Best wishes to Peter Kadzis of GBH News as he moves into semi-retirement

Peter Kadzis. GBH News photo by Liz Neisloss.

A true Boston original is heading into semi-retirement. Peter Kadzis, the politics editor at GBH News, announced Monday that he’s stepping down from full-time work at the end of the year, although he’ll continue as a contributor. The good news is that his distinctive Dorchester accent will still be heard on GBH Radio (89.7 FM) and television (Channel 2).

This is personal. Peter was the editor of The Boston Phoenix from the time I arrived as a copy editor in 1991 until I left as the media columnist in 2005. I continued to write for the Phoenix from time to time until it folded in 2013; Peter landed at GBH not long after, and I began writing a weekly column on media and politics for the GBH website in 2015. In other words, Peter was my editor for more than 30 years, right up until I decided to end my column earlier this year.

Peter was an important mentor. My career had stalled out when I was hired by the Phoenix, but he saw something in me, promoting me to managing editor and then news editor. But I wanted to return to the reporting and writing ranks, so, when Mark Jurkowitz (now at the Pew Research Center) left the Phoenix in 1994, Peter gave me a chance. His deep knowledge of Boston and of the media, both locally and nationally, was of enormous help to me as I groped my way toward my own voice and my own approach.

I should note, too, that GBH News became an outlet for a number of former Phoenix people. There were Fridays when three of the five panelists on “Beat the Press with Emily Rooney” were Phoenix alums — Jon Keller, Adam Reilly and me. Susan Ryan-Vollmar and David Bernstein write commentaries for the website from time to time. Sue O’Connell appears on radio and television. And, always, there was Peter, back in the newsroom. He continues to be a friend and colleague, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best.

What follows is the official announcement from Lee Hill, executive editor of GBH News:

I’m writing to share bittersweet news. A few weeks ago, our venerable Politics Editor Peter Kadzis informed me of his plans to retire from full-time work with GBH News. We decided together that we’d get through the beast that was the midterm election before announcing to the staff. The time has now come to share the news more broadly. Here’s Peter, in his own words:

After 50 years in the trenches, it’s time for me to scale back. That I’ve been able to cap my career at GBH News is, for me, still a source of wonder. And I hope that as we all move forward, we can find a way to continue our association. While I’m winding down, I’m not hanging it up.

As a kid reporter many years ago, I was one of the hordes of reporters who watched Boston school desegregation and the riots and street violence that ensued. Perhaps because of this experience, I’ve always had a sense of the potential for violence and dirty dealing that lies just below the surface of politics.

In my years at GBH, I’ve tried to put my feel for the dark side at the service of our audience. It helped me to see straight through the mayoralty of Tom Menino; the coming and going of Marty Walsh; and the rise of four remarkable political talents who have at least one thing in common — they are all women, and they are all women of color: Ayanna Pressley, Rachael Rollins, Michelle Wu, and Andrea Campbell.

I transition to part-time status after the disorienting years of Trump and COVID-19 and will watch with interest as Maura Healey tries to tame — or at least co-exist — with the undisciplined gang of ego maniacs known as the Massachusetts legislature.

In my blood, I feel confident that the newsroom’s commitment to the public good will only mature and intensify. I’m proud to have been part of the journey, which continues in the able hands of Katie Lannan, Saraya Wintersmith, Adam Reilly and the rest of you.

Peter is an important and towering presence in our newsroom whose contributions are innumerable because of the brilliance and wisdom he brings to his work. Under his leadership, the GBH News’ politics team has grown to become a respected (sometimes feared) powerhouse that has repeatedly shaped the local and regional conversation around politics and power in the Bay State. And our election coverage this year was consumed by the widest audience ever on GBH.org. That is in part because of his guidance and influence.

Thankfully, Peter isn’t going far anytime soon. He will continue in his current role through the end of January (as we search for a successor), before transitioning into a scaled back political contributor role with GBH News. Our audience will continue to benefit from his keen insights, analysis and wit.

Please join me in congratulating Peter on a stellar career, and to wish him all the best in this next chapter.

Lee

A federal appeals court rules that NH’s criminal libel law is constitutional

The 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger

If we know anything about libel law, then we know that false, defamatory speech is not a crime. It’s a civil matter, to be worked out between the two parties in court. Right? Well … hold on.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that New Hampshire’s criminal-libel statute passes constitutional muster. The case was especially pernicious because the defendant, Robert Frese, was charged with claiming that the police chief in his town of Exeter was a coward who had “covered up for a dirty cop.” That statement may be entirely false; but the idea that someone could be charged with a misdemeanor for criticizing the police is chilling indeed.

