of your family does. So yeah.

  2. Matt Collette

    I’m actually surprised things like this don’t happen more often at the Globe (not necessarily about Israel, but where freelancers/co-ops/interns write about something they’ve editorialized on before).

    The Globe relies heavily on students and part-timer writers, especially at nights and on the weekends, so it runs the risk that most of these students are also writing on their own, either for their college papers or online. Oftentimes they will be expressing opinion through columns or unsigned staff editorials, frequently on topics they have covered or could cover in the future. This was bound to happen.

  3. I am the correspondent who wrote the article.

    I just wanted to make a couple of brief comments.

    First of all, clearly I should not have been covering the story and I regret not thinking clearly enough to recuse myself from this, or metro coverage in general given my past editorializing. I apologize to the Globe and readers alike. The truth is, I have written many opinion pieces before, as an intern for the Globe editorial page, for my school newspaper, a Globe opinion blog, and my role at the Globe basically involved between 7.5- 15 hours of editorial support, news briefs, weather stories and so on.

    I am a graduate student with other research interests. As Matt noted above the part-time position I held is often held by students who write editorials for school newspaper, personal blogs, etc … and generally speaking, because we tend to cover weather or spot breaking news, I never anticipated a problem. That was naive, in hindsight, and I apologize sincerely. I do realize now that covering news for a paper that aims for objectivity, given my outside work, is untenable.

    As to the Brandeis story itself, I should not have been covering it obviously. I would like to note, however, that I did include two quotes, one from someone who opposed the protests and one from someone who supported them. I also quoted from two competing petitions but one was deleted by an editor, not me. So with only 300 words to work with, I did include two opposing quotes and quoted two opposing petitions. I was also sent to the story too late to cover the actual speech itself. So those issues were out of my control. I was clearly wrong to have been covering that story, but I did attempt to quote equally from both sides.

    Thanks Dan, for this forum, and my apologies to the Globe and its readers for not preventing this problem.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Michael: Thank you for checking in. I agree with @Matt that this is going to become more and more of an issue, and that what you did falls into a gray area. Editors can hardly insist that freelancers not keep blogs, since that’s an important calling card these days.

  4. Neil Sagan

    Dan’s a real mensch but if Michael Corcoran had uttered just three words in his article Poland, Germany and then just thrown in the USA he’d conclude you should be fired for being anti-semetic. Isn’t that how it works Dan?

  5. BP Myers

    If a person of whatever background or political persuasion or occupation has never spoken out publicly against Israeli treatment of Palestinians, then I submit their own bias is equally — if not more — palpable.

  6. Bob Gardner

    @Dan,
    Did you find the article that Michael Corcoran wrote biased? This is a different question from whether he should have been assigned this story.

    Was Gail Huff being over cautious when she recused herself from covering Scott Brown’s Senate campaign?

    If you had a chance to rewrite the NYT’s guidelines for reporters, would you eliminate all the language which refers to the suggestion that the staff be sensitive to the actions of their close relatives?

  7. Bob Gardner

    @ Dan,
    The Globe “correction” did not say that Corocoran’s story was biased, as you allege in your post. It noted Corcoran’s conflict, which apparently violated the Globe’s policies. And it listed two errors of omission.
    The correction itself omitted any mention of the the vigorous campaign to label the article (and the Globe) as biased.

    1) Was the article biased ?
    2) Did the Globe say the article was biased?
    3) Was your post correct–if not will you correct it?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: The Globe “Editor’s Note” ends thusly:

      The story failed to include coverage of the substance of the remarks made by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and made no mention of an electronic petition supporting his appearance.

      Therefore:

      1) Yes.
      2) Yes.
      3) Yes, so no correction needed.

  8. Michael Corcoran

    The story failed to include coverage of the substance of the remarks made by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and made no mention of an electronic petition supporting his appearance.

    I do want to reiterate that I did include a counter petition that called the protest absurd and offensive, but it was deleted by a night editor, possibly for space reasons but I do not know the rationale. I was also sent to the commencement far too late to see Oren’s speech. No arrangements were made for me to go inside, and no one told me, either before or after I submitted the article, to include his remarks.

    So those two omissions had nothing to do with me, which I think is an important detail. I do agree with Dan that the note reflects that the Globe portrays those omissions as problematic, but they were not my omissions.

