We’re told that persistence is critical in this business. For that reason and obvious others, we are happy to engage our readers yet again with the ongoing mystery behind the missing bust of 19th Century education reformer Charles Brooks. As we recently reported in a followup to a 2012 Boston Phoenix article, said marble sculpture, the work of American master Thomas Crawford, went missing from the Massachusetts State House several decades ago, and appears to currently be in storage at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Though this shocking information has been public for a number of years, those in a position to reclaim the bust have, for some strange reason or another, chosen to ignore the seeming inconsistency.
All things considered, you can imagine our surprise last week when officials reacted resolutely to reports that two pieces of art vanished from the Boston Public Library—an engraving of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Dürer, and an etching of a Rembrandt self-portrait. According to Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, even the FBI is pitching in to help catch the culprit. That’s promising, but some folks have been hollering for years (ahem!) about the aforementioned Brooks sculpture—as well as about several hundred other historical artifacts that have disappeared from the State House—and no one has seemed to care, neither in the press nor public office. Frankly, it’s maddening.
So as to avoid any beating around bushes, we’ll just come right out and say it: There is an unhealthy divide in the Boston media in which a handful of mega outlets dominate and compromise the narrative, rarely allowing information from the lower rung to penetrate. In this case, everybody from the Boston Globe to WBZ excitedly latched on to the BPL story, forcing the topic into water cooler exchanges and onto Facebook walls. But until NECN, to its credit, invited DigBoston into the broadcast conversation on day three of the news cycle concerning this Rembrandt and Dürer caper, the entire mess of local hacks together still managed to omit revelations about missing commonwealth masterworks—even as they feigned much aggravation about porous library security. The Globe went so far as to note comparable robberies from public institutions in New York, Ohio, and Maryland, but not in Boston. Go figure.
This system of a multi-tiered and siloed reportorial ecosystem, ranging from underground and college rags to mainstream publications, served New England and other markets relatively well for some time, as important news and facts tended to bubble up from the bottom until ultimately finding larger audiences. Now, however, there’s more apparent disconnect than ever before, and the struggle to be heard about something as straightforward and simple as a stolen bust that has been located in California should serve to sufficiently highlight that imbalance (spokespeople for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker won’t even return our emails on the matter). Do we have polls or stats to buttress this worsening media segregation theory? We could probably find compelling evidence if we cared to, sure, just like anybody who is determined to prove that the Fourth Estate’s foundation is increasingly flat can cherry pick research to back their hypothesis. Our proof, rather, is in the hunch that there’s a bust at the LACMA that should probably not be there, the fact that there’s a building with a Golden Dome on Beacon Hill that has been quietly pilfered, and the sudden surge in outrage about missing art, the latter of which registers as heartbreakingly laughable when all facts are acknowledged.
Long story short: read and support DigBoston. And please share our reports in the event that you appreciate our coverage. Of anything! The same goes for stories in the Bay State Examiner, the Dorchester Reporter, the Jamaica Plain Gazette, and all the other small outlets that tend to get drowned out in the mass echo chamber. More importantly, when an independent covers something that strikes you as too insane to be true, be a trendsetter, and help shame all the bigs onto the bandwagon.
[Media Farm is wrangled by DigBoston News + Features Editor Chris Faraone]