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In 2019, I gave the Exeter Police Department a New England Muzzle Award for charging Frese with a misdemeanor, writing that the New Hampshire law amounted to “seditious libel, making it a crime to criticize the government.” It’s something we thought had faded away with John Peter Zenger, a New York printer who was acquitted nearly 300 years ago.

But Judge Jeffrey Howard, noting that the Supreme Court’s landmark 1964 Times v. Sullivan decision does not protect knowingly false, defamatory speech directed at public officials, ruled that Frese did not have a case. Howard wrote:

Mindful of the Supreme Court’s guidance that “the knowingly false statement and the false statement made with reckless disregard of the truth, do not enjoy constitutional protection[,]” we conclude that Frese’s allegations fall short of asserting viable constitutional claims.

No one would be surprised that Howard would assert that Times v. Sullivan doesn’t protect knowingly false, defamatory statements. But his assertion that such statements may form the basis of a criminal case rather than a civil lawsuit is worrisome — especially at a time when there are rumbles coming out of the Supreme Court that it may be inclined to dial back libel protections, as I wrote for GBH News last year.

Judge Howard and his colleagues had a chance to stand up for freedom of speech. Instead, they chose something else.

The Boston Globe’s new morning newsletter joins an already crowded field

The Boston Globe’s free daily newsletter for college students and young professionals, The B-Side, made its debut this morning. Like similar offerings, it’s light and breezy, with an emphasis on stories aimed at appealing to the demo (“Does your employer pay for your MBTA pass?”) as well as on things to do.

The B-Side is joining a crowded field of similar newsletters from Axios Boston, WBUR, GBH News, the Boston Herald and 6AM City — and that’s not even getting into the political newsletters from Politico, State House News Service and CommonWealth Magazine. (Have I missed any? I hope not.)

What I’m talking about here is a certain type of newsletter. The Globe has multiple newsletters already, and so do the other news organizations I mentioned. It’s a matter of tone and emphasis, heavy on emoticons and bullet points, aimed at engaging an audience that might have never considered buying a digital newspaper subscription or tuning in to a public radio station. My students and I got an early peek last month; my reaction then and now is that it’s interesting, like its competitors, but that I’m not in the target audience.

Here’s a memo passed along by a trusted source from Andrew Grillo, the Globe’s director of new product and general manager of The B-Side:

Hi all,

We are excited to announce the launch of The B-Side, a new email and social-only product geared towards informing and entertaining new audiences. The B-Side’s focus is hyperlocal and will provide curated, authentic and relatable content that reimagines how local news is conveyed to the next generation of Bostonians.

As Boston’s population of university students and young professionals continues to grow, it is essential to evolve our coverage to meet this demographic where they are most engaged. The publication will focus on mobile-first formats, and will accompany its weekday newsletter with vertical video explainers, swipeable stories, and creator content.

The B-Side joins a growing portfolio of products that have launched out of BGMP’s innovation portal — the idea was crowned Innovation Week Champion in the Q4 2021. [BGMP stands for Boston Globe Media Partners.] Since inception, The B-Side has been refined and developed across all departments including marketing, revenue, editorial, and finance. Through this iterative approach, we have created a unique editorial product designed to engage the company’s future readership, and provide new revenue streams for the organization. This project showcases Boston Globe Media’s commitment to evolution and investment in new initiatives, and we are grateful of the internal support this project has received to achieve launch within one year.

Editorially, the team consists of three talented journalists. The content team is led by Emily Schario, a GBH alum and creative storyteller with expertise unpacking quintessential Boston stories across text and vertical video. Emily is joined by Multimedia Producer Katie Cole, a former BGM Audience Development team member, who runs the project’s social media and audience development strategy. The B-Side is edited and guided by Kaitlyn Johnston, one of the region’s most talented and forward-thinking editors.

We’d like to thank the organization’s support of this initiative, particularly the Senior Leadership Team who has guided this endeavor from inception to launch.

You can sign up here, and follow along at @bostonbside on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter.

Onwards,
Andrew

The Mystic Valley Charter School is once again accused of discrimination

Note: I’ve blurred out the school staff member’s name

The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School is back in the news and, as usual, it’s for all the wrong reasons. This time it’s for sending a Muslim female student home because she was wearing a hijab in violation of the school’s uniform policy, according to Lara Salahi of NBC Boston. The school admitted to it and said all the family needed to do was seek an accommodation ahead of time. But why should they have to ask permission to practice their religion?