  9. Bob Gardner

    @ Dan,
    Great! How about if every media outlet runs a video heavily edited by the Israeli government, purporting to show commandos defending themselves, and ignores the videos smuggled out by the activists, which show a different side of the controversy?
    Bias?

  10. Bob Gardner

    Wow, some serious bias on Greater Boston. First Emily Rooney completely misrepresented the controversy by saying that after the Globe story “the school complained” and the Globe had to print a correction.
    But it’s clear from your own post it was Martin Peretz, not “the school” who was pushing for this correction. Read the John Carroll posts you linked to. Hell, just read the headlines of his posts.
    And you, Dan, just sat there, not two feet from her and let that misrepresentation pass. And not only that you never disclosed your own blogging history. Instead you acted like you were only speaking as a journalism professor.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: The school complained. Have no idea what you mean when you say “it’s clear from your own post.” Here is the sum total of my post:

      The Boston Globe, in an “Editor’s Note,” acknowledges that a biased report on Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s recent commencement speech at Brandeis University was produced by a correspondent who had written blog posts opposing Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. (Via John Carroll.)

      I had to disclose that? Don’t be ridiculous.

  11. Bob Gardner

    Here are John Carroll’s headlines that you linked to.

    “Boston Globe’s Israeli Peretz-el”

    “Peretz Blasts Boston Globe”

    As John Carroll makes clear, this was a dispute between the Globe and Martin Peretz.

    Rooney mischaractarized the dispute. She showed graduating students who wanted nothing more than to have a nice graduation. She showed the commencement speaker saying nothing more controversial than pursue your dreams. Then she said “the school complained.”

    That’s extremely misleading. The Globe stringer, and the Globe story, were primarily attacked by Peretz, not the school.

    Here’s why it makes a difference. Officials at Brandeis might fairly be charactarized as trying to strike a balance between supporting Israel and being fair to both sides. Peretz is frank about his own agenda. He thinks that the Globe is anti-Israel and that it’s coverage endangers Israel. He is also, as he says, friends with the commencement speaker. Martin Peretz is influential, well-connected and polarizing. A dispute with him is a completely different thing than a dispute with “the school.”

    By omitting any mention of Peretz, Rooney and you, misrepresent the source and the size of the anti-Globe protest. Misrepresenting a protest–isn’t that what the Globe stringer was accused of? Leaving something out–isn’t that what the Globe admitted to doing–an admission which you claim is an admission of bias?

    And yeah, you should have acknowledged your own blogging history. In fact, you should have gone to the producer before the show and admitted your bias, and asked them if they still wanted to put you on. You should be held responsible for your own work, as you just said on this thread.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: You seem to be having an unusually difficult time with this. Let me try again. The school complained. And trust me, editors at the Globe are far more concerned about the paper’s relationship with Brandeis than with Marty Peretz.

      Your point that I should have disclosed something is so far off the mark that I literally don’t know what to make of it. I’ll respond just in case there is anyone out there who thinks you’re on to something.

      1. For better or worse, I am an all-purpose opinionator. My rough estimate is that one-fourth to one-half of the topics we discuss on “Beat the Press” are things I’ve already written about on Media Nation, for the Guardian or both. And I often repost Media Nation items to Beatthepress.org, which, in turn, links back to Media Nation.

      2. Ralph Ranalli wrote his item for Beatthepress.org about the Globe and Brandeis after reading my item. He didn’t bother to credit me because he, like I, could see that John Carroll had written something much more interesting. There is nothing for me to disclose to the producers, because they read Media Nation and sometimes get story ideas from it.

      3. You have an apples-and-oranges problem. Michael Corcoran’s lapse, such as it was, involved attempting to write an objective news report involving a subject about which he had previously expressed strong opinions. I’ve simply expressed my opinion on multiple platforms. So what?

      4. When I have had an actual conflict of interest, I have always disclosed — for instance, when we’ve discussed the Boston Phoenix or Northeastern University.

  12. Neil Sagan

    Dan is showing his bias by not revisiting the issue of bias notwithstanding these facts offered by the writer, Michael Corcoran.

    Dan’s strategy to navigate the third rail of journalism is to be sufficiently biased in favor of the interests advocated by Martin Peretz and others who blindly and without balance, and without regard to competing interests, advocate the interests of Israel, so as never accused of being antisemitic. His bias is pro Israeli in the interest of his professional reputation but what he doesn’t get is that by doing so he sacrifices his professional reputation.

