By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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Patrick to Murphy: Uh, no

There’s really nothing left to say about the saga of Middlesex Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy, other than good for Gov. Deval Patrick for refusing to approve Murphy’s request for a disability pension.

I don’t consider myself a Murphy-basher. I don’t doubt that he suffered terribly at the hands of the Herald’s sensationalistic coverage of him — although Media Nation readers know I disagree with the libel verdict that he won, and that the state’s Supreme Judicial Court upheld.

But surely the $3.41 million he pocketed recently, along with the regular pension he could receive by working for just three more years is enough — provided he doesn’t get bounced for alleged misconduct over those weird letters he sent to Herald publisher Pat Purcell.

How to write tabloidese

When they compile a history of great Herald ledes, this one, by Michele McPhee, is sure to make the cut:

Fugitive cross-dressing cop killer Thomas Shay taunted investigators searching for him in a letter to the Herald received yesterday just hours after federal marshals tracked him down at his mother’s Quincy home and hauled him away in handcuffs.

The only thing missing is the word “perv.”

Update: Good grief! It’s the day of the great Herald ledes! Don’t miss Laurel Sweet’s contribution:

A blood-soaked “house of horrors” greeted Revere police and firefighters when they answered an Elvis impersonator’s 911 call and found that the homicidal King had pinned a half-naked guest to his living room floor with a 2-foot-long machete.

With prose (and details) like that, the headline — “Fake Elvis: Suspicious mind made him kill” — is strictly anticlimactic.

A bad day for Judge Murphy

It looks like Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy could be a big loser despite winning a $2 million-plus libel judgment against the Herald — a judgment that was reaffirmed this spring by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.

The Associated Press reports that the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct has filed charges with the SJC alleging that Murphy’s very odd and threatening post-verdict letters to Herald publisher Pat Purcell — written on Superior Court letterhead — amounted to “willful misconduct” that brought his office into “disrepute.”

Murphy, in his response, denies the misconduct charge.

It’s all online here (PDF).

Web design gone wild (II)

A day after the Herald transformed Tony Massarotti’s Red Sox report card into a 33-screen Web epic, the Globe comes back with a DIY “Midseason Report Card” that is — get this — 63 clicks long.

Web design gone wild

You’ve got to click 33 times to read Tony Massarotti’s “Midseason Report Card” on the Red Sox. Yes, the photo- and graphics-laden package looks nice, but this would be asking too much even if the Herald’s servers were speedier. A good idea, but someone got carried away.

And Tony … a “D” for J.D. Drew? Why so generous?

Drawing the line on Herald comments

If you have some thoughtful — even caustic — criticism you’d like to offer about the Herald’s State Employee Payroll database, have at it. But if you’ve come here to bash Herald employees and to publicize their private information, you’ve come to the wrong place. You know who you are.

The salaries paid to public employees is public information. You might like it. You might not. But making public information public is not illegal, immoral nor, as best as I can tell, fattening.

State employees online II

The Herald’s online database of state-employee salaries seems to be working as intended today. You can search by name, look up entire departments and sort by name or salary, among other features.

Adam Gaffin has some ideas on how to make it more usable — although it looks like at least a few have already been implemented. Personally, I’d make it so that you could download the whole thing into an Excel spreadsheet.

I’ve looked up a few people this morning, and found out that they don’t make as much as I’d assumed.

Update: Joe Dwinell shares some tips, including how to pull parts of the database into Excel. What about the whole thing? “Sorry, it’s too big to e-mail.” Yes, but it could be posted as a downloadable file.

State employees online

Herald city editor Jules Crittenden may think the print edition is what matters, but the most interesting thing going on in his paper today is online: the Herald has unveiled the entire state payroll as of April 2007.

I think there are some legitimate privacy concerns, but the fact is that these are all public records. On balance, making them readily accessible is a good thing — although I’m less than thrilled with the Herald’s page-one tease calling it “Find-A-Hack.”

Herald Web guy Joe Dwinell calls the online payroll a searchable list.” Maybe I’m missing something, but all I see is a non-sortable table broken into 3,979 Web pages that you have to click on one at a time. Perhaps further refinements will be coming.

About face for Hillary and the Herald

OK, see if you can follow this.

(1) Herald columnist Margery Eagan seems to say that Hillary Clinton has had “work” done, only she (2) takes it back toward the end; (3) the Herald runs some pretty stunning before and after pictures, except that (4) they turn out to be after and before; (5) Drudge (right) picks it up; (6) Herald spokeswoman Gwen Gage says it was all a mistake or something.

Whew. Greg Sargent explains all at TPM Cafe.

Wouldn’t it all be so much easier if we’d just stop obsessing over Hillary’s looks? I know, I know. It makes too much sense.

End of the line?

A wise local reporter recently told me to stop wishing for Herald publisher Pat Purcell to appeal the $2.1 million libel verdict against his paper to the U.S. Supreme Court. I see his point — given the court’s recent outrageous ruling on pay equity, it’s hard to imagine (OK, it’s easy to imagine) what Roberts, Alito, Scalia et al. might do to Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 ruling that makes it difficult for public officials to win libel suits.

Perhaps this is going to end with a whimper. The Globe reports today that the state’s Supreme Judicial Court has declined to revisit its recent decision upholding the 2005 libel verdict in favor of Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy, who’d claimed the Herald had falsely portrayed him as making demeaning statements about a 14-year-old rape victim — specifically, that he had said, “Tell her to get over it” during a meeting with lawyers.

Apparently there’s a brief in the Herald, too, but right now the paper’s Web site is down.

Not to relive this endlessly, but Times v. Sullivan and its progeny required Murphy to show that Herald staffer Dave Wedge knew or strongly suspected he was reporting false information. The jury and the SJC bought it, but I still don’t. Even though Wedge’s reporting was sensationalistic and marred by several key errors, I don’t think he ever believed he was doing anything other than passing along the honest views of his sources in the Bristol County district attorney’s office.

In Massachusetts, at least, Times v. Sullivan no longer provides journalists with the near-absolute protection they’d had to report fearlessly about public officials. Some may say that’s a good thing. I certainly don’t.

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