42 years later, two Boston Globe stalwarts are still debating objectivity

Cooling towers at Three Mile Island. Photo information unclear.

New York Times media columnist Ben Smith has a fun piece today on two retired Boston Globe stalwarts, Tom Palmer and Alan Berger.

In 1979, when Berger was writing media criticism for The Real Paper (a competitor to The Boston Phoenix), he called out Palmer for what he regarded as overweening objectivity following a dangerous accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Berger called Palmer “thoughtful, honest, and entirely conventional” for failing to emphasize the dangers of nuclear power.

Palmer told Smith: “Journalists are simply not smart enough and educated enough to change the world. They should damn well just inform the public to the best of their abilities and let the public decide.”

I know Berger only by reputation, but I’ve known Palmer for years. He spoke to my graduate ethics class in February 2020 about his critique of liberal media bias, and he may have been my last in-person guest speaker before the pandemic.

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Palmer’s method: Comment early and often

Former Boston Globe reporter Tom Palmer, who covered development for many years before switching sides and becoming a communications consultant, is urging his clients to bombard the Globe’s online-comments system.

Another former Globe reporter, CommonWealth Magazine editor Bruce Mohl, has obtained an e-mail from Palmer in which he urges residents of Harbor Towers to comment early and often in their opposition to plans by developer Don Chiofaro to build a skyscraper next to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Palmer writes:

[Newspapers] don’t like it, and some of them are even considering getting rid of the “comment” feature because it clearly weakens their power. But for now we may comment and comment and comment — just as Don’s supporters do.

Mohl posts the full text of Palmer’s e-mail (pdf), and it’s a hoot. Among other things, Palmer includes step-by-step instructions for how to register and post comments, writing, “It is COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS.”

Maybe Palmer doesn’t find this embarrassing, but it seems to me that he has forgotten both the Lomasney rule and the Spitzer corollary: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”; and “never put it in e-mail.”

Talking swaptions on NECN

And no, I don’t know what they are. But here’s last night’s “NewsNight” segment from NECN in which former Boston Globe reporter-turned-communications consultant Tom Palmer, host Jim Braude and I discuss tolls, gas hikes and investigations.

Palmer returns to the development beat

Former Boston Globe reporter Tom Palmer is now writing about development issues for McDermott Ventures. Palmer, who retired from the Globe this past spring, will write twice a week. His debut, on the future of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, is characteristically smart and insidery.

“Tom Palmer’s Journal” could be a lot bloggier. There’s no RSS feed, no place for comments and few outgoing links. Perhaps that will come as Palmer gets the hang of a new medium. For now, it’s good news for us that he’s still covering issues that he knows well.