Ketter on the Herald libel case

William Ketter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor, former Pulitzer board member and past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, has written a fine op-ed piece on the Herald libel case.

Ketter goes right after the dubious notion — recently endorsed by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court — that Herald reporter Dave Wedge knew his characterization of Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy as having demeaned a teenage rape victim was false, or that Wedge harbored serious doubts. Ketter writes:

It is reasonable to assume that reporter Wedge and the Boston Herald believed the information they were fed by the district attorney’s office was truthful. The news media frequently turn to prosecutors for details of cases they are involved in. A trust builds up. They are an official source of critical information.

But the SJC would have you believe the Herald had reason to seriously doubt the accuracy of the story after it was published because a lawyer for the judge said he didn’t say what the paper had published, and the Boston Globe carried a story with Murphy’s direct denial.

Ketter’s essential point — that Wedge reported what his sources in the Bristol County district attorney’s office told him (more or less), and that he had no reason to believe they weren’t telling him the truth — is right on target. I hope Herald publisher Pat Purcell keeps fighting this.