In the process of working with Britni de la Cretaz on “The Yawkey Way,” a feature that we ran in July about hate speech thriving and being rewarded in New England sports culture, there were some things we anticipated would ensue after the article dropped. We expected that faceless anonymous racists among us would soil their diapers. Furthermore, since Britni impressively moved Red Sox management to criticize its own broadcasting partner, WEEI, on the record, we also had an idea that the toddlers on that station would do some soiling themselves. And of course we knew that audiences would read and share the lengthy article enthusiastically, because while there has obviously been a lot of spot coverage and individual stories related to race and the Red Sox, it’s rare that someone takes the time and has the courage to begin assembling the puzzle in the face of guaranteed harassment.
Amid the uproar, many readers and internet people in general came to the defense of Britni and DigBoston, both in public comments and in private correspondence. But there was also something we didn’t expect—it was surprising, if not baffling, to watch broadcast news icon Emily Rooney blast the feature on Beat the Press, a local weekly media show that she hosts on the Boston PBS station WGBH. As her colleagues cited points from Britni’s article without noting where they came from, Rooney pitched in extra insults, calling the reporting “trite” and even sympathizing with the proudly sexist jocks who have spurred their legionnaires and sycophants to harass female journalists. At a low point, Rooney even suggested that the Dig wasn’t worthy of a response from the Red Sox.
As a talented icon at the top of her field who achieved significant broadcasting feats against difficult odds, I like to hope that Rooney was just jabbing with her tired brand of tough love in some kind of twisted recognition of our newspaper’s underdog gusto and the fact that we are incubating robust long-form journalism with the scant resources that are available to us. Considering her noted snobbery and disdain for everything from public transportation to transgender rights, though, I bet the truth is more that Beat the Press and Rooney are simply allergic to the mere idea of independent journalism entering their airspace. If they weren’t, they would have called Britni for a comment instead of only reaching out to WEEI.
This newspaper, which Rooney refers to as the “Big Dig,” has been operating for two decades and has hundreds of thousands of readers between print and online every month. We have weathered recessions and outlived dozens of publications, including the Boston Phoenix. That last bit hasn’t rested well with Rooney and a number of others, but it’s a fact, and those of us who are trying to carry on the alternative press tradition shouldn’t have to bear the stubborn brunt of old allegiances.
Nevertheless, our goal as an organization is to shine light on important issues to the point that large outlets like Rooney’s take notice and spark even further dialogue into the ’burbs and beyond. In that case we’ve succeeded, and if a part of that discussion happens to address why a major voice at a nationally recognized PBS affiliate feels comfortable condoning such contemptible behavior, then so be it.