Earlier this year I shared an astonishing story from Boston magazine about the Everett Leader Herald, which is being sued for libel by Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. According to Boston reporter Gretchen Voss, the paper’s editor and publisher, Josh Resnick, admitted in a deposition that he’d faked key interviews and concocted evidence in accusing DeMaria of corruption and sexual abuse.
Now Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub writes that Middlesex Superior Court Judge William Bloomer is so certain DeMaria will win that he’s frozen properties belonging to Resnek and the paper’s owners, Matthew and Andrew Philbin, so that the mayor will be able to collect damages estimated at $850,000. Bloomer wrote that DeMaria “has demonstrated a likelihood that he will recover judgment, including interest and costs.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. Photo (cc) 2019 by Joshua Qualls / Governor’s Press Office
I can’t recommend this long, astonishing story highly enough. In the new issue of Boston magazine, Gretchen Voss reports on the Everett Leader Herald’s crusade against Mayor Carlo DeMaria. The paper’s editor, Josh Resnek, has accused DeMaria over and over of blatant corruption and sexual abuse. DeMaria is currently pursuing a libel suit against the paper.
Not to give away the ending, but Voss writes that Resnek has admitted to making up much of what he’s written about DeMaria, who barely won re-election last fall in the face of the Leader Herald’s relentless attacks. In a deposition, Resnek admitted that he’d faked key interviews and concocted evidence. Here’s a key paragraph that comes near the end of Voss’ story. You won’t understand all of it without reading the entire story, but you’ll get the gist:
During his deposition, Resnek sealed his legacy: not that of a fearless journalist but of a fabulist. He admitted that he’d found no evidence of DeMaria receiving a kickback for the Encore casino deal in Everett, even though he’d reported in the paper that he had. Resnek claimed he was merely expressing his “opinion.” Resnek also confessed that he had made up all the quotes attributed to [City Clerk Sergio] Cornelio in his explosive September articles about the Corey Street deal [in which Resnek claimed that DeMaria had extorted $96,000 from Cornelio]. Every single one of them. Resnek failed to conduct even the most basic journalistic efforts to determine whether there was a formal agreement between Cornelio and DeMaria. In fact, a judge had issued a written opinion that Cornelio and DeMaria did act together in the purchase, development, and sale of the property, and DeMaria had obtained an advisory opinion from the state ethics commission concerning his interest in acquiring a financial stake in commercially zoned land in Everett. DeMaria also filed a “Disclosure of Appearance of Conflict of Interest” with the City Clerk’s Office for his ownership interest in a property adjacent to Everett Square. Resnek owned up to the fact that he’d never checked for these documents.
Voss also reports that Resnek tried to enlist Boston Globe reporter Andrea Estes in his attempt to destroy DeMaria. Estes comes across as interested in what Resnek had to tell her, and in fact she’s written several stories about DeMaria, including this one, about excessive campaign contributions that a contractor made to the mayor, and this one, about DeMaria’s being the state’s highest-paid mayor. But Voss’ story makes it clear that Estes did her own reporting and that Resnek exaggerated his contacts with her.
Why has the Leader Herald engaged in a multi-year campaign against DeMaria? According to Voss, it may have been retribution by the politically wired Philbin family, who ran afoul of DeMaria going back to his time as a city councilor. The Philbins bought the Leader Herald in 2017 and hired Resnek, a veteran journalist with multiple career stops in the Boston area. Here is a characteristic line from an opinion piece that Resnek wrote in 2019, quoted by Voss: “Kickback Carlo DeMaria is in his tenth year of organized, obscene, uniquely disguised municipal theft and greed.” Yikes!
The Leader Herald, a free weekly, is nearly 140 years old. Incredibly, it is also one of three independently owned news outlets in Everett, a blue-collar community with about 49,000 residents. One of them, the Everett Advocate, is enjoying DeMaria’s libel suit against the Leader Herald, running a story under the headline “Sinking Fast: the Implosion of Matthew Philbin; Leader Herald Owner Admits to Actual Malice.” (Actual malice is the legal term for publishing a defamatory claim about a public official or public figure despite knowing or strongly suspecting that it was false.) The story also describes Resnek as a “corrupt reporter.”
