‘Moguls’ on ‘Beat the Press’


Thanks to “Beat the Press” host Emily Rooney for giving me a little time at the end of last Friday’s show to talk about “The Return of the Moguls.”

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Boston Globe omits name of reporter who left after harassment accusation

Saturday update: The Boston Business Journal’s Catherine Carlock posted a very good overview Friday night of the Globe’s decision not to identify the reporter who had been forced to resign over sexual-harassment accusations. She also quotes some of the online commentary, including very tough tweets from my former Boston Phoenix colleague Carly Carioli and former Globe journalist Hilary Sargent. She quotes me, too.

If you watch Friday’s “Beat the Press,” you’ll see that I believed the forthcoming Globe story would identify the former employee. I was basing that not just on thinking it was the right thing to do but on some information I’d received as well. So I was pretty surprised to see that the name had been excluded.

This was a tough call. I think Brian McGrory and other Globe executives had two choices, both of them bad. Six months ago, no one would have expected the paper to name a mid-level employee, not especially well known, who had been pushed out over sexual harassment that was apparently serious but involved no touching. But it’s not six months ago. We are all living in the post-Harvey Weinstein era now.

The very same story that omits the name identifies Tom Ashbrook of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) as having been suspended for unspecified allegations. Especially given the Globe’s strong reporting on sexual harassment and assault in restaurants and at the Statehouse, it seems to me that the paper needs to be as transparent as possible about what’s going on in its own house. And if you want to argue that that’s somehow unfair to the former employee in question, I would respond: Yes, in some ways it is unfair. But it’s necessary.

Original Friday item: I just took a quick scan through Boston Globe reporter Mark Arsenault’s story on sexual harassment at the Globe and at other local media organizations, including unspecified charges involving Tom Ashbrook at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). For the most part it appears to be a fine, thorough piece. But what stands out and will spark hundreds of conversations is the Globe’s decision not to identify a journalist who has been the subject of rumors this week, including on today’s “Kirk and Callahan” show on WEEI Radio (93.7 FM). Arsenault writes:

The Globe chose not to identify the employee in this story because his alleged conduct did not involve physical contact, threats, or persistent harassment, and editors determined it is highly unlikely the newspaper would have identified the accused, or written about his conduct, if this situation had arisen at another private company.

““Yes, we’re well aware that by withholding the identity of the reporter involved, we’ll be accused of a double-standard by people and organizations that are not privy to all the facts,” editor Brian McGrory said in a message to the newsroom from which Arsenault quotes. “I can live with that far more easily than I can live with the thought of sacrificing our values to slake the thirst of this moment.”

Although I can understand McGrory’s judgment given Arsenault’s description of the misconduct (especially the lack of physical contact), I wonder if it is tenable in the current environment. I suspect the name is going to come out anyway given how many people know it. Then again, if Globe executives are convinced that not naming him is the right thing to do, I suppose they’re prepared to live with someone else reporting it. But it leaves me feeling uncomfortable.

A source sent me the full text of McGrory’s memo a little while ago. Here it is.

About three weeks ago, I commissioned a story taking a look at how this and other local media organizations are covering the extraordinary #MeToo movement — at the same time that we’re assessing our own situations and confronting issues from within. It took a while, because all of these stories take a while. Sourcing is painstaking. Accusations are raw. Context is important and can take more time than we’d like.

We’ve done some extraordinary journalism on many fronts of this movement — Yvonne [Abraham], Kay [Lazar], Shirley [Leung], Shelley [Murphy], Devra [First], led by Jen [Peter, senior deputy managing editor]. The list could go on, and there’s more to come. Our standards have been high and meticulously upheld, in terms of what we’ll report and how. Vetting of the stories has been rigorous to the point of painstaking.

Now our story on local media, written by Mark Arsenault, is ready this afternoon, as there’s speculation on talk radio and in the social sphere about a recent situation involving the Globe. Mark addresses this situation in the story, having learned about it because he’s an excellent reporter. But even as Mark is aware of the identity of a journalist who has left the Globe, we’ve made the decision not to publish the name, and here I’ll attempt to explain why.

