Charlie Baker’s missed opportunity

Walt Whitman in 1863. Photo via the Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images.

I thought Gov. Charlie Baker missed an important opportunity at the end of his State of the Commonwealth speech Tuesday night. Instead of calling out those among his fellow Republicans who’ve decided to support Donald Trump’s deadly insurrection, or announcing that he’s leaving the Republican Party to become an independent or to start something new, he — what?

Besides putting COVID in the rear-view mirror once and for all, my biggest wish for 2021 is for all of us to take Walt Whitman’s charge to heart. Be curious — not judgmental.

This was preceded by “Before I close, I want to offer some thought on the mood of the nation and the events of the past year.” And then he went into a long spiel about “Saturday Night Live,” social media and Walt Whitman. To put it mildly, he failed to deliver on the expectations he had raised. And it’s OK to be judgmental about a failed coup attempt.

Well, of course Lauren Wolfe has launched a Substack

And here it is.

Previously:

For five years, Trump outrage has fueled media profits. So now what?

Trump supporter in North Carolina last September. Photo (cc) 2020 by Anthony Crider.

Last Friday, The New York Times published the sort of story we’ve become quite familiar with — a blockbuster about Donald Trump. Times reporter Katie Benner revealed that, during Trump’s final days as president, he’d considered removing the acting attorney general as part of a plot to overturn the election results in Georgia.

For the past five years, such reporting has been very, very good for national news organizations. Trump outrage has provided elite newspapers, cable news stations and other prominent outlets with a jolt they hadn’t seen since the internet began eating away at their audience and revenue several decades earlier. But now it’s coming to an end.

The question is whether the Trump-era boost can outlast Trump.

Read the rest at GBH News.

The Washington Post’s top editor, Marty Baron, will retire next month

Marty Baron, right, in conversation with Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation. Photo (cc) 2017 by the Knight Foundation.

Republished at GBH News.

Not unexpected, but stunning nevertheless: Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron is retiring after eight years at the helm, according to Brian Stelter of CNN. Baron was widely regarded as the best newspaper editor of his generation, and his leadership — not just at the Post but as a voice for journalism and the First Amendment — will be hugely missed.

Under Baron, the Post was fearless, negotiating the bizarre media landscape dominated by Donald Trump with a sure-footedness that its larger competitor, The New York Times, never quite seemed to master. Before coming to the Post, Baron was the editor of The Boston Globe, where he led the paper’s reporting that showed Cardinal Bernard Law was deeply involved in the pedophile-priest crisis.

I interviewed Baron several times over the years, including in early 2016 for my book “The Return of the Moguls: How Jeff Bezos and John Henry Are Remaking Newspapers for the Twenty-First Century.” Here is an excerpt about Baron’s reaction when he learned in August 2013 that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was buying the Post:

“I was completely shocked, obviously,” Baron said when I asked him about his reaction to the news that Bezos would buy the Post. “I told people when I came here that while the Times would probably like to sell the Globe, it was highly unlikely that Don Graham would be selling the Washington Post. So I was kind of stunned when I heard about it. But I thought that it could have some real advantages for us”—a reference to Bezos’s preference for growth over cutting and his deep understanding of technology and consumer behavior. “I did not know if it would be a good thing for me personally,” Baron added, “because obviously when a new owner comes in he has the absolute right to pick who he wants to run the organization that he has acquired. He said positive things at the beginning, but my sense was that it would be a year of figuring out the place and deciding what he wanted to do.”

Bezos, to his credit, realized what he had inherited, kept Baron in place and by all accounts left him alone to do his job. The Post has built its paid digital subscription base from around 100,000 to 200,000 in early 2016 to 3 million today, and the newsroom has grown from 580 to more than 1,000 since Bezos bought the paper. It’s also been profitable for five years.

And the Post’s main selling point has been the excellence of its journalism. Baron is going to be incredibly difficult to replace.

Globe employees union launches publicity campaign as negotiations drag on

The following is a press release from the Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents more than 300 Boston Globe employees. Publication does not equal endorsement, though I am sympathetic to the Globe staff, which has been working without a contract for a long time. I would, of course, welcome a response from Globe management.