In a message sent out on Aug. 19, School Supt. Alexander Dan claims that the brouhaha was the result of “one of the child’s older siblings posting misleading information about this issue on social media.” Yet the “School Uniform Compliance Form” is as clear as can be — the student was punished for wearing a hijab without permission, an obvious violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of religion. “Hijab” is misspelled “jihab,” which, as one Facebook wag noticed, manages to combine “hijab” with “jihad.”

Mystic Valley is a public charter school that receives tax money.

Dan’s message is remarkably self-pitying, as he goes on to cite — and link to an audio recording of — a threatening message received by a school staff member. The message, Dan writes, “contains extremely offensive, obscene language,” and Malden Police were notified. Obviously that shouldn’t have happened, but this is about the school’s ongoing racist practices rather than the reaction to those practices.

In 2017, I gave Mystic Valley a GBH News New England Muzzle Award for banning hair extensions, an action that disproportionately affected young Black women. Black students with long braids and dreads were taken to the office and inspected to see if they were wearing extensions. Punishment was meted out, including detention and suspension from activities such as athletics and the prom. That fiasco led to an investigation by Attorney General Maura Healey and a settlement in which the school promised to behave itself in the future. Just recently, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the CROWN Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of hair style and which was motivated in part by Mystic Valley’s actions.

In 2020, The Boston Globe’s Hayley Kaufman reported on concerns among alumni that the school was hampered by a “culture that penalized students who spoke out about inequities, while seeming to shrug off reports of bias.”

And now this. The time has come for the state to mete out some serious penalties.

By the way … sorry for the reproductions. I doubt you’ll be able to read them on a phone, but you should be able to read them on a laptop or tablet.

The 2022 New England Muzzle Awards: Spotlighting 10 who diminish free speech

Illustration by Meryl Brenner / GBH News

A Boston mayor who trampled on a religious group’s right to freedom of expression. A Worcester city manager who trampled on the public’s right to know about police misconduct. A New Hampshire state legislator who trampled on teachers’ rights by demanding that they take a “loyalty oath” promising not to teach their students about racism.

These are just a few of the winners of the 2022 New England Muzzle Awards.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Muzzles, a Fourth of July roundup of outrages against freedom of speech and of the press in the six New England states.

Read the rest at GBH News.

Why the pending destruction of Roe is a failure of our outmoded Constitution

Constitution Hall in Philadelphia. Photo (cc) 2016 by Dan Kennedy.

With the Supreme Court on the brink of overturning Roe v. Wade, it’s a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the extent to which our democracy has lurched off the rails.

Three of the five anti-Roe justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and were confirmed by senators who represented far fewer Americans than those who voted against confirmation. Gorsuch occupies the stolen seat that should have gone to Merrick Garland. Barrett was rushed through at the last minute following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

This is not democracy. A few years ago, I laid it out at GBH News — and addressed the falsehood you’ll often hear that our system was designed to protect minority rights from majority rule. (The Bill of Rights is what protects the minority.) I hope you’ll give it a read. We are long overdue for a thorough-going update to our 18th-century constitution, which, quite simply, no longer works.

Joe Kahn seems unlikely to fix The New York Times’ broken political coverage

In what was surely the least surprising media news of the year, The New York Times announced Tuesday that executive editor Dean Baquet will be replaced by his deputy, Joe Kahn, this June, a few months before Baquet turns 66. The move is a clear indication that publisher A.G. Sulzberger and his family believe everything is just fine. And, in many ways, it is — the paper has a huge paying audience, great journalism and vibrant digital products.

But the political coverage is broken. Not all of it. The Times’ enterprise stories on politics grapple very well with the Republicans’ descent into insanity. But the day-to-day coverage treats the two parties as morally equivalent players rather than as a flawed but fundamentally normal Democratic Party and an insurrectionist, QAnon-poisoned Republican Party. With Kahn moving to the top of the masthead, it seems unlikely that anything is going to be done about that.

Four years ago, I wrote a piece for GBH News about what was wrong with the Times’ political coverage. Not much has changed. Kahn deserves a chance, of course, and the Times’ journalism is defined by far more than politics. Its coverage of the war in Ukraine has been nothing short of superb.

And congratulations to Boston Globe and Patriot Ledger alum Carolyn Ryan, who’s been named co-managing editor along with Marc Lacey.

GBH News GM Pam Johnston on how public media can help fill the local news gap

GBH News general manager Pam Johnston. Photo © 2021 by Dominic Gagliardo Chavez/GBH.