    You will never get an honest answer out of Dan Kennedy when it comes to the third rail of journalism.

  13. Neil Sagan

    “Reporting on Israel is the third rail of American journalism.” – Deborah Howell, Sunday, July 23, 2006

    This construct by journalists describes the phenomena that editors get more criticism and complaints about news articles written about Israeli than any other country and other topics. Doesn’t that lend evidence to the theory that the reading public responds to commentary on Israel with bias?

    (Please don’t attack Howell. She is merely using a well traveled phrase in the business also used this week on Greater Boston.)

  14. Neil Sagan

    Interview with Knesset Member (MK) Hanan Zoabi

    If the Knesset can tolerate criticism of Israeli policy, why can’t Ari Fleischer and the US press corps?

  15. Michael Corcoran

    Just saw the Beat the Press clip.

    The only two minor complaints I might have are as follows:

    1) It kind of sounded as though I was sent to cover the speech, not the protests. That is not true, I was sent too late to cover the speech, as I have noted. I did not call an audible and decide to change the focus, and if I did I am sure the editors would have killed it. If 20 protesters at Brandeis doesn’t warrant space in the paper, that is a decision for someone to make way above my pay grade. I certainly didn’t pith the story.

    2) The gentlemen from the Herald asked if a full-time reporter failed to disclose such information might be be terminated? Perhaps, but that is a HUGE distinction. If someone works 7.5 hour shifts and is a student, outside work becomes a necessity. I have political views. I have interned at the Nation, the Globe editorial page, and editorialized those places and on blogs and school papers (this was on my resume, by the way). It is just a part of me. But if you are working a six-month gig of one or two 7.5 hour shifts and must have a life outside of the job, it is very different. And as I noted, a large percentage of those who work these shifts are also developing journalistic identities outside the Globe, as they must. Some of them write editorials or blogs sometimes.

    I do recognize where I erred – I should have simply chosen either objective reporting, or political analysis – but I just don’t buy that this is the example of one rogue blogger who messed up.

  16. Bob Gardner

    @ Dan,
    Thanks for your patience. Maybe we can clear some things up.
    1) “The school complained.” Show me where, and show me what they said. Did they complain about omissions? Did they accuse the Globe of persistant anti-Israel bias? Did the school complain about the reporter’s blogging history? Your post “failed to include coverage of the substance of the remarks” of school officials. And tell my why even if the school complained, Martin Peretz’s role in this should be excised.

    2) Apparently you miscontrued what I meant by “blogging history”. The Globe reporter’s “blogging history” is what he wrote on his blog over a period of years concerning Israel. Your “blogging history” is what you wrote over a period of years concerning Israel. That’s all I meant. He should disclose, you should disclose. All that stuff about how the stories get from your blog to Beat the Press is completely beside the point as far as I am concerned. If
    that’s what you thought I was complaining about I don’t blame you for being mystified.

    3) “When I have had an actual conflict of interest, I have always disclosed . . . .” So, none of this is about an “actual” conflict of interest? What kind conflict of interest is it? What’s the opposite of actual? Made-up? Invented?

    You’re right that I’m having an unusually difficult time with this. It’s about Martin Peretz vs. the Globe, except it isn’t. It’s about omitted facts being proof of bias, except when Beat the Press omits facts. It’s about conflict of interest, except the conflict of interest isn’t actual.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob:

      1. I’m telling you that the school complained. I have personal knowledge of it. If you want to talk about history, Marty Peretz has been trashing the Globe for years. I doubt anyone at the Globe cares at this point, but you’d better believe they care about their relationships with local colleges and universities. No complaints from Brandeis, no “Editor’s Note.” Guaranteed.

      2. I think you’ve dug yourself in deeper with your new position (or clarified position). There are damn few things that come up on “Beat the Press” or anywhere else that I haven’t expressed an opinion about somewhere. So what? If you think the positions I’ve taken on Israel are somehow more worthy of disclosure than the positions I’ve taken on hundreds of other topics, well, let’s just say I find that interesting.

      3. An actual conflict of interest, I think, is when someone writes something that is tied up directly (important word) in relationships with employers, past employers, clients, friends, family members and the like. There’s no way I can write about the Boston Phoenix without disclosing. I worked there for 14-plus years, I have many friends there, and I continue to write for them occasionally. In fact, I anticipate cashing a nice check from them in a few weeks. Compare that to disclosing “Oh, by the way, I’ve expressed an opinion about this before,” and you have the definition of a phony conflict of interest.

