Gadfly in the ointment
After Marshall’s resignation, Kenney sent Ferson an e-mail titled “WANT TO TALK NOW?” “As you recall I tried everything to get you to talk to me,” Kenney wrote. “Now it’s too late for Glenn Marshall, but you and your firm are still on the menu. . . . So, call, or come down here and we can meet. Whatever you do, do not let Glenn Mrshall’s [sic] mud stain your boots.”
But Ferson — who’s worked for Senator Ted Kennedy, former gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos, and Congressman Steve Lynch — seems to think that there just isn’t any point. “When someone represents himself as a reporter,” Ferson told the Phoenix, “it’s based in a certain values set that they bring to the job. It gets squishier when you’re talking about bloggers, who need to be clear about their motivation. But with [blogs such as] Blue Mass. Group, or even Hub Politics, I know they’ve got day jobs and that this is their hobby; I know where their motivation lies and what their agenda is. Peter Kenney seems to fall outside these lines.”
For his part, Kenney — who calls himself a “reporter,” a “blogger,” and an “essayist,” but balks at the term “journalist” — seems to take a kind of transgressive delight in flouting journalistic convention. When he first called Glenn Marshall’s Silver Star into question, for example, he didn’t call Marshall or Ferson for comment. At the time, he noted this fact on his blog; in hindsight, he still thinks this was the right decision. “I didn’t want him to have time to talk to investors or to his lawyer, so I let it fly,” said Kenney. “Did I do it the way a traditional journalist would? According to journalistic ethics, if there are such things that are taught in school? [Note: there are.] No. Was I correct in what I said? Yes.”
Ultimately, of course, that’s the best possible rejoinder Kenney has to critics who are thrown by his swagger and lack of objectivity: if he gets his facts right, and people know his point of view — hey, what’s the problem?
This, for starters: despite Kenney’s confidence in the accuracy of his reportage, he is — like the rest of us — a fallible being. In one of his posts at CapeCodToday.com, for example, he described the Liberty Square Group — where Ferson works — as an “influential law firm/lobbying company closely associated with Jack Abramoff.” In fact, Liberty Square isn’t a law firm — and saying Liberty Square is “closely associated with Jack Abramoff” seems a bit of a stretch. In 2006, Ferson told Bloomberg News that the Wampanoag tribal council had paid $100,000 to two lobbyists at Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff’s former law firm, the previous year. (When I mentioned this to Kenney, he allowed that his description “in terms of pure journalistic requirements requires a leap of faith,” but added that “the Abramoff style and the Abramoff web of influence were clearly involved here.”)
Any journalist who’s had the luxury of writing with a strong point of view knows it can be a dicey business. When you’re trying to make your own argument as sharp as possible, it’s enticingly easy to pay too much attention to details that bolster your case — and, conversely, to minimize or ignore facts that prove more problematic. The safeguard, such as it is, is an abiding sense of journalistic detachment — a conviction that, in the end, we’re reporting on reality, not manipulating it.