Falsehoods, lies, and the challenge of covering Donald Trump

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President-elect Donald Trump, as we know, is a flagrant and profligate teller of untruths. The Pulitzer-winning nonpartisan website PolitiFact reports that fully 69 percent of Trump’s public statements during and after the campaign were either mostly or entirely false. We find ourselves in uncharted territory.

Which is why a simmering debate over whether journalists should label his falsehoods as lies broke out on the Sunday talk shows.

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Questions remain about the Washington Post’s reporting on the Vermont electrical grid

The Washington Post appears to have overreached significantly in its report last Friday that Russian hackers had penetrated Vermont’s electrical grid. Later that evening it was revealed that malware associated with the Russians was found on just one Burlington Electric laptop that was not attached to the grid. On Monday evening the Post published an updated story reporting that even that was an overstatement.

Although we don’t know yet exactly what went wrong, Kalev Leetaru’s analysis at Forbes, much of it based on looking at how the story changed over time, strikes me as very good. Leetaru writes that it appears the Post did not try to contact Burlington Electric until after the first version of its story had been published online—an important oversight if true. Certainly there was no indication in the Post’s first story that its reporters had attempted to contact the utility.

Yet I want to push back a bit on the idea that no one except the Post had reason to believe there was anything to this story. At Vermont Public Radio, you’ll find an article published on Friday, after the Post, that includes this statement from Burlington Electric spokesman Mike Kanarick:

Last night, U.S. utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks. We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding. Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems. We have briefed state officials and will support the investigation fully.

In other words, government officials and Burlington Electric were taking this very seriously indeed—even if the Post had incorrectly reported that the grid had been breached. Yes, of course, the Post should have been more careful. But we’re in the midst of a much larger, unfolding saga of Russian hacking. Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a deep breath.

Update: Taylor Dobbs of Vermont Public Radio, a distinguished Northeastern journalism alumnus, has an excellent follow-up. Unfortunately it’s still not entirely clear whether the Post attempted to contact Burlington Electric before publishing. Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti says yes; the utility’s general manager, Neale Lunderville, says no.

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McGrory promises details about the Globe’s reinvention ‘in a few days’

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory has outdone himself with a 1,550-word New Year’s message to his staff, a copy of which a kind newsroom soul sent me on Sunday. McGrory is full of praise for the accomplishments of the past year while cognizant of the problems caused by continued budget cuts.

There is news here, too: He promises some details about the paper’s ongoing reinvention effort “in a few days.”

The full text of McGrory’s message follows.

Hey all,

It’s odd, the things you remember about a given year. It was raining out, not a warm, soothing rain, but freezing little icicles that prick your skin again and again and again. The sun hadn’t come up. I’m not sure it ever did. The sidewalks were a hockey rink. And Ellen Clegg, the wheelwoman on our two-person delivery route that Sunday morning last January, apparently had just about enough of my methodical pace. So she slammed her SUV into park and began running down a Wellesley street tossing papers on subscribers’ driveways.

We were but two delivery people in a vast newsroom army, one that had been organized a week earlier by Beth Healy. Person after person answered the call, reporters, editors, designers, photographers, graphic artists, technologists, owners—you name it. And for those who couldn’t deliver, they worked the phone banks or created daily delivery spreadsheets. It felt like the ground was cracking under our feet, but this newsroom would do everything it could to preserve the integrity of the Globe.

While many of us remember delivering the papers those subsequent Sundays, it’s what was in the papers themselves that matters most. In those issues, it was a pair of important stories on questionable influence in City Hall. It was a brilliantly written feature on the development boom leading to obstructed views. It was an essay on Donald Trump’s unfiltered style, a gripping enterprise story on a high-level drug trafficking informant, and a fresh look at the ballooning pricetag for the Green Line extension. In sum and as usual, it was vital and interesting Boston Globe journalism, well worth whatever effort it took to get it in the hands of our readers.

The year may have begun in crisis. It ends, however, with a crucial dose of introspection—an unsparing review, part of a broad reinvention initiative, of what works and what doesn’t at the Globe, what we need to change, and how we will change it. This is among the most important work we’ve done this year, and I’ll be back to you in a few days with more details on the road ahead.

For now, though, let’s be grateful that we had such a quiet year, news-wise, to devote ourselves to this important work.