  17. Neil Sagan

    You seem to be having an unusually difficult time with this. Let me try again. The school complained.

    Let’s ignore for a moment Dan’s implied insult of Bob’s intellect. Substantiate the claim, “The school complained.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: If you think I’m lying, why do you bother commenting here?

  18. Neil Sagan

    I asked for information and you react by inferring that I don’t believe your claim. What an odd response. Moreover, you fail to provide any information whatsoever along those lines. Perhaps even more odd.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Me: “I’m telling you that the school complained. I have personal knowledge of it.”

      @Neil: “Substantiate the claim, ‘The school complained.'”

      It was off the record. You can either accept it or not. Maybe saying that you were accusing me of lying was too much, but clearly you were unwilling to take me at my word.

  19. Bob Gardner

    DK,”.An actual conflict of interest, I think, is when someone writes something that is tied up directly (important word) in relationships with employers, past employers, clients, friends, family members and the like”

    I think we’ve come full circle here.

    Here my very first comment on this thread, and your response.

    “Bob Gardner says:
    June 14, 2010 at 10:02 amSo if you criticize Israel in a blog you’re out but if your son is in the Israeli Defense Forces you’re okay?”

    “Dan Kennedy says:
    June 14, 2010 at 10:06 am@Bob: You should be held responsible for your own work, not for what a member of your family does. So yeah”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: I don’t think Bronner could report on something involving his son’s IDF unit. But I can’t imagine why it stops him from reporting on an entire country.

  20. Neil Sagan

    The Double Standard Personified – Anti-Arab and -Muslim bigot Marty Peretz – still at TNR – condemns Helen Thomas: http://bit.ly/bz9IK2

  21. Neil Sagan

    It was off the record. You can either accept it or not. Maybe saying that you were accusing me of lying was too much, but clearly you were unwilling to take me at my word.

    Asking for more information does not preclude taking you at your word.

    So what you’re saying is that you have an anonymous source at the Globe on the issue of whether Brandeis complained about the story.

    I can see Brandeis might request anonymity but I cant see why your contact of the Globe would insist upon it. How did that conversation go?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: You are guessing. And that’s the last I will say about this.

  22. Neil Sagan

    I am asking questions … which you choose to not answer.

  23. Neil Sagan

    Human Beings Are Good at Disguising Reality

    I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, but it’s worth pointing out that one feature of American political and media culture is that a guy like Martin Peretz can be editor in chief of a magazine like The New Republic and publish a lot of racist nonsense in its digital pages and the whole thing is treated as perhaps vaguely embarrassing but certainly not a major problem. Ergo this kind of odd gloating over economic problems in Dubai:

    Well, just about Thanksgiving time in 2009 the emirates (of which is Dubai is only one) found themselves no longer so rich. In fact, they found themselves in terrible troubles. Actually, it happened a bit earlier. But Arabs are deft at disguising reality. But, in the end, their hotels were going empty, their condominiums couldn’t be financed, they were soon deporting their south Asian workers. I don’t know what happened to their 7-star underwater hotel. Or whether they are still refrigerating their beaches. I suppose Bill Clinton also no longer draws down a quarter of a million bucks for speeches…but that may be because Hillary’s job forbids even the poor husband such financial activity. What a sacrifice.

    source: http://bit.ly/bH7yrP …. it’s always a good idea to references your sources….

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: Matt Yglesias might try point out that Peretz owns the New Republic. Maybe it wasn’t intentional, but he implies something that simply isn’t the case by making it seem like someone went out and hired him to edit the magazine.

  24. Neil Sagan

    A double standard is a double standard whether you’re the writer and the publisher and the owner or just the writer. I’m not sure why you think that’s central to the issue.

    This is Yglesias on the double standard of Peretz, a pro-Israeli advocate and a person who is prejudiced against Arabs.

    I argue he has the right to publish this hate speech, I just think he should be held accountable for it and be recognized for what he is. Was Peretz one of the people who complained to the Globe and demanded a correction?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: Because there is no one to hold Peretz accountable. Because he can’t be fired.

      I have no knowledge of Peretz’s contacting the Globe. I suspect he didn’t. He wrote what he wrote, and that was that.