Largest Newspaper in New England Faces Upheaval 

Journalists and Staff Launch Campaign to Alert Readers of Deepening Crisis at The Boston Globe

BOSTON, MA — Amid ongoing labor strife within the newsroom and questions about management’s ties to Donald Trump’s election campaigns, Boston Globe staff and journalists are saying through a new public information campaign that newspaper executives are at risk of letting down their employees and readers at a time when reliable news sources are needed more than ever.

Today, the paper’s employees, who have won Pulitzer Prizes, Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism, and other honors for distinguished news coverage, announced the launch of a new public information campaign: “Dear Globe Readers.” Hitting airwaves, mailboxes, social media, the “Dear Globe Readers” campaign will publicize the plight and concerns of Globe staff to a key audience — the newspaper’s readership.

Recently, Linda Pizzuti Henry was named Chief Executive Officer of Boston Globe Media Partners, on the same day that Globe employees criticized the company for its relationship with the Jones Day law firm. As a law firm of choice for Donald Trump’s election campaigns, Jones Day has been widely denounced for its role in a lawsuit that sought to challenge the electoral integrity of the November 2020 U.S. election.

“Ultimately, it is the readers who are hurt the most when Boston Globe executives and their Trump-affiliated law firm push policies that threaten to increase turnover among newsroom staff,” said Scott Steeves, President of the Boston Newspaper Guild and a 37-year employee of The Boston Globe. “In order for us to bring readers breaking news and the best coverage, we need The Boston Globe to take a new approach to how it treats its workforce, beginning by rescinding the proposals put forward by its Trump-affiliated law firm that would undermine journalistic freedom, quality, and independence in the newsroom.”

DearGlobeReaders.org provides readers with information about how the Henrys have empowered Jones Day, a law firm known for its aggressive tactics against media company unions, to push policies that journalists and union leaders say have hurt workers and harmed the quality of the news produced.

The campaign launch marks a coordinated and escalated response by journalists in response to ongoing attacks against the rights of newsroom staff that are being waged by Globe management and by Jones Day. Management and Jones Day continue to push policies to roll back workplace rights, even as members of the Boston Newspaper Guild have worked for more than two years without a new contract.

The “Dear Globe Readers” multimedia campaign will air ads during primetime television on top-rated cable networks such as CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, TNT, and more. Postcards promoting the “Dear Globe Readers” campaign will land in the mailboxes of thousands of Globe readers.

Under the Henrys’ direction, Jones Day has been brought in to create policies that Guild members say will continue to drain the newsroom of some of its most talented and seasoned frontline contributors. DearGlobeReaders.org claims that such practices will endanger The Boston Globe’s ability to provide its readers prompt, accurate and objective information.

Guild members have said that they feel subscriber money is being squandered on Jones Day and the protracted negotiations, and that the Henrys have turned their backs on journalists who report and produce the news each day, even as the pursuit of a story has led many Globe journalists to put their own health and safety at risk amidst a pandemic.

The “Dear Globe Readers” campaign informs the public about the challenges at the paper and urges readers to demand that the Henrys preserve The Boston Globe’s commitment to delivering New England the highest quality daily journalism.

“We’re proud of The Globe’s reputation and the work we do,” said Steeves. “We hope the Henrys will choose to change course and that they will take action to show they value those who bring the news to Globe readers.”

# # #

About The Boston Newspaper Guild:

The Boston Newspaper Guild is the employee union for The Boston Globe. We proudly represent more than 300 employees including reporters, editors, page designers, web producers, advertising salespeople and advertising sales support persons, ad-designers, circulation managers, accountants, marketers and information technology specialists, security guards, shippers/receivers, secretaries, and more. Our members produce Pulitzer Prize-winning, nationally-acclaimed work for The Boston Globe.

For $2,000, you too can be on the cover of the Rolling Stone

Photo (cc) 2010 by Jim Parkinson

Well, maybe not the cover. But if you want to pay $2,000, you can write an essay that will be published in Rolling Stone. The once-great magazine’s pay-to-play scheme was revealed by The Guardian, which reports: “Rolling Stone magazine is offering ‘thought leaders’ the chance to write for its website if they are willing to pay $2,000 to ‘shape the future of culture.’”

A few observations. First, actual thought leaders don’t have to pay $2,000 in order to be published. Second, they don’t call themselves thought leaders. Third, and most obvious: There is a name for this, and it’s called advertising.