Quite simply, the transgressions would not meet our standards for a reportable event if they happened at another company. To all our knowledge, nobody was physically touched; no one was persistently harassed; there were no overt threats. We’re covering it because we’re applying an extra measure of transparency to ourselves.

This is not in any way to make light of what happened here. There was conduct highly unbecoming of a Globe journalist, people who justifiably felt victimized, and the potential for conflicts of interest. So the responsible party is no longer at the Globe.

Context, again, is vital in this moment, and it is ever more paramount for the Globe and other reputable news organizations to exercise good judgment in unwavering fashion. There are degrees of misconduct, a spectrum, and we must be careful to recognize it. We’ve been meticulous in bringing this kind of context to all of our reporting on these issues, the things we write and, as often, the things we don’t. This is not the time to lower our standard.

So to answer your inevitable question, yes, we’re well aware that by withholding the identity of the reporter involved, we’ll be accused of a double-standard by people and organizations that are not privy to all the facts. I can live with that far more easily than I can live with the thought of sacrificing our values to slake the thirst of this moment. I’m also well aware that wise people, including people in this room, will disagree. I respect that.

Beyond this, please know that our coverage will continue with all the rigor that we’ve already brought on all fronts. Also know that, even as we believe the culture of this room is in a good place, it can get better and we’re working to improve it.

As always, feel free to drop by or share in any other way your thoughts.

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Print is the Globe’s albatross — and lifeblood

The shame about The Boston Globe’s printing problems (and it will be a tragedy, not a shame, if they’re not fixed soon) is that, online, the paper is doing just fine. Earlier this year the paper reported that it had signed up more than 80,000 digital-only subscribers, the highest number of any regional paper in the country. The website looks good and is regularly updated, although a real mobile app would be welcome. The fall arts preview, which did not arrive with many people’s papers last Sunday, has been posted online; just bookmark it.

Unfortunately, for the second time in a year and a half the dead hand of print has reached out from the grave and grabbed the Globe by the ankle as it attempts to escape the past. It’s not like John Henry and company can walk away from print — print ads still pay most of the bills, and printing other newspapers is an important part of the Globe’s business strategy. That’s why it’s so important that the current meltdown be reversed as soon as possible

Of course we’ll be talking about this on “Beat the Press” tonight.

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White House Correspondents Dinner can’t go on after Trump’s toxic outburst

Last week on “Beat the Press,” I said that even though I’ve been arguing for years that the loathsome White House Correspondents Association dinner should be canceled, it had to go on as scheduled this year lest it look like the media were trying to punish President Trump.

Well, I’m going to flip-flop because of Trump’s incendiary tweet declaring that the press is “the enemy of the American People!”

Needless to say, this sort of rhetoric shows — once again — that Trump is clueless contemptuous about the role of the press in a democratic society. But let me go one step further: This could get someone killed.

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The present and future of press freedom in Trump’s America

Amy Goodman. Photo (cc) via "Democracy Now!"
Amy Goodman. Photo (cc) via “Democracy Now!”

Update: The charges against Amy Goodman have been dropped.

Freedom of the press is under assault—and it’s only going to get worse in the increasingly unlikely event that Donald Trump is elected president. Three related items for your consideration:

• In Mandan, North Dakota, journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is scheduled to appear in court today after she was arrested and charged with “riot” for covering the undercovered Standing Rock demonstrations against an oil pipeline being built through Native American lands. Lizzy Ratner has a detailed report at the Nation.

As state prosecutor Ladd Erickson helpfully explains: “She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions.”  And: “I think she put together a piece to influence the world on her agenda, basically. That’s fine, but it doesn’t immunize her from the laws of her state.” I would like to know what North Dakota law prohibits the practice of journalism, but we’ll leave that for another day.

• In the Philadelphia Daily News, columnist Will Bunch writes that the arrest of Goodman, and the prosecutor’s contemptuous dismissal of her First Amendment rights, is a harbinger of what’s to come in Trump’s America:

It’s not happening in a vacuum. It’s happening in the Age of Trump, when you have one of the two major-party candidates for president calling the journalists who cover his campaign “scum” and “lowest people on earth,” and the as-much-as 40 percent of the American people backing his campaign are cheering him on.