Yeah, right.

Somewhere between helping to save the Globe and then reinventing it, you produced some of the finest journalism in the industry, and some of the best I’ve seen in my time here—in a year unlike any other. Take the Washington Bureau. Have five people—seriously, just five people—ever produced such an extraordinary body of riveting and vital work, from the stories on Trump’s business dealings, to the internal workings of Clinton’s orbit, to a nation’s anger, and so much more? It just kept coming, fresh enterprise, news stories with exceptional voice and context, pieces that larger, national news organizations had no choice but to follow. I honestly don’t believe that Matt Viser and Annie Linskey, with Chris Rowland’s guiding hand, wrote a story all year that I wasn’t eager to read—and then delighted that I did. And Vicki McGrane has only added to it all.

Take our Business department. If 2015 was the year it established its own section, 2016 was when it made it an utterly must-read part of the Globe. You start naming names, you start getting into trouble, but how do you not cite Shirley Leung’s work on Ed Ansin, General Electric, and anything else she touched? Does Jon Chesto ever sleep? Does Tim Logan have the entire development community wired? Does Beth Healy ever back down? I could go on and on, beat after beat, but suffice it to say that the entire department brought urgency and freshness to the report virtually every day.

If anyone thought that Jess Rinaldi’s Pulitzer Prize for her incredible Strider Wolf portfolio would cause the Photo Department to kick back a bit, well, you don’t know the Photo Department. Who will ever forget Keith Bedford’s arresting images from Methadone Mile in July, or Suzanne Kreiter’s chilling work on Spotlight’s mental health series, or the daily offerings of just about everyone else, from the veterans with elaborate morning rituals to the guy from Denver, to our great sports shooters, all of it so good that it helped change the look and tone of our print front page.

Sports chronicled the early endings to a pair of otherwise incredible seasons—the Patriots last January and the Red Sox in October. Seriously, there’s no regional news organization in the country that has four pro sports teams staffed with more authority and insight than the Globe, with our stable of expert beat reporters, supported by a best-in-show editing operation and production desk. Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, Red Sox, there’s nobody better. Throw Shaughnessy and Gasper into the mix and we can’t be beat.

Metro had another banner year, with strong accountability reporting on government influence, more groundbreaking coverage of the opioid crisis, political reporting that drove key ballot questions on marijuana legalization and charter schools, Kay Lazar’s continued watchdog reporting on abuses in the state’s nursing homes—stories that have pretty much defined our daily goal of giving voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. The beat reporting, whether on transportation, higher ed, hospitals, casino gambling, and so much more, has been stellar. And the in-depth work has been some of the most fascinating and important that I can recall, whether Nestor Ramos and Evan Allen on Methadone Mile, or Eric Moskowitz on the election night trolley crash, or Maria Sacchetti on ICE and the secret release of dangerous immigrants, or Billy Baker on Will Lacey. Yvonne Abraham had a breakout year with her powerful commentary, and Josh Miller might produce the most engaging political newsletter in the industry.

Living/Arts helped drive us further into the realm of a digital first enterprise. Our extraordinary stable of critics, let by Matthew Gilbert, was a force of nature online. Ty was must reading across the year on movies and all things culture, and Sebastian is what he is, which is the best visual arts critic in the nation. But really, theater, classical music, photography, we owned it with an insightful voice, and our Sunday Arts section remains one of the absolute best of any news organization, national or regional, in the country. Our feature writers, too, have regularly splashed color on the homepage and front page—clever, smart, fresh stories. Dugan buying marijuana was worth the price of a month’s subscription all by itself.

Spotlight had a year for the ages, producing powerful reports on multiple fronts while only enhancing the quality and impact that is its trademark. The mental health series, big, bold, and beautifully told, again gave voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one. The team’s urgent but exhaustive work on predatory sexual behavior at elite private schools, which began with Bella English back in Features, has been life-changing for victims. And imagine being a partner at the Thornton Law Firm?

