The Globe, the Red Sox and a long-ago story of racism and sexual abuse

Now here’s an interesting media twist. Michael Rezendes, who did so much to expose Cardinal Bernard Law’s involvement in the Catholic Church’s pedophile-priest crisis when he was a member of the Spotlight Team at The Boston Globe, has written a new report about sexual abuse — this one involving the Red Sox, whose principal owner, John Henry, is also the owner of the Globe.

Rezendes, who’s retired from the Globe, now works for The Associated Press. His story was published on the Globe’s website today at 3:40 a.m. and presumably will be in Wednesday’s print edition.

The report is about former Red Sox clubhouse manager Don Fitzpatrick, who for years preyed on young Black clubhouse employees. Fitzpatrick left the Sox in 1991 — 10 years before Henry bought the team — and pleaded guilty to charges of sexual battery in 2002.

Although Fitzpatrick was long gone before the dawn of the Henry era, the team remains entangled in Fitzpatrick’s web. Victims are seeking compensation, suggesting that it’s hypocritical for the Red Sox to come to terms publicly with their history of racism (some of it pretty recent) while failing to reach out to Fitzpatrick’s victims.

One of Fitzpatrick’s alleged victims, Gerald Armstrong, told Rezendes, “Now would be a good time for the Red Sox to show everyone they mean what they say.”

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Some good work by the Globe on a late summer Sunday

The last Sunday before Labor Day is not normally a time when newspaper editors feel the need to put their best foot forward. More often it’s an opportunity to mail it in and wait a couple of weeks for when people will be back from vacation.

So I just want to take note that the Boston Globe published two major packages on Sunday: the latest Spotlight Team installment of “The Desperate the Dead,” about the crisis created by closing most of the state’s mental hospitals, and “The Issue of Crime,” produced by the Ideas section, looking at crime from a variety of angles.

Each was given a vibrant digital treatment, which is a key part of eventually weaning readers away from print.

My personal Sunday favorite was Kathryn Miles’s Globe Magazine story on Gerry Largay’s last days after becoming lost on the Appalachian Trail in Maine. As someone who has done a lot of backpacking in New England, I know how easy it is to lose the trail. In her case, the outcome was tragic.

Given that the Globe is in the midst of yet another round of downsizing (including possible layoffs), the paper’s continued good work is encouraging.

The Globe takes on a new pedophile scandal

On Sunday, more than 14 years after the Boston Globe launched its Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles on the pedophile-priest crisis in the Catholic Church, the paper’s Spotlight Team produced a harrowing account of sexual abuse in New England’s private schools.

The new story, as with the earlier coverage, may prove to be the tip of a very large iceberg. The Globe is soliciting tips for follow-ups, conjuring up images of the way the movie Spotlight ends, with reporters overwhelmed with phone calls from victims.

Sadly, we’ve become so accustomed to the notion that predators will sexually prey on children that the details sometimes seem to blend together. But I found this paragraph to be absolutely riveting in its evocation of a dystopian alternate universe:

One winter day around 1964, Hooper said, he wet his bed, infuriating his dorm master, Claude Hasbrouck, who was also the school’s glee club and drama director. Children feared Hasbrouck, who was known for squeezing the flesh under boys’ chins—“chinnies,” he called them—and for his Nazi memorabilia collection, including a Nazi flag on his apartment wall.

It gets worse. But can you imagine being 13 years old, as one of his victims was, and to have your entire world defined by that horrifying environment?

Globe navigates relationships in Mass. General exposé

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Photo of Massachusetts General Hospital via Wikimedia Commons.

It was interesting to see the various levels of relationships involved in The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team article on double-booked surgeries at Massachusetts General Hospital. I count three:

  • Globe owner John Henry was a trustee at Mass. General from 2005 to 2014.
  • The Globe and Mass. General were partners (along with Harvard and MIT) in the recently concluded HUBweek, a series of events focusing on innovation, art and culture.
  • One of the Mass. General patients who believes double-booking resulted in permanent injury is former Red Sox pitcher Bobby Jenks. And Henry, of course, is the Red Sox’ principal owner.

The Globe handled these relationships by disclosing Henry’s ownership stake in the newspaper and the baseball team.

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More important, for those who worry that such matters will interfere with the Globe’s ability to product public-interest journalism, the story is tough and comprehensive. They’re not celebrating at Mass. General today.

Tom Farragher to leave Spotlight, return to newsroom

Tom Farragher
Tom Farragher

Tom Farragher is stepping aside as the editor of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. As Globe editor Brian McGrory points out, Farragher, who’ll become an associate editor, is leaving on a high note — the recently published “Shadow Campus” series, which documented dangerous housing conditions for college students who live off campus. McGrory’s full memo to the staff is below.

If we accept that all good things must come to an end, then I’ve now learned that all great things are finite as well. Tom Farragher has let me know that his eight years as editor of the Spotlight Team are enough. At his request, Tom will return to the newsroom to write high impact enterprise stories, report and help oversee projects, and contribute to our coverage of major news events, taking the well-earned title of associate editor in this new role.

