The week Commonwealth residents looked at the encroaching national apocalypse and said, ‘Us too!’
Last week yielded the most major breaking news out of the Hub since the Marathon bombing and race to replace Mayor Thomas Menino roiled 2013. Like other close observers of the media and politics who I have spoken with, I’m still trying to process the outrageous deluge while remaining high enough above the swells to see what doom lurks on the darkening horizon. In accelerated times like these, it helps to keep good notes so that certain exigent topics and worthwhile tangents don’t fade simply because sexier sensational stories surface. Which they will. Oh yes, they will.
I. I couldn’t bear to cover Mass Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s embarrassing press conference last week. His husband, troubled operative Bryon Hefner, has apparently been handsy in his already notorious approach to peddling his partner’s influence. The story that snapped Hefner’s back was dutifully written and broken by Boston Globe reporter-columnist Yvonne Abraham, who has been leading coverage of sexual harassment on Beacon Hill.
This is clearly an important issue, especially for those of us who want to see a lot more women and nonbinary lawmakers in top positions. Nevertheless, it’s critical to think about the reason that so many journalists came out from all across the state to cover Rosenberg’s semi-apology (as one comparison, not a single TV news truck showed up for a massive demonstration in support of net neutrality on Newbury Street last week). Was it a genuine watershed media moment? With producers and editors motivated to smoke out abusers? Or was it just a horde of copycats chasing a sound bite like a carrot on a stick for clicks?
II. Back when I was a wee journalism student working at the State House every day, my peers and I once got an opportunity to meet Frank Phillips, the Globe’s Beacon Hill bureau chief, and to throw some questions at him. I asked what he recalled to be his worst day on the job, and Phillips said that it was when the Boston Herald slashed the heart out of its staff covering the legislature, effectively giving Globies like him less reason to fear every morning that their leading competitor’s front page was juicier.
III. As a Northeast elitist myself, I can say from my experience that lots of us are unrelenting snobs. We point fingers at rubes in less fortunate parts of the country—the flyover cesspools, as well as waterlogged stormfronts like Texas and Florida. We laugh out loud when politicians who the idiot conservatives in those states send to Washington strip subsidies and aid from their most vulnerable voters, as if children and deserving needy folks are not affected.
Last week, though, there was less time for pointing and laughing. Even as President Trump stumped for Alabama food court casanova Roy Moore. Despite the countdown to either a world war or impeachment that is ticking away, things were ugly enough here in the commonwealth to turn our darts and fingers inward. From the Boston Herald, which was already a sad sack in several regards, being sold to the mass-market monolith GateHouse Media, to the federal indictment filed in federal court charging former State Sen. Brian A. Joyce, who apparently found ways to collude with or con every business he crossed, we are approaching peak insanity, descending into a depraved abyss where facts unravel like conspiracies on television dramas.
Overall, last week—and even last month and the past year, but mostly last week, oh wow, what a week—was an “us too” moment for Mass. The week we collectively realized that New Englanders are just as ratfucked as the dolts caught in the crosshairs of our cruelest classist punchlines. Our politicians, despite mostly being Democrats, are crooks willing to sell out their constituents for pennies relative to what their corporate masters pocket. Our institutions are infested with harassers, and our news outlets are increasingly consolidated and reduced to hollow vehicles that provide insufficient serious coverage, and run on the compromised fumes of whatever dwindling municipal ad revenue remains in the killing fields. Things are bad and worse. Us too.
IV. Here’s some interesting, if not hilarious news: As Gintautas Dumcius of MassLive noted, “Former Sen. Brian Joyce always insisted reporters include his middle initial. I’m sure he’s appreciative that the Dept. of Justice took additional step of spelling it out in press release.” The “A,” it turns out, stands for Augustine.
Now here’s a bit of great news: Some people are smelling the broccoli that Governor Charlie Baker is steaming. And they’re writing about how badly it stinks.
There have been multiple critical op-eds in regional dailies from Springfield to Lowell, plus a poignant piece last week by Miles Howard for WBUR, “What Charlie Baker’s Popularity Says About The State Of The Commonwealth.” As the latter notes, “Baker has barely committed Massachusetts to transitioning to clean energy alternatives,” while in a broader sense Howard laments “a historically bold and visionary state now surrendering its principles to the convenience of relativism in the age of Donald Trump.”
(Even the Globe has questioned Baker’s popularity, but only in a way that’s several shots of absinthe short of self-aware, complete with gratuitous reminders that our state’s “economy is strong,” “unemployment is low,” and “there’s a sense among voters that the state is generally headed in the right direction, while the nation is on the wrong track.”)
Come to think of it, while kneecapping Baker is becoming en vogue, there’s really only one news source that I can think of which regularly watches the gov like a prison guard, and that’s the Herald. With the significant cuts that are expected to be coming for their staff, Baker will have that much easier a time hooking up millionaire class cronies, and pushing to privatize everything that isn’t nailed down.
