Whatever happened to Memogate?

By ADAM REILLY  |  November 10, 2006

Why is this noteworthy? Because Baron seems to have been instrumental in the decision to run the Keaveney story on July 26. According to one source with knowledge of the story’s path to print, after Murphy wrapped up his interview with Keaveney late in the evening on July 25, it was Baron who decided the story should run the next day, even though the parties implicated in his account wouldn’t be able to weigh in.

In other words, even if Baron wasn’t solely responsible for the Globe’s mistake, he’s implicated in the paper’s decision to trust Keaveney and rush the story to publication. And now, at least from the outside, Baron appears unwilling to apply the same tough standards to himself that he does to other Globe employees.

Baron declined comment for this article, and referred questions to Globe spokesman Al Larkin. Larkin, meanwhile, declined comment on Slack’s vanished follow-up and Baron’s role in quickly publishing the original story. Slack referred the Phoenix to Larkin as well. And neither Murphy nor Carolyn Ryan, the paper’s assistant managing editor for metropolitan news, responded to requests for comment. (The Globe currently has no ombudsman.)

Clearing the air
This limited collective response is probably prudent, from an institutional standpoint: if Baron wants to close the books on Keaveney, he should do it in the Globe, not in the Phoenix.

Also, in fairness to Baron, most journalists would probably have made the same decision he did — or at least seriously considered it. Competition between the Globe and the Herald was especially fierce at the time: the Herald had beaten the Globe by getting a picture of the accident scene onto its later front pages on July 11, but the Globe rebounded with a series of outstanding in-depth pieces on the technical aspects of the tragedy. Furthermore, there had been a few cases in which reporters from one daily planned scoops based on sensitive documents they’d obtained, only to have the same documents fall into the competition’s hands later the same day.

If the Keaveney memo had been legit — and if the Globe had printed it first — it would have given the Globe permanent bragging rights in this ongoing newspaper war. In addition, since Massachusetts attorney general (and then-candidate for governor) Tom Reilly had suggested that a negligent-homicide charge could be appropriate for Del Valle’s death, the Globe’s scoop could also have been a legal bombshell. Finally, it might have given Baron a crack at another Pulitzer — which, in turn, could have helped him leave the Globe for the New York Times, a move Baron is widely thought to be interested in making.

Maybe Baron is waiting for the right time to run Slack’s Keaveney profile. Then again, he might simply have decided to let the Keaveney story fade away. This would be a mistake. Compared with other recent journalistic misdeeds, the Globe’s sins here are minor: a great scoop turned out to be bogus. Still, the longer the paper waits to acknowledge this, the less trustworthy it looks to its readers. Factor in the frustration Baron’s silence could engender inside the Globe, and it’s clear that some kind of coda is desperately needed. Whether it will ever come is anyone’s guess.

On the Web
Adam Reilly's Media Log: http://www.thephoenix.com/medialog

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