Misplaced priorities at the Boston Police Dept.

Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn

Last October the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU revealed that the Boston Police Department had been spying on left-wing activists such as the late Howard Zinn.

The police were working with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), a so-called fusion center through which the authorities could coordinate with the FBI and other agencies to find out who might be plotting a terrorist attack. Zinn, a peace activist, an elderly professor and World War II hero, was clearly someone to keep a close eye on.

Of course, we now know that at the same time the police were wasting their resources on Zinn, they were ignorant of what the FBI knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Among those putting two and two together in the last few weeks were Michael Isikoff of NBC News;  Boston journalist Chris Faraone, who produced this for DigBoston; and Jamaica Plain Gazette editor John Ruch, who wrote an analysis.

Although it would be a stretch well beyond the facts to suggest that if the police hadn’t been watching left-wing and Occupy protesters they might have caught Tsarnaev, the BPD was certainly looking in all the wrong places. The police did a good and courageous job of reacting to the Boston Marathon bombings. The issue is how they spent their time and resources in trying to prevent a terrorist attack.

Spying on the antiwar left makes no more sense today than it did in the 1960s and ’70s. Police Commissioner Ed Davis needs to take a break from giving commencement speeches in order to answer a few questions.

And while I’m on the subject of questionable law-enforcement practices, I sure hope we find out what actually happened in Florida last week. Don’t you?

The Boston Phoenix comes to the end of the road

I’m not even going to try to write a real post about this today. I’m getting bombarded from all directions, and besides that, I’m devastated. But I did want to note quickly, in case you haven’t heard, that The Phoenix — the erstwhile Boston Phoenix, reinvented as a glossy magazine last fall — is closing down, as is its affiliated Internet radio station, WFNX.com.

The Providence and Portland Phoenixes will continue, as well as a few non-journalism businesses.

Here is Doug Most’s report for Boston.com. [5:07 p.m. update: That report now carries Joe Kahn’s byline.]

The Phoenix gave me 14 great years, and it’s hard to believe that the end has come. There are way too many people to mention, so I’ll leave it at this: Peter Kadzis and Stephen Mindich were great bosses, smart, tough and loyal. Carly Carioli has done tremendous work on the reinvention, and it’s a tragedy that he ran out of time. I rely on David Bernstein for his deep reporting on politics and Chris Faraone for an alternative look at the news. Here is Mindich in a statement to the staff:

What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades in all of our areas of coverage and the important role we have played in driving political and socially progressive and responsible agendas; in covering the worlds of arts and entertainment, food and fashion – always with a critical view, while at the same time promoting their enormous importance in maintaining a healthy society; and in advocating for the recognition and acceptance of a wide range of lifestyles that are so valuable for a vibrant society….

We have had an extraordinary run.

And this is an incredibly sad day.

More: Unlike many who got their start at the Phoenix in their early 20s, I was 34 years old and thought my journalism career was over. In the late 1980s I had tried my hand at launching a regional lifestyle magazine in the suburbs northwest of Boston following some years at the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn. The magazine failed, and I was doing what I could to survive.

I was picked up on waivers in 1991 from the Pilot — yes, the Catholic paper — where I had been doing layout and production. The Phoenix hired me as a copy editor, but I kept an eye out in case something better came along. Yes, I had grown up reading the Phoenix, Boston After Dark and the Real Paper, but any romantic notions I’d had of the alternative press had pretty much dissipated.

Gradually, though, I got sucked in. And when I inherited the media beat in late 1994 from Mark Jurkowitz, I became a made member of the Phoenix family. It was the most formative experience of my career. Without the Phoenix, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing today — PR for some politician? Ugh.

CJR profiles the Phoenix’s iron man of Occupy

The Boston Phoenix’s Chris Faraone, whose iron-man coverage of the Occupy movement has been an inspiration, is the subject of a terrific profile in the Columbia Journalism Review. Faraone plans to publish a book on the movement next month called “99 Nights with the 99 Percent.”