Tom’s decision closes out a spectacular run in Spotlight, one which saw an ambitious expansion of the reach and scope of our elite investigative unit. Under Tom’s leadership, there were no sacred cows, no targets too big or powerful, no topics too unwieldy or complex. The results were immediate and deep — state reviews, Justice Department investigations, IRS raids, and grand jury indictments. When Tom writes (he’s a stellar wordsmith, by the way), systems change and officials are often at risk of jail.

Consider for a moment the series on the state Probation Department. The Supreme Judicial Court suspended the agency head by lunchtime the following day. Federal indictments followed state indictments, and the project provided the blueprint for the criminal trial that is unfolding in US District Court.

Consider, too, the series on Partners HealthCare. When we published, health insurance premiums were rising at more than 10 percent a year. Municipalities were laying off teachers and cops to afford coverage. Spotlight exposed the monopolistic practices of our elite hospitals, spurring a state attorney general’s review, a federal probe, and vows by Partners to hold down costs — promises that have, for the most part, been fulfilled.

The series on lenient dispositions of operating under the influence cases, which involved the laborious sifting of thousands of documents, won the Polk Award, among the most prestigious in investigative reporting. Last year’s taxi series revealed fundamental injustices in a system right in front of all of our eyes. The prison suicide series, Tom’s first, literally saved lives.

Here I’ll confide that when I took this job in January 2013, Tom let me know that he hoped to leave Spotlight within months. “I’ve stared at the ceiling for too many sleepless nights,” he said. I asked him to stay for another project, and it was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made. The result was the recently published “Shadow Campus,” a vital, sprawling series with multiple antagonists that revealed how overreaching universities, coupled with unethical landlords, are placing college students not only in squalor, but danger. And the city agency in charge of addressing problems just isn’t up to the task. The reforms have already begun.

Tom also shared in the Globe’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for our investigation into clergy sexual abuse.

One more thing about Tom, especially for those who haven’t gotten to know him since he descended to the mezzanine eight years ago: Tom is a world class colleague, something to which his charges in Spotlight will readily attest. He oozes kindness. He’s utterly hilarious. He’s deeply empathetic. You’re going to like having him back upstairs.

Before he arrives, though, I’ve asked Tom to finish a couple of critical follow-ups to the off-campus housing series. Tom will then take his prominent place among the four other editors emeritus who oversaw Spotlight in the forty-plus years since it was launched – Tim Leland, Steve Kurkjian, Gerry O’Neill, and Walter Robinson.

I’ll come back to you soon with word on the next editor. More important, though, please offer Tom your congratulations, best wishes, and sincerest thanks.

Brian

The Globe’s detailed look at student housing abuses

Shadow Campus

As a Northeastern professor, I’m certainly aware that many of our students live in less-than-ideal conditions. But to the extent that I’d given it much thought, I had assumed the squalor was largely of the students’ making (see this, for instance), compounded by greedy landlords who pack too many residents into their buildings.

According to The Boston Globe’s just-completed series “Shadow Campus,” that may be true, but it’s just the beginning. From Sunday’s account of a fatal fire, to Monday’s story on hazards elsewhere in the city, to today’s profile of landlord-from-hell Anwar Faisal, the series, by the paper’s Spotlight Team, documents the dark side of Boston’s student-fueled economy.

The series was many months in the making, and (full disclosure) was reported in part by student reporters, including some from Northeastern, who are not identified in the story. Certainly the large universities in Greater Boston — particularly Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern — will be challenged to build more on-campus housing. Given the failure of the city’s overwhelmed inspectional services to do better, the story also removes a bit of a shine from former mayor Tom Menino’s legacy and puts Mayor Marty Walsh on the spot.

Online, “Shadow Campus” has all the multimedia bells and whistles we’ve come to expect with long pieces: a beautifully designed, easy-to-read layout; lots of photos and video clips; and official documents the Globe dug up in the course of its reporting.

Overall, a very fine effort.

More: Here’s a complete list of everyone who worked on the series. Student reporters are listed under “Correspondents,” though not everyone in that category is a student.

Herald questions Globe over account of cab accident

In case you missed it, in part three of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team series on the Boston cab industry we learned that Globe staff member Bob Hohler got in an accident while driving a taxi in the course of his reporting:

Before his stint behind the wheel ends, the reporter will see what it means to be cheated by a taxi company and his ­passengers. And he will survive a harrowing crash — a ­not-uncommon occupational hazard — after a motorist runs a red light near Copley Square. The collision will send the reporter and his passengers to the hospital and destroy the taxicab.

Today the Boston Herald comes back with a front-page story by Matt Stout questioning the Globe’s account of the accident as well as Hohler’s hands-on reporting technique:

A Boston Globe reporter masquerading as a Hub taxi driver gave a disputed version of a two-car crash that sent him and his two passengers to the hospital in a front-page story yesterday that’s raising questions about liability and whether he misrepresented himself.