V. Boston’s not a two-newspaper town. Never has been. The phrase has a nice ring to it, and there’s no doubt that the Globe with the Herald behind it lead the way on multiple fronts, from unique site visits to resources, but ultimately it’s insulting to the rest of us who work for the dozen-plus other ethnic, alternative, and neighborhood papers around here—kind of like when they give a best new artist Grammy to musicians who have been recording albums for more than a decade.
By the way, GateHouse owns 126 media properties in Mass, ranging from weekly shoppers to a range of influential daily newspapers of record like the Cape Cod Times, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Brockton Enterprise, Quincy Patriot Ledger, and their mothership, the MetroWest Daily News. If you’re looking for a single entity to point and scream at for the bankrupt state of Massachusetts media, GateHouse is a worthy target after the majority of TV journos who report on things like holiday congestion and Black Friday.
VI. For those who aren’t in the media and didn’t spend last Friday evening glued to the #mapoli feed on Twitter, word has emerged on public channels that a male employee of the Globe has disappeared without a trace after separating from the paper due to revelations of his less than savory behavior. From what I’ve surveyed of the external response, my sentiments lie somewhere in between those who think everyone accused of something awful should be doxed and outed before any formal inquiry, and people who believe the Globe is in the wrong for hiding the identity of said offender.
Thing is, it doesn’t really matter what I think in this case, because Globe managers are alone here in knowing the exact nature the complaint(s) in question. It just happens to make matters worse that they treated the wound with lemon and sandpaper, allowing the humiliation to leak via sports talk knuckleheads on radio who, and I can sympathize with them on this up to a certain point, love few things more than exposing hypocrisy and inconsistencies at Boston’s leading publication.
To interpolate the sentiments of my former Boston Phoenix editor Carly Carioli, who opined on Twitter that “this is a case-study that will be studied for years on how NOT to write about yourself if you’re a newspaper,” when the encyclopedia of sexual harassment is written—at this rate, it will have to be a breathing document, compiled by news watchers working back-to-back shifts overnight—Globe Editor Brian McGrory should be listed right alongside all the dopiest enablers. Here’s part of the memo he wrote to his newsroom that was printed in their ham-fisted attempt to stop the bleeding:
Yes, we’re well aware that by withholding the identity of the reporter involved, we’ll be accused of a double-standard by people and organizations that are not privy to all the facts. I can live with that far more easily than I can live with the thought of sacrificing our values to slake the thirst of this moment.
Please re-read that last line if you’ve yet to vomit.
VII: It’s interesting just how little interest there appears to be in sexual and racial harassment when it happens on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum, particularly that involving minimum wage laborers and service workers. The Globe has done commendable work on tackling these topics in the food and beverage industry, while us and others will continue giving voice to those in kitchens and behind bars, but all of us are still to blame in many ways for how the larger feeding frenzy over sexual misconduct and abuse of power takes a far less urgent tone when names of perps and victims aren’t recognizable. Just an observation.
VIII: Look: the problem with the journalism that gets done around the State House—and especially with the journalism that doesn’t get done around the State House—is that few reporters have the time and resources available to expose the next Augustine.
IX. Belated (but nevertheless quick) disclaimer: I have been underpaid and underemployed by both GateHouse and the Herald in my 15-year career. In the spirit of hanging one’s own dirty laundry in public, I have also been put in compromising financial positions by the Dig. For those personal reasons and others, under a new management team that I am a part of, we are currently months into a complete reorganization that includes increasing both transparency and quality of interaction with our employees and freelancers. I personally reply to several emails a week in which readers and media writers ask about the way we navigate difficult waters, and I encourage anybody else who has such questions to drop me a note: [email protected]
X. The Globe has an investigative series dropping all this week: “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.” The tagline: “The Spotlight Team takes on our hardest question: How racist are we?” Released over the course of several days, it will seemingly attempt to smash open the core of this most vexing quagmire, and promises installments such as, “A brand new Boston, even whiter than the old,” “Lost on campus, in a sea of white,” and “The bigot in the stands, and other stories.”
Before suffering through the unfocused cumbersome hodgepodge of an intro—for one insanely pointless exercise, they actually counted the number of patrons of color at certain downtown establishments, some of which are tourist traps—as a prerequisite, I recommend a 2015 column by noted media writer Tracie Powell. Headed “Why young journalists of color leave the news industry,” it details the treatment of a young black woman at the Globe’s life sciences vertical:
Stat… just fired its wonderkid on Friday, but not before they switched the journalism and computer science grad’s job from research and reporting to primarily clerical work that included filing expense reports for the editor-in-chief (which is apparently against Globe policy), creating name tags for Stat events (which was initially assigned to an intern before the journalism grad was tasked with it), as well as booking lunches and ordering food for editors, and other reporters.
McGory never sent out any memos in response to Powell’s post, at least not that we know of. I guess it took a racist president, Colin Kaepernick, and a national movement to convince Globe honchos it was finally worth sacrificing what they truly value—white men who need to be coddled, businesses like General Electric—to finally slake the thirst of this moment.