The list keeps going on and on. Our copy editing team is in a class of its own, uniformly respected across the enterprise for every good reason. Our Globe.com team has been pivotal in orchestrating another record year of viewership and, if it’s a word, subscribership. Their collective news judgment, urgency, and knowledge of the digital habitat are all flat-out impeccable. Graphics and design has made us bolder and more confident with pitch-perfect graphics, extraordinary digital presentations, and fresh front pages and section fronts. Our magazine remains at the very top of every reader survey, understandably so, and is the envy of the industry. While we’re talking popular, our Address, Travel, Food, and Good Life sections give our readers knowledge wrapped in style and flair week after week. Finally, a special hand to the editors and reporters of boston.com, who have miraculously preserved traffic in the face of substantial cuts. How? By working like crazy to produce a smart site.

On the issue of cuts, let’s be honest about it: we’ve lost a lot of people again this year and it doesn’t get any easier. These aren’t so much good people as great people, experienced journalists who have helped build the foundation for our success. But it’s testament to our extraordinary depth, resilience, and character that we have done this well in the face of the relentless pressures of a profoundly changing industry.

I wish we could glide on our accomplishments for a while—but that’s not possible, and the truth is, you’d get bored. You would, right? We’ve got too much to do in 2017. We’ll reinvent how we produce our journalism. We’ll move to innovative space in downtown Boston. We’ll be relentlessly interesting. We’ll drive the civic conversation in Greater Boston and beyond. We’ll hold the powerful accountable and give voice to those who need to be heard.

We should all be incredibly proud of where we’ve just been. We should be even more excited about where we’re about to go. Me, I’m also honored to be part of the smart, engaging, deeply committed group that is the Globe newsroom. Really, it’s something special, and every person reading this has a vital role.

Have a healthy, happy, and safe New Year. My sincere thanks to you all.

Brian

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Happy New Year to everyone

We closed out 2016 the right way—with good friends, the Three Stooges, and Alicia Keys instead of Mariah Carey. I hope that bodes well for 2017.

May all of you have a wonderful, happy, healthy 2017. And thank you for reading.

‘Inside Track’ columnist Gayle Fee is leaving the Herald

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-2-01-52-pmTime was when the “Inside Track,” the Boston Herald‘s gossip column, was among the most read—and feared—media outposts in the city. For years, Laura Raposa and Gayle Fee tracked the famous and tormented the powerful. And before them was the late Norma Nathan, whose column was called “The Eye.”

Well, gossip isn’t what it used to be. Raposa retired a few years ago into order to become a professional foodie along with her husband (and former Media Nation roommate) Steve Syre, a retired business columnist for the Boston Globe. Together they operate the Foodsmith in Duxbury.

And now Fee is leaving the Herald, according to an email she sent to colleagues that I obtained a little while ago. Her last day is Friday, but she’s working right up until the end: today she has a piece on the retirement of local man-about-town John Garabedian as well as a compilation of tidbits.

Here is the text of Fee’s email:

Moving On …

Hello Everyone—Please excuse the mass email—I wanted to let you all know that Friday will be my last column for the Boston Herald. After 33 years at the paper, 25 at the Inside Track, it’s time for me to say goodbye….

I wanted to say what a pleasure it has been to work with all of you over the years and hopefully we will stay in touch.

Thanks for everything—

Best, Gayle

And best wishes to Fee as she embarks on the next phase of her life.

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Alphonse Mouzon, a great jazz drummer, has died

As 2016 draws to a close, another great artist has died. This one, though, was not a celebrity. Alphonse Mouzon was a terrific jazz drummer with a long, varied career. I know him best from McCoy Tyner’s Enlightenment (above), a suite that was recorded live at Montreux in 1973. (If you’ve never heard it, I recommend it. It is deeply spiritual in the manner of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, on which Tyner played.)

According to the New York Times obit, Mouzon “learned this fall that he had neuroendocrine cancer and used a crowdfunding platform to help pay for treatment.” Not that the deaths of Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, et al. weren’t every bit as tragic. But that’s a detail you don’t often see when reading about the death of a musician who at one time was fairly well known.

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The Globe increases its weekly home-delivery price by—well, we’re really not sure

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A friend just forwarded this to me. I have edited out his name, but the blank spot after “Your new weekly rate will be” is entirely the doing of the Boston Globe. Note that you can’t respond to the email.

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub got one of these as well.

Pay whatever you think it’s worth?

OK, I looked it up. Assuming this is up to date, a seven-day print subscription will cost you $14.34 a week after you get past the introductory offer.

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