Resnek is still writing for the Leader Herald. I scrolled down through its website and could find no sign that he’s written anything about DeMaria’s lawsuit (at least not recently) or the Boston magazine story.
The third Everett news outlet, the Everett Independent, which once employed Resnek, appears to be a lively weekly newspaper. The current edition features a front-page photo of DeMaria to accompany a story on the debut of sports betting at the Everett casino.
Needless to say, it will be fascinating to learn the outcome of DeMaria’s lawsuit.
Everett Square circa 1905. Photo is in the public domain.
Adam Gaffin has a wild story in Universal Hub about a lawsuit filed against the Everett Leader Herald and the city clerk by Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. There are all kinds of entertaining details. Among other things, we learn that the Leader Herald “has referred to DeMaria as ‘kickback Carlo,’ said he is ‘on the take,’ and referred to ‘DCF,’ or ‘DeMaria’s Crime Family.’”
What caught my eye, though, was that the Leader Herald has agreed to go along with a court order to identify 10 of 12 confidential sources. The names had previously been given to Superior Court Judge James Budreau, who ruled that their claim to anonymity was weak. In the following excerpt from Budreau’s opinion, Resnek is a reference to Joshua Resnek, the publisher and editor.
A threshold question facing the Court is whether Defendants have insufficiently supported their claim that the 12 sources used by Resnik [sic] in the articles core to this litigation were given a promised [sic] of confidentiality in exchange for their information…. Defendant Resnek subsequently filed an affidavit which states that all the sources at issue had “provided information to me based on the promise/understanding that their names/identities would not be revealed and would be kept confidential.” Not only does this averment lack specificity for each of the 11 [?] alleged confidential sources, but it’s unclear whether each source was promised or merely understood or believed that their identities would not be disclosed. If they understood, what was the basis of their understanding?
In other words, the judge concluded that Resnek failed to make a strong case that the sources had been granted confidentiality in the first place. Perhaps that will take the sting out of Resnek’s decision to go along with the judge’s order and allow those sources to be publicly identified.
The problem of keeping sources confidential in a libel case is reminiscent of a dilemma that The Boston Globe faced in 2002, when the paper was sued by Dr. Lois Ayash for incorrectly identifying her as the “leader of a team” that signed off on an overdose of an experimental chemotherapy drug that was given to two patients at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. One of those patients was Globe reporter Betsy Lehman, who died as a result of the overdose.
In that case, the Globe refused an order by Superior Court Judge Peter Lauriat to reveal his confidential sources. Lauriat ruled that, because Ayash did not have the evidence she needed to pursue her suit — evidence to which she was entitled as a matter of law — then she should win her case by default.
“The Boston Globe, long a champion of the freedom of information and of unfettered access to public (and even not-so-public) records, has unilaterally and unnecessarily interrupted the free flow of information that may be critical to Ayash,” Lauriat wrote, according to an account by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A jury awarded her $2 million, a judgment that was upheld by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court in 2005.
Richard Knox, the Globe reporter whose story was at issue in Ayash’s libel suit, thought the court should have respected his promise not to identify his confidential sources. “I’m disappointed that the courts don’t understand that honoring commitments to sources goes to the heart of what journalists do every day,” he was quoted as saying.
But though Knox and the Globe may have acted out of principle, they were mistaken to think that should have come without a cost. In fact, there is no ironclad legal right for journalists to protect their confidential sources. I’d say that Judge Lauriat made the right call in demanding that the Globe give up its sources; after all, Ayash was entitled to make her best case. The Globe also made the right call, expensive though it was, by saying no.
The situation in Everett, by contrast, is weird and hard to parse. Is Resnek really breaking a promise of confidentiality if the guarantees he made to his sources were not plainly stated, as Judge Budreau suggests? Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what those sources have to say.