  25. Neil Sagan

    Dan accountable can be assigned with a well constructed argument by spoken or written word. That’s the whole idea behind free speech and debate. One doesn’t have to deprive the person of their livelihood to have accountability.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: When Helen Thomas was effectively fired, there were a lot of people asking, “Why doesn’t Marty Peretz get fired?” It was and is a nonsensical question.

  26. Bob Gardner

    @ Dan,
    I agree that allowing Bonner to stay is a reasonable position to take, although if I had a kid who joined the army I don’t how fair I could be to the other side.
    It’s a close call either way, but I think we both agree that there is an “actual” conflict of interest here.

    My point is that the Globe reporter’s conflict of interest doesn’t approach the level of Bonner’s. As you say, “Compare that to disclosing ‘Oh, by the way, I’ve expressed an opinion about this before,’ and you have the definition of a phony conflict of interest.”

    But look at the disparity–the guy with the “actual” conflict is maybe off the beat if his son’s unit is actually in combat; the guy with the “definition of a phony conflict” can’t even cover something in Waltham if involves the Israeli Ambassador.

    Dan, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it seems to me that we both agree that the Globe reporter had only a phony conflict of interest.

    I also agree with you about “firing Martin Peretz.” You can fire an employee, but you can’t prevent someone from marrying an heiress.

    I would just ask anyone who has gotten this far to go back and read the original story on the Brandeis commencement protest. Did Brandeis or anyone really have a legitimate beef with that story?

    Then watch the news story which introduces the Beat the Press segment. That story (sorry to repeat myself) changes the source of the complaint from a controversial figure, Martin Peretz, to an unspecified, and apparently off-the-record Brandeis official.

    Which story, the Globe’s or Beat the Press, seems more biased to you?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Then watch the news story which introduces the Beat the Press segment. That story (sorry to repeat myself) changes the source of the complaint from a controversial figure, Martin Peretz, to an unspecified, and apparently off-the-record Brandeis official.

      @Bob: Accurately so.

      As I said on “Beat the Press,” my problem with the Globe’s story was not so much Michael Corcoran’s rather minor conflict of interest (which I don’t think Peretz even knew about), but with the story itself. Corcoran has explained how that happened, so let’s generically just say that the Globe botched it. Commencement coverage is not a highlight of what newspapers do, but if you’re going to do it, then do it — and not get diverted by an extremely minor protest.

      Good lord, of course Brandeis had a legitimate beef. I’m sure officials there believe they are as entitled to a boring, respectful story about their commencement speaker as any other college or university. Why wouldn’t they? It’s not as if anything actually newsworthy happened that day.

      Peretz is a red herring. I picked up on the story because of John Carroll’s blog, and John, in turn, linked to Peretz. But the reality is that this was a dispute that played out between Brandeis and the Globe.

  27. Bob Gardner

    @Dan,
    I guess my beef is with the staff at Beat the Press, who put together the video segment. It looks like they have an off-the-record source, too.

    The protest wasn’t newsworthy? I won’t bicker, but I’ve been in smaller protests (about rent-control and condo-conversion–not the middle east) that got on TV, not just the Globe.

    A lot of the acrimony on this thread could have been avoided John Carroll didn’t screw this story up in the first place. Then your headline would have read–“Globe Strives to be Even More Boring by Caving in to Brandeis’s Sense of Entitlement.”

    The Globe’s “correction” is a strange one. They blame the stringer for errors that were made at the editorial level, then smear him by implying that the errors (which he did not make) were the result of his (phony) bias.

  28. Michael Corcoran

    Dan,

    I haven’t gone back and checked, but I don’t think the Globe has been covering commencements. What they have been doing is running a list of one commencements that happened, but — and maybe I am wrong here — they haven’t been granting cheesy, boring commencement stories for each major university.

    I think the only reason the editor sent a warm body to Brandeis was the controversy, not to do a cheesy commencement story. I worked every weekend in May and don’t recall many, or maybe any commencement storyies at all — maybe just stand alone photos for big-time celebs.

    I think one can make the case that 20 protesters doesn’t warrant more than a new brief or so, but I don’t think the Globe has been in the business of running cheesy commencement stories this year.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Michael Corcoran: I haven’t done a scientific survey, but I know the Globe covered commencement at Northeastern and BU. In Northeastern’s case, it covered the awarding of an honorary degree to Vicki Kennedy, but not the speaker.

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