Pam Johnston, general manager for news with GBH, has a deep background in local television in Boston at WLVI (Channel 56), and earlier at local stations in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Portland, Maine. At GBH, which is a public media company, she has a broad portfolio. She is responsible for local and regional news operations across all platforms, including radio, television and digital. She also supervises GBH’s contributions to two NPR programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

Johnston joined GBH in 2012 as director of audience development for “Frontline,” the national investigative series, where she is credited with diversifying the audience and connecting them with long-form documentaries, virtual reality experiences and podcasts.

I have a Quick Take on a multimillion-dollar glitch in ad tech by Gannett, and Ellen Clegg reports on a union survey of workers at Tribune Publishing (now owned by Alden Global Capital) that reveals big gaps in pay equity.

You can listen to our conversation here and subscribe through your favorite podcast app.

Mike Deehan leaving GBH to launch Axios Boston

Mike Deehan is leaving as GBH’s Statehouse reporter in order to launch the new Axios Boston newsletter later this year. Congratulations, Mike! You can sign up here. And here’s what I wrote for GBH News recently about Axios’ push into local.

After two years of COVID, we are older, sadder and wiser

Photo (cc) 2020 by actor812

Previously published at GBH News.

COVID-19 has been the central reality of our lives for two years now. But the moment it became real is different for each of us.

For me, it was Wednesday, March 11, 2020. That was the day when Northeastern University, where I teach, announced it was shutting down; when fans were sent home in the midst of an NBA game after a player tested positive; and when then-President Donald Trump delivered a rambling, unnerving address that sent the Dow Jones futures tumbling.

So yes, that’s when we all began to take COVID-19 seriously. But we really had no idea of what was to come. I remember telling my students that I hoped we’d be back in person in a few weeks. Now here we are, two years later, and schools, workplaces, stores and the like are still not fully back to normal, though the situation is certainly far better than it once was.

The arc of our progression from hopefulness to humility can be traced in how Trump and President Joe Biden have spoken about the pandemic. Trump virtually never said an honest word when discussing COVID, telling us over and over during the final months of his presidency that it was no big deal.

Still, a statement he made on Feb. 27, 2020, stands out for its audacious mendacity. “It’s going to disappear,” he said. “One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear. And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”

Well, the miracle failed to materialize. By Election Day, nearly 233,000 Americans had died of COVID-19, and we still had nothing to protect ourselves except masks and social distancing.

If Trump’s optimism in the early days of the pandemic proved illusory, there were reasons to be hopeful a year later. Effective vaccines began coming online, and tens of millions of Americans rushed to get the shots. By the Fourth of July, President Joe Biden was cautiously hailing the return to something like normal.

“Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 has not been vanquished,” he said. “We all know powerful variants have emerged, like the delta variant, but the best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated.” He added: “So, today, while the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. And it’s within our power to make sure it never does again.”

We all know what happened next. Delta proved to be far more contagious than the earlier forms of COVID-19. Combined with the maddening, inexplicable refusal among many Americans — disproportionately Trump supporters — to get vaccinated or even wear masks, we experienced a horrifying fall infection rate surge. And then it started to abate.

Until it didn’t.

We were riding home from a Thanksgiving visit with family when I saw a story on my phone about yet another COVID-19 variant, this one out of South Africa. Dubbed omicron, the variant proved to be wildly more contagious than delta, although it seemed to have welcome characteristics as well, such as causing milder illness. Still, omicron ripped through the population, even striking those who had been “triple-vaxxed,” though the rate of severe illness and death among that group was blessedly low.

So here we are again. Two years into the pandemic, we are older, sadder and wiser. The omicron surge has faded as rapidly as it began. But, as I write, some 959,000 Americans have now died of COVID, and the virus seems likely to be with us for years to come. A year ago, we might have exhaled in delight at the prospect of vaccinating our way out of all this. Now we’re just holding our breath.

“We will continue to combat the virus as we do other diseases. And because this is a virus that mutates and spreads, we will stay on guard,” Biden said cautiously in his State of the Union address last week. He added: “I cannot promise a new variant won’t come. But I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does.”

That’s a long way from saying, as Trump did, that COVID-19 will miraculously “disappear.” It’s also a dialing back of the optimism Biden expressed last summer. But it’s realistic.

Unfortunately, the ongoing stresses caused by COVID-19 come amid other disorienting events. The economy is growing rapidly, but inflation is eating up wage gains. Political strife continues, with a sizable portion of the electorate claiming to believe Trump’s lies that the 2020 election was stolen from him. The planet is still warming.

Looming over all of this is the terrible war being waged by Russia against Ukraine. We feel helpless as increasingly horrific images are beamed onto our televisions and digital devices.

Existence feels fragile. Looking back, it seems as though COVID-19 ushered in a new age of uncertainty. I hope we get through this together.