As The Guardian notes, the scheme is at least a cousin to native advertising or branded content, which is advertising in the form of a feature story that is aimed at enticing readers rather than beating them over the head. Properly labeled, there’s nothing wrong with such ads.

But Rolling Stone proposes to go quite a bit further than that. Even if it’s properly labeled, they’ve made themselves a laughingstock. This is embarrassing, right down to the hilariously named “Culture Council” that’s going to vet this crap — a process that I assume will consist mainly of making sure the check cleared.

Lauren Wolfe, The New York Times and the never-ending dilemma over social media

Photo (cc) 2019 by Andreas Komodromos

In what should be a surprise to no one, follow-ups show that The New York Times  fired freelance editor Lauren Wolfe after several previous incidents in which the paper’s editors believed she had violated social-media guidelines. It wasn’t just the “I have chills” tweet about President Biden. But the question remains: What was the big deal? As Joe Pompeo of Vanity Fair puts it:

As the situation snowballed, there was also a palpable yearning for more information about what was behind the Times’ decision. Was Wolfe a sacrificial lamb thrown overboard in the face of bad faith criticism? Had the Times overreacted to what could be interpreted as an expression of relief given the authoritarian bullet America just dodged? Or was there more to the story?

The answer, Pompeo says, citing “a number of senior Times sources”: “Wolfe had previously been cautioned about her social media behavior. A manager gave her a warning months ago after staffers expressed discomfort with certain tweets she was told bordered on being political.”

Tom Jones of Poynter argues that Wolfe’s termination raises questions that need further exploration:

This incident once again brings into question the social media presence of journalists. When a journalist tweets, do they represent just themselves or the organization they work for, as well? Can someone’s work be questioned over something they post on Facebook? Is a journalist always “on the clock,” even when they are tweeting personal thoughts?

Finally, Wolfe herself speaks to Erik Wemple of The Washington Post. And what she has to say casts doubt on the idea that her previous transgressions played any role in her firing. Wemple writes:

Months ago, recalls Wolfe, she received a warning from the same manager about her Twitter activity; as an example, he cited a tweet in which, Wolfe says, she’d connected the resistance of conservative men to wearing masks to “toxic masculinity.” She deleted the tweet. But, according to Wolfe, the manager said her posts in general were “borderline” and that other Times staffers had done “worse.” Last week’s tweet was “the only reason they fired me,” Wolfe says.

Wemple also describes as “dreadful” the Times statement (see previous item) in which management said it would respect her privacy while not respecting her privacy. It surely is that. By insinuating that Wolfe was fired for something much worse than the “chills” tweet, the Times harmed Wolfe’s reputation and made it more difficult for her to move on to her next job.

The Times is known for having strict guidelines about its straight-news journalists expressing opinions on social media. If, in fact, Wolfe proved incorrigible after previous warnings, then I suppose the Times acted appropriately, even though it still strikes me as an extreme reaction to a pretty harmless tweet.

It also appears that Times management reacted as much to the outrage stirred up by the gadfly journalist Glenn Greenwald and others as it did to Wolfe’s actual tweet. According to Pompeo, Wolfe was told that her tweet had sparked an outcry, and “we can’t have that.” For what it’s worth, Greenwald says Wolfe shouldn’t have been fired.

Earlier:

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(Not) getting to the bottom of why The New York Times fired Lauren Wolfe

For journalists, Twitter is a seductive and dangerous place. It’s a forum in which to see and be seen. Editors encourage journalists to use it in order to promote their work and build their personal brands, which in turn redound to the benefit of their employer. But the way to do that is to be edgy — and journalists who are too edgy often find themselves without a net, and sometimes without a job.

The latest journalist to run afoul of these contradictions (maybe, as we’ll see below) is Lauren Wolfe, who, until last week, was a freelance editor for The New York Times. Yashir Ali, who writes for New York magazine and HuffPost, tweeted last Thursday that Wolfe had been dismissed for tweeting “I have chills” as Joe Biden’s plane was landing in advance of the inauguration. She also tweeted and then deleted criticism that Donald Trump had refused to send a military jet to pick Biden up; that turned out not to be true.