The Herald also quotes a statement from the Globe that appears to deny Hohler was under cover — it says Hohler identified himself to Boston Police and his passengers. It’s a little unclear, though, whether that was before or after the accident. [Update: The police knew ahead of time, but the cab company didn’t, though Hohler says he would have identified himself if asked.]*

Coincidentally, last week I had an opportunity to spend some time with New York University journalism professor Brooke Kroeger, who argues in her book “Undercover Reporting: The Truth about Deception” that such techniques have gotten an undeserved bad rap. Kroeger, among other things, is the biographer of Nelly Bly, the ultimate undercover reporter.

I am reasonably sure that John Carroll will weigh in on the latest Globe-Herald dust-up later today. Should make for interesting reading.

*More: Hohler talks about the experience in a Globe video.

Still more: John Carroll takes his first cut, but appears to be withholding his judgment for the time being.

More and more: Earlier today, I had the following Twitter exchange with the redoubtable Seth Mnookin:

Now Carroll has taken his second cut, and characterizes Mnookin and me as taking the position that the Herald’s reporting is “totally without merit.” In fact, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I was agreeing with Mnookin as to why the Herald jumped into the fray, but I didn’t mean to imply that the tabloid was shooting nothing but blanks.

Essentially, I agree with Carroll: the Herald raised a legitimate question, but overplayed it, as is its wont.

Pushing back against the White House anti-leak crusade

By Bill Kirtz

Leading news figures this weekend blasted expanding investigations of national-security leaks, detailed the dilemma of dealing with confidential sources and offered ways to restore credibility in a media universe that merges fact with fiction.

Their comments came at Boston’s Investigative Reporters and Editors conference attended by some 1,200 established and aspiring journalists.

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson said the Obama administration’s widening probes have created an “urgent” problem because it has a “chilling effect” on confidential sources. She said the current Washington environment “has never been tougher and [confidential] information harder to dislodge.”

She said the attorney general’s latest attempts to ferret out leakers raise the question of whether the U.S. Espionage Act “is being used as a substitute for” Britain’s wide-ranging Official Secrets Act.

Using the Espionage Act, the current administration is pursuing six leak-related criminal cases. That’s twice as many as all previous administrations combined brought since the act was passed in 1917 to punish anyone who “knowingly and willfully” passes on information that hurts the country or helps a foreign power “to the detriment of the United States.”

The Official Secrets Act makes it unlawful to disclose information relating to defense, security and intelligence, international relations, intelligence gained from other departments or international organizations and intelligence useful to criminals.

Alluding to recent Times stories about U.S. drone strikes and computer attacks aimed at Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Abramson said the government’s policy on cyber warfare is an important subject about which the public needs to know.

The vast majority of her paper’s national-security disclosures come from “old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting” and not from leaks, she said. And before they run, she said, “We give all responsible officials a chance to reply” and will hold or cut information if they raise a legitimate security objection.

Times media columnist David Carr called the government investigations an “appalling” attempt to restrict information about significant issues.

“Whistle-blowers aren’t scarce but the people who blow them are,” he said, citing as an example the indictment of a National Security Agency worker who told a Baltimore Sun reporter about a failed technology program.

“As war becomes less visible and becomes its own ‘dark ops,’ reporters are trying to punch through and bring accountability,” he said. Carr added that while it’s easy to say leak-based scoops come gift-wrapped, they usually come from reporters working hard and asking the right questions. Continue reading “Pushing back against the White House anti-leak crusade”

Before the Globe, there was CommonWealth

The Boston Globe Spotlight series on the state Patronage Department — ah, I mean Probation Department — is public-interest journalism at its best.

Commissioner Jack O’Brien has been suspended. There’s a chance for genuine reform. And the absurd gubernatorial candidacy of hacked-up state treasurer Tim Cahill has been brought to a merciful end, even if he doesn’t know it yet.

But credit should also go to CommonWealth Magazine and its blog, CW Unbound, which has been beating the drums about the Probation Department for months. CommonWealth, published by the nonpartisan Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), has put together a compilation of stories it’s posted on the Probation Department mess. (Disclosure: I used to be a regular contributor to CommonWealth, and I’m still listed on the masthead.)

On May 3, for example, CommonWealth reporter Jack Sullivan wrote about a court case involving Stephen Anzalone, who was challenging his rejection as a probation officer even though he would have been the seventh member of his family to draw a paycheck from the agency.

And on April 14, editor Bruce Mohl interviewed House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charles Murphy on why he opposed a plan by Gov. Deval Patrick to bring the out-of-control agency under the executive branch’s wing.

The Globe, as the region’s largest and most influential news organization, is doing what it does best: driving the agenda and forcing public officials to do what they should have done a long time ago. And CommonWealth, like other smaller players, is performing its role admirably as well: by keeping the story simmering until it was ready to come to a boil.