Joe Nee, right
Remember Toby Kerns? What about Joe Nee?
Two years ago — when Kerns and Nee were charged with planning a Columbine-style massacre at Marshfield High School — both teenagers were all over the papers. Kerns was the first one arrested: he, we learned in the pages of the Globe and Herald, was an “outcast” who wore a trench coat (natch), was once treated at McLean Hospital for suicidal tendencies, and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder due to abuse by his estranged mother.
Nee, the son of Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association president Tom Nee, was arrested and charged a few weeks after Kerns. He was an “outcast” too — one who allegedly bragged about making napalm bombs, had a troubled relationship with his father, crashed with Kerns’s family after being thrown out of his own house, and later gave police the tip (with two other kids) that led to Kerns’s arrest.
In October 2004, when the frenzy over the alleged plot was at its height, both dailies ran a dozen stories on the subject. But then it fell off the map. That November, the Globe reported that Kerns and Nee had pled not guilty, and ran a second story synopsizing police interviews in the case. The Herald, meanwhile, said nothing. In January 2005, the Globe ran three stories, including one each on Kerns’s and Nee’s release on bail; the Herald limited itself to one item on Nee going home.
Fast forward to November 2006. In the past 22 months, the Globe has done due diligence in occasionally reminding its readers of the allegations against Nee and Kerns. Most notably, on October 20, 2006 — the day Kerns’s trial concluded — the paper reported that Kerns had blamed the plot on Nee and two other students, Dan Farley and Joseph Sullivan, who were granted immunity in the case. (Judge Louis Coffin has yet to issue a verdict.) And the Herald? Bizarrely, the tabloid hasn’t mentioned the alleged Marshfield plot once since February 2005.
What’s going on here? Chalk it up, in part, to a sharp decline in the story’s interest value. When Kerns and Nee embodied every parent’s worst nightmare, the story made for great reading. But as the air seeped out of the story (among other things, the tip that led to Kerns’s arrest may have been prompted by a dispute over a girl), it’s become far less compelling. Plus, if ongoing coverage is not that useful to the relatively staid Globe, it’s even less valuable to the sensationalistic Herald.
What’s more, covering Kerns’s just-concluded trial in Brockton would have meant reporting the defense’s claims about Nee, whose own trial is still pending. And that, in turn, could have hurt the Herald’s relationship with Tom Nee — Joe Nee’s father — and compromised the paper’s ability to scoop the Globe on crime stories.
In fairness to the Herald, the paper has far fewer editorial resources than the Globe to devote to coverage on any given day. Still, since the tabloid helped drive the story when it was fresh and salacious, it would be nice if it could provide just a little closure as it winds down. The Herald ought to send a reporter to cover Joe Nee’s trial when it finally starts. And when the verdict comes in on Toby Kerns, it should be in the paper.