Plus the problem with Hub media trolls leading #MeToo coverage
Institutions vary in how they manage harassment claims.
Soon after Harvard prof Jorge Domínguez was publicly accused of misconduct in March, the university placed him on leave.
In a higher profile scenario, after Matt Lauer was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior at NBC, the “Today” show host was fired.
Such precedents aside, facing its latest developing scandal, the Boston Globe took a wildly unique approach. Since former boston.com (owned by the Globe) editor Hilary Sargent, in a series of tweets on May 22, added a name to her months-long vague excoriation of the company’s misogynistic culture and mishandling of harassment complaints, the newspaper has thrown shade on the accuser, filed a lawsuit against her, and allowed the accused party, Globe editor Brian McGrory (whose attorneys also threatened separate action against Sargent) to carry on, even having him co-author an unrelated company wide memo about downsizing and buyouts in spite of the turmoil.
Regarding claims on both sides …
Last Wednesday, Globe managing director Linda Pizzuti Henry, along with president Vinay Mehra, finally communicated with employees via email. Offering boilerplate banality pulled from the code red section of some gutless PR playbook (“we are deeply committed to creating a safe, comfortable, welcoming working environment for all employees”), the letter seemingly served little purpose other than to kick the can into the three-day weekend and applaud its signers for taking two days to make a statement (“we expect to have resolution on this matter soon but did not want to wait another day to connect with you directly”).
Then there is McGrory, who sent a letter to his staff the same day. In addition to claiming he has “never harassed Hilary Sargent or any other women at the Globe or anywhere else – ever,” the editor explained his case and slipped in something of a nuanced barb about regret that stood out as particularly sharp (bold emphasis mine):
I have no recollection of it, which, admittedly, is embarrassing to me. I have asked Hilary to provide the date and a more complete version of the exchange. She has not addressed my request. I have told the Globe’s owners that the company should feel free to retrieve our text messages by whatever means possible, and I am trying myself …
First, Hilary and I dated many years ago. We did not work together at the time, and we’ve remained friendly over the years.
Second, when Hilary came to boston.com in 2014, I had no role, no say whatsoever, in her hire. She did not report to me, even indirectly.
Third, months after Hilary left boston.com, we would sometimes exchange text messages that included the kind of personal banter of two people very familiar with each other. I regret that very much for reasons that go far beyond the Globe.
With so much talk of legal action, Sargent has been somewhat quiet since last week. Other than to tweet, “With the @BostonGlobe threatening a lawsuit, I will only say this. This isn’t about one text. This isn’t about just him. And this isn’t about just me. I’m horrified that the newspaper that purports to shine a “Spotlight” is doing everything in their power to do just the opposite.” In addition to this comment she gave WGBH:
Women deserve to be treated professionally and taken seriously. It is crucial that individuals in leadership positions are held to the same high standard of conduct that the Globe would expect of any individuals in leadership positions at other similarly powerful institutions. Those in leadership positions at media organizations have significant influence over how the issue of sexual harassment is covered, and the coverage they oversee should never be tainted or colored by their own missteps and misdeeds.
While McGrory’s staff letter noted that he “was not anticipating the situation,” only a crash test dummy hibernating in a bunker underneath the Globe’s hermetic bubble could have missed the warning shots. Sargent has been hammering the newspaper on social media for months, even offering to help with any internal investigations into harassment matters, while readers and critics alike knocked the decision made by brass last year to withhold the name of a journalist facing misconduct accusations. Considering the lingering effect of that heat, plus the unrelated yet still simmering embarrassment that sidelined longtime column maker Kevin Cullen, who may have cooked a recollection of his whereabouts during the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon, and people have been watching the Globe closely. Though judging by their bold behavior, you wouldn’t think a single manager senses the microscope.
One day into the McGrory dustup, the editor sent out the latest one of his many insufferable tome-length staff memos about how things are peachy at the paper, but they nonetheless need people to retire or else. Apparently oblivious to the outrageous irony of having the deadweight communicate such things to their colleagues and underlings—any number of whom may have been the victim of a sexual harasser in their past—Globe leadership allowed McGrory to play god.
Though I’ve primarily acknowledged the hard work and excellent reporting of Dan Kennedy (Media Nation) and Adam Reilly (WGBH) in this rundown, the aforementioned arrogance of Globe bosses has also spurred harsh scrutiny from the most boorish corners of the Massachusetts media. Not always for what woke blokes might call “the right reasons,” but nevertheless, sports radio talkers at WEEI, especially Kirk Minihane, fanned the hottest flames and condemnation of the lot under Cullen’s bare ass, while the debaucherous shitposting gadflies at Turtleboy Sports were the first to jump on Sargent’s damning tweets.
It’s terrifying that so many right-wing goons and diaper writers—be sure to wear galoshes if you wade through Boston Herald poet Howie Carr’s most recent stew of red meat and manure—have led coverage on this front. Because when it comes to sexual harassment, my enemy’s enemy isn’t my friend. From what I can tell, they’re simply getting kicks and laughs at the expense of reporters they loathe on conservative principle, and because they feel the Globe is too far to the left! Considering their range of content when they aren’t sniping journos, it’s unlikely that many of them crusade for the #MeToo movement in their spare time.
There is something missing in a lot of the deserved vitriol aimed at the Globe this past week. Especially in the talk radio tirades and rants of sports media ballbags. And that’s a desperate hope for our newspaper of record to emerge from this mess brighter than ever, with new exciting and diverse leadership, fresh ideas, and an invigorated plan for its own future. For crying out loud, at the very least it would be nice to have a regular progressive columnist or ombudsman impugn its endless worship of big corporations and reluctance to let poor and working people have a voice in its pages.
It doesn’t look like that will happen though; for an outlet known for columnists who opine to no end about how Trump and the Neanderthals who love him are dragging our country backwards, the response to their own quagmire has been a spectacularly retrograde performance. Their allowing an embattled and (at least) temporarily compromised McGrory to deliver critical employment news is hamfisted at best and reckless and insensitive at worst. It is also a decision that a first year PR joker wouldn’t make under the influence, which makes it seem like it is all deliberate. And which makes me think they’re trying to pull off the legal version of what their reporters do whenever they block haters on Twitter. They think they can make it all go away, and they may be right.
As I noted, Sargent has been dropping science on the Globe on Twitter since last year. That was all to little fanfare beyond her close friends and allies though, while the recent explosion of news—including a New York Times treatment—doesn’t yet seem to be trending hard enough to make executives admit they erred or cut McGrory’s throat. As long as readers and Bostonians roll over and pick other things to post, tweet, and rant about, the Globe will simply keep on spinning. On the other hand, if people speak up, cancel subscriptions, or do what they think might foment substantial change, Greater Boston could get the outlet of record it deserves.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.