• In the Washington Post, media columnist Margaret Sullivan takes note of a resolution passed last week by the Committee to Protect Journalists warning that the press would be less free under a Trump presidency. As Sullivan puts it: “The idea: CPJ would make a strong statement against Donald Trump on First Amendment grounds—the kind of thing the organization had never done before. CPJ’s global mission is to try to keep journalists from being jailed or killed; but it hasn’t been involved before in politics.” (I gave a “rave” to CPJ on Beat the Press for its resolution.)

No president is especially press-friendly. A few years ago, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post headlined “Obama’s War on Journalism” detailing the president’s overzealous pursuit of leakers and whistleblowers. I doubt that the woman Saturday Night Live now calls “President Hillary Clinton” will be any better than Obama.

But at a moment when our politics have gotten incredibly ugly—when a Republican headquarters in North Carolina is firebombed, and when folks at the traditionally Republican Arizona Republic are receiving death threats for endorsing Hillary Clinton—the last thing we need is a president who seems determined to whip up hate and violence against the press.

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Debate prep: How to call out a lie without calling it a lie

Lester Holt. Photo (cc) 2016 by Hermann.
Lester Holt. Photo (cc) 2016 by Hermann.

The big question going into tonight’s debate is whether moderator Lester Holt should call out blatant lies by the candidates—and especially by Donald Trump, whose relationship with the truth is tenuous, to say the least.

I don’t think it’s realistic for Holt or the moderators who come after him to act as a real-time fact-checking machine. He’ll have enough to do with keeping Trump and Hillary Clinton on track and making sure they’re both getting more or less equal time. But if someone—again, most likely Trump—tells a whopper, then Holt shouldn’t let it go. It’s all in how he does it. I’ll adopt the wisdom of my fellow Beat the Press panelists Callie Crossley and Jon Keller, who have both said that the way to do it is through tough follow-up questioning.

For instance, Candy Crowley took a lot of heat four years ago for essentially calling Mitt Romney a liar when Romney claimed that it took President Obama many days before he was willing to refer to the attack on Benghazi as “terrorism.” Given the pressures of the moment, I have no real problem with what Crowley said. But here’s what she could have said: “Governor Romney, didn’t the president refer to the attack as an ‘act of terror’ the next day?” Yes, that’s a loaded question, but it’s not an assertion, and Romney would have had an opportunity to respond.

In other words, fact-checking can be done with persistent questioning rather than by calling out BS. Even when it’s BS.

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We hate ‘The Media,’ but we love the media we choose

assistant_secretary_russel_addresses_reporters_after_meeting_with_south_korean_officials_in_seoul

Among journalists, last week’s news that public trust in the media has fallen to an all-time low was accompanied by the wringing of hands, the gnashing of teeth, and the rending of garments.

According to Gallup, just 32 percent of Americans surveyed in early September believe that the media “report the news fully, fairly and accurately.” That’s down from 40 percent just last year—and from 55 percent in 1999, when newspapers were profitable, the Big Three networks newscasts were inviolable, and the cable news networks had not yet hit upon partisan shoutfests as a formula for filling hours of airtime at very little expense.

Gallup’s findings, which we talked about last Friday on Beat the Press, are serious and disturbing for a craft that relies on credibility. At the same time, though, there’s less here than meets the eye.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Linda Henry, wife of Globe owner, will oversee Boston.com

Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.
Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.

Well, that was fast. Just a day after Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory announced that chief digital guy David Skok would be leaving later this year, two people who will take over some of his duties have been named. One is a real eye-opener: Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Globe owner John Henry, who will oversee Boston.com.

The other is Anthony Bonfiglio, currently the executive director of engineering, who’ll be in charge of engineering, development, product, and design.

When I gave a “Rave” to Skok on Beat the Press Friday, host Emily Rooney asked me if Skok’s departure was related to Linda Henry’s elevation. My honest answer is that I have no idea. It’s something I would certainly like to find out.

