Globe watch: A lawyer’s lament, and Stat’s discontents

Two items of note regarding The Boston Globe.

1. Eric MacLeish, a prominent lawyer who represented numerous victims of pedophile priests, is objecting to his portrayal in the movie “Spotlight.” An item in the Globe’s “Names” column notes, “Curiously, MacLeish hasn’t seen the movie.” Yet someone must have given MacLeish a good briefing, as the bill of particulars he posted on Facebook is pretty accurate in summarizing his character in the film: a lawyer who reached confidential settlements with the Catholic Church on behalf of his clients, thus helping to delay the truth from coming out.

Also of note is that Stephen Kurkjian, a legendary Globe investigative reporter who also does not come off well in “Spotlight,” has posted a comment saying in part: “I can attest to how committed you [MacLeish] were — within the confines of attorney-client relationships — to assisting The Globe in getting the story out.”

Of course, such complaints are to be expected when a fictional movie is made about a real-life story and actual people. I experienced this first-hand when the movie about the Woburn toxic-waste story, “A Civil Action,” came out. (I covered the story for The Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn.) I was so incensed by some of what I saw that I wrote about it for The New Republic.

“Spotlight” is a far better — and truer — movie than “A Civil Action.” But it’s not a documentary.

2. Craig Douglas of The Boston Business Journal reports that the Newspaper Guild has some issues with Stat, a website covering health, medicine and life sciences that is part of John Henry’s Boston Globe Media holdings.

As I wrote last week for WGBHNews.org, Stat launched with about 40 journalists just weeks after the Globe eliminated about 40 newsroom positions through buyouts and layoffs. The two developments are said to be unrelated in the sense that Henry is not funding Stat through cuts at the Globe. As Gideon Gil, Stat’s managing editor for enterprise and partnerships, told me, each property has to pursue its own business plan.

Still, Douglas reports, it has not gone unnoticed that union jobs at the Globe have been eliminated while positions at Stat are non-union. Douglas quotes an anonymous union official as saying: “The feeling is, those weren’t the last layoffs we’re going to see. It feels like they are trying to expand by killing us from inside.”

Surely Henry can’t be blamed for making cuts in a shrinking business while trying to find innovative ideas that could lead to growth and profitability. But it’s not hard to sympathize with the fears voiced in Douglas’ article.

Media freedom and human rights

Journalism about human rights is both important and dangerous. That was the message at the K. George and Carolann S. Najarian Lecture on Human Rights at Faneuil Hall, endowed by the Armenian Heritage Foundation and held Thursday night.

The lecture, titled “Truth to Action: Media Freedom,” featured Ray Suarez of Al Jazeera America and PRI; Boston Globe investigative reporter Stephen Kurkjian, who’s also an adjunct professor at Northeastern University; and Thomas Mucha, editor of the Boston-based international news agency GlobalPost.

To see a Storify of live tweets about the event, please click here.

DiMasi’s conviction and the Boston Globe

It’s an observation that has become cliché, but it needs to be made: Without robust local journalism, it is nearly impossible to hold government accountable. Yesterday’s conviction of former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi on federal corruption charges would likely not have happened without the Boston Globe.

As best as I can tell, the first article was this one, published on May 23, 2008, and written by staff reporter Andrea Estes — with an assist by Steve Kurkjian, a legendary investigative reporter who is still working despite being allegedly retired. Headlined “IBM, Cognos to refund state $13m,” it contained the seeds from which grew a mighty oak:

House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi had taken a strong interest in the contract last year. The former head of the Information Technology Division told state officials that the middleman in the deal, former Cognos executive Joseph Lally, had bragged about his relationship with DiMasi and suggested that DiMasi wanted the contract to go to Cognos. Cognos also contributed generously over several years to a charitable golf tournament hosted by DiMasi at his home course, the Ipswich Country Club.

The impetus for that first story came from Inspector General Gregory Sullivan, who found that the Cognos contract violated state bidding rules. But the matter may have gone no further if the Globe had not kept pushing.

Two months later, Estes and Kurkjian reported, “Software company Cognos ULC hired House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi’s law associate, and a key Cognos sales agent hired DiMasi’s personal accountant during a period when the firm was winning millions of dollars in state contracts.” The rest is history.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical of the DiMasi prosecution. I didn’t like it that his downfall began shortly after he saved the state from Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to build three casinos — not that I’m suggesting a relationship between those two actions.

I also didn’t like the feds’ reliance on the “honest services” statute, which US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has observed is so broad it could outlaw “a mayor’s attempt to use the prestige of his office to obtain a restaurant table without a reservation.” (Although I should note that the court narrowed the law considerably in 2010.)

As it turned out, though, the evidence against DiMasi was strong; nor did he offer much of a defense.

This is journalism in the public interest, and no one can do it except a large, well-funded news organization with lots of resources. It doesn’t have to be a newspaper. But in 2011, very few news organizations other than newspapers are capable of such vitally important work.

Update: After doing some additional research, I now think this Estes article from March 10, 2008, was the first to link DiMasi and Cognos.

Photo (cc) by Luciof and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Steve Kurkjian talks about his nonretirement

Alert Media Nation reader S.G. sends along this story from the Armenian Mirror-Spectator about barely retired retiree Steve Kurkjian of the Boston Globe. Given how often his byline still appears, you might be puzzled to learn that Kurkjian took an early-retirement buyout a couple of years ago. He explains:

People need this stuff, and I know how to do it. People out there return my phone calls when I say “I’m Steve Kurkjian from the Globe.” In both cases [stories about former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi and Partners HealthCare], the source said “I will only deal with you. I’m not going to give it to anybody else.”

A good read about a local legend.