Liberals and fellow journalists on Twitter erupted in outrage over Wolfe’s dismissal, seeing it as a sign that the Times is twisting itself into knots to avoid being accused of bias. For instance, Wesley Lowery, who left The Washington Post after he and executive editor Marty Baron clashed over Lowery’s social-media posts, tweeted, “We allow critics — of good and bad faith — to hang us by our own rope when we conflate objectivity of process with individual objectivity. Someone having or expressing an opinion does not mean they are not capable of providing fair and professional coverage on a topic.” (Lowery now works for the Marshall Project, a well-regarded nonprofit that covers criminal-justice issues.)

Virginia Heffernan, a Los Angeles Times columnist who hosts the soon-to-be-retired podcast “Trumpcast,” also came to Wolfe’s defense in a thread that compared the liberties that The New York Times allowed to swashbucklers of the past like Johnny Apple and David Carr to the locked-down mode that prevails currently. She also defended a tweet by Times contributing columnist Will Wilkinson, who was fired from his position at the Niskanen Center, a think tank, for a dumb tweet in which he joked, “If Biden really wanted unity, he’d lynch Mike Pence.” Sorry, but that’s a tweet too far. Leaving aside the fact that Wilkinson was lampooning insurrectionists who really did want to kill Pence, his tweet was wildly inappropriate, as Wilkinson himself acknowledged by apologizing.

Which brings us back to the matter of Lauren Wolfe, whose tweets strike me as innocuous and in keeping with the relief most of the nation feels at the departure of a president who incited violence against Congress in an attempt to overturn the results of the election. At most, Wolfe should have been taken aside and told, “OK, enough.” But is that really why she was let go? The Times issued a murky statement that read:

There’s a lot of inaccurate information circulating on Twitter. For privacy reasons we don’t get into the details of personnel matters, but we can say that we didn’t end someone’s employment over a single tweet. Out of respect for the individuals involved, we don’t plan to comment further.

Needless to say, that does Wolfe a disservice by leading all of us to speculate what dastardly deeds she committed to warrant having her gig terminated. Ali tweeted, “There were other tweets Wolfe was warned over I’m told but so far don’t know what those tweets are.” If that’s the case, then Wolfe’s publicly getting chills over Biden could be seen as the last straw after a series of missteps. (Even so — seriously?)

In any case, there’s an argument to be made that editors shouldn’t worry about their reporters’ Twitter feeds as much as they do. The all-time classic remains a tweet by Julia Ioffe in December 2016 in which she crudely speculated that Trump was having sex with his daughter Ivanka. Ioffe had already given her notice at Politico in order to accept a job at The Atlantic. Politico terminated her employment immediately. Fortunately for Ioffe, The Atlantic honored its agreement, and she has continued to churn out good work ever since.

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Slavery, the Constitution and Frederick Douglass: What was The New York Times thinking?

Frederick Douglass

There is a bizarre omission in The New York Times’ review of James Oakes’ new book, “The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln and the Antislavery Constitution.”

The question at the center of the book is whether the Constitution should be viewed as a pro-slavery or anti-slavery document. And the reviewer, the historian Gordon S. Wood, never mentions Frederick Douglass. Good Lord. If there was one central takeaway from David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” (2018), it’s that Douglass embraced the Constitution as a weapon with which to fight slavery, breaking with William Lloyd Garrison, who thought the Constitution was irredeemable.

Curious, I decided to dig a little deeper. And I found a review in The Washington Post by Elizabeth R. Varon of the University of Virginia. It turns out that Oakes not only mentions Douglass, but is a scholar of his views about the Constitution. Varon writes:

This book represents a shift in Oakes’s own thinking. While his 2007 study of Frederick Douglass and Lincoln, “The Radical and the Republican,” juxtaposed Douglass the crusading reformer with Lincoln the cautious politician, this volume foregrounds the commonalities between the two men. Lincoln shared with Douglass, Oakes emphasizes, an abiding belief in the abolition movement’s core principle of fundamental human equality.

Much insight is to be gained by contrasting the antislavery constitutionalism of Douglass and Lincoln with the proslavery constitutionalism of Southern enslavers.

By leaving out Douglass, Wood manages the task of writing a nearly 1,300-word essay about slavery without mentioning a single Black person by name. What was he thinking? And does anyone at the Times edit these things?

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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.