It’s also not clear how hands-on Linda Henry intends to be. Eleanor Cleverly, the general manager of Boston.com, has gotten good reviews for stabilizing the site after a rocky transition from being the Globe‘s online home to its current incarnation as a free standalone service. And Cleverly will remain.

It’s way too early to assess what this will all mean, but I’ve heard from a number of insiders that Linda Henry is smart and generally a force for good. Still, it’s an unorthodox move.

The Globe still needs a journalist to replace Skok as managing editor for digital (he’s vice president for digital at Boston Globe Media Partners as well). But since Skok isn’t leaving right away, I suppose that can wait.

What follows is a memo from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of BGMP.

I want to let everyone know that Anthony Bonfiglio will now oversee digital operations, including engineering/development, product, and design across all of BGMP.

Anthony joined us two years ago from Visible Measures, where he was VP of Engineering. Since then, his impact has been immense. He oversaw the rollout of agile software development processes and best practices across the product and engineering teams. As a result, we’ve shortened time-to-market from weeks to multiple releases every week across all teams, creating a predictable and transparent development process. Anthony helped transition much of the business to WordPress and has overseen many of our digital redesigns. He was a key contributor in the launch of Stat.

On the business side, Anthony folded creative services developers into the overall engineering organization and greatly increased their productivity. He also successfully assumed management of our ad operations organization during a critical phase and has since transitioned it back to Advertising.

In short, Anthony has proven himself as a leader who can make a very complex organization faster, better, and more agile. He will continue to report to Wade Sendall.

Brian McGrory informed the newsroom yesterday that David Skok has decided to leave the Globe by the end of the year. Regarding David’s boston.com responsibilities, Eleanor Cleverly will continue day-to-day oversight and management of boston.com, but it will now report to Linda Henry in her current role as Managing Director.

I know I join everyone in wishing David Skok nothing but success and happiness in all his future endeavors and in expressing deep gratitude for all he’s done over the past three years. He has been a driving force in the success we’ve experienced on bostonglobe.com and, with Eleanor and her team, was key to stabilizing boston.com over the past six months. As he transitions out, the leadership of Anthony, Eleanor, and Linda will help us continue to be the region’s leading source of journalism that becomes more relevant and interesting by the hour.

The newly launched Boston Guardian sparks a controversy

Looks like David Jacobs, publisher of the now-defunct Boston Courant and the new Boston Guardian, may have stepped in it. The Bay State Banner, which serves the African-American community, is blasting the Guardian on its Facebook page for heedlessly recycling the name of a historically prominent black newspaper. Here’s what the Banner has to say:

The paper formerly known as Back Bay Courant has relaunched as a paper called Boston Guardian. Are they clueless about the legacy of that name..it is Boston’s first black newspaper founded by William Monroe Trotter. Is our history so unimportant that they would take this name to serve Back Bay residents?? Melvin Miller didn’t even use the name when he founded the Banner as the legacy of the Guardian. We have a front page of the Guardian framed on the wall of our office. This is beyond disrespectful.

Hat tip to Universal Hub. Above is our discussion about the Guardian on Beat the Press last Friday, in which we reviewed the Guardian‘s unusual origins: Jacobs shut down the Courant after he lost a court settlement and then launched the Guardian under new corporate ownership.

Update: The Bay State Banner has posted an editorial headlined “An affront to Boston’s Black History.”

An expanded role for me at WGBH News

Starting next week, I’ll be taking on an expanded role with WGBH News.

For some time now, I’ve been sharing blog posts with ’GBH. Now I’ll be writing a weekly (more or less) commentary that will be exclusive to WGBHNews.org — mostly on media, and frequently on how the presidential campaign is being covered. I’ll be popping up on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) from time to time as well. And I’ll still be on “Beat the Press.”

This is more of a tweak than a big change. Still, I’m thrilled to have a chance to do more and to work with the great team at ’GBH. Fun fact: I’ve been writing for WGBH News senior editor Peter Kadzis (a former editor of The Boston Phoenix) since 1991.