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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rough play

After Peter Lucas, then a columnist for the Boston Herald, erroneously reported in 1983 that Mayor Kevin White would seek a fifth term — "WHITE WILL RUN" was the front-page headline — his unnamed source turned out to be none other than Kevin White.

Lucas offered to resign anyway, but the editors were not about to let him be punished for falling victim to a dirty trick.

This morning it looks as though the Herald is trying to close the books as quickly as possible on its erroneous Feb. 2 report about the Patriots' having videotaped a St. Louis Rams walk-through before the 2002 Super Bowl, running an apology that's teased in huge type across the front and back covers.

In a perverse twist, the Globe runs the covers online, while, at least at the moment, they are not available on the Herald's Web site.

The theme of the day seems to be whether the Herald reporter who wrote the walk-through story, John Tomase, should be fired. That's what they're talking about on WEEI Radio (AM 850).

But Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media remains struck by the specificity of Tomase's story. "The situation isn’t as cut-and-dry as it might appear at a casual glance," Allen writes.

Let's get a grip. It's not like Tomase wrote false, anonymously sourced stories that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But I would like to know more. I keep thinking about what happened to Peter Lucas, and wonder if the reason Tomase got it so wrong was because his source was so good.

If Herald editors have reason to believe that Tomase's source was not acting in good faith, will they out him? Today's apology would seem to preclude that. But, like Paul Flannery of Boston Magazine, I hope we haven't heard the last of this.

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18 Comments:

At May 14, 2008 at 8:21:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The level at which the Herald is apologizing for this story is stunning. If the Herald had made a similar mistake about a public official or a local company etc, they would not apologize as profusely. This is all about maintaining access to the team and sports readership happy. This is not about setting the jounalistic record straight.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 9:14:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Tomase won't be fired. After all, Dave Wedge cost the Herald millions in a libel suit and he's still there. What Tomase did is small potatoes compared to that.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 9:30:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan - Enjoy your blog. To me, the key to this is not who Tomase's source was or what that source told him but what level of vetting did this story go through at the editor level? Given the timing of the story breaking (Super Bowl Sunday, the cusp of the (almost) perfect season) it's hard for me to believe that this would not have gone pretty high up the editorial chain for approval. Or at least it should have.

If the Herald throws Tomase under the bus I guarantee that we will hear a lot more about that process, or lack thereof. IF they don't, I would predict we will see some quiet "resignations" from the editorial staff over the next couple of months. Because the other commentor is right - someone will need to be sacrificed if the Herald wants to attend Belichick's press conferences in the same room that they are being held.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 9:45:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not the first time in recent years that the Herald turns out to have simply manufactured a story out of whole cloth.

Kraft and Belicheck should hire Howard Cooper.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 9:50:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

EB3 Here,
Can someone explain to me because I really do not know.

Just because Tomase's story was incorrect it does not mean that he did not act in good faith, right?

I never knew that White was the source. And that was a dirty trick.

So under these circumstances, especially the Keven White thing, why can't the columnist come out and give much more details and call out Kevin White in that instance.

Tomase's source could have been acting in good faith and TYomase has dfuty to protect him/her. But he can follow path to where he was mislead and write about it. Can't he?

And if so, why woiuldn't he

A good offense best defense sort of thing. Not just saying 'you don't know full story'.
????

 
At May 14, 2008 at 9:53:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

EB3 here
excellent point anon 8:21.
Of course following you line of reasoning means one thing.
$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

you hit the nail on the head.

P.S. I wonder how much $$$$$$$ attorney Howard Cooper got from the Krafts to the write the letter.
I'm assuming they hired him.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 10:29:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are people calling for Tomase to be fired? Dave Wedge, who cost the Herald millions in a messy libel suit, is still there, writing his smarmy prose. Hey, this is just sports, not Watergate.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 11:48:00 AM EDT, Anonymous io saturnalia! said...

Everybody is missing the larger issue: the media's reliance on anonymous sources. The basics of journalism dictate that anonymity should only be granted in the most important of stories, usually involving national security, organized crime or misdeeds by public officials, and even then there needs to be a diligent effort at independent corroboration. That's just fundamental reporting.

However, the Herald and Globe both routinely use anonymous sources (perhaps to obscure the fact that they picked up the story from a competitor?) even in stories as insignificant as features on candidates, where the Globe often relies on unnamed "sources close to the campaign" and the like.

Newspapers' only trump card is legitimacy (and, theoretically, an adroit use of the written word). However, in a misguided attempt at "trying to keep up with" TV, talk radio and news/opinion blogs, newspapers -- from the Old Gray Lady to the scrappy community journals to the alternative press -- have sacrificed their integrity and their commitment to doing things right on the altar of immediacy.

The Tomase fiasco is just a sexy example of a truly excellent writer being sullied, if not destroyed, by this trend.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 12:03:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon 3:30,
Of course it went through the editorial system. No story sees the light of day otherwise, especially this one. And it was also vetted extensively by the lawyers before it ran, I can guarantee you that.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 1:14:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Glen Bergendahl said...

Dave Wedge? I don't know why anyone would expect John Tomase to be fired from a paper currently employing Mike Barnicle.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 1:15:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 10:29: judge murphy, turn off the computer. as for the assaults on the herald, newspapers and reporters get it wrong and sometimes get it wrong on enormous scales that require prominent apologies(see globe/zantop page 1 mea culpa.) are all these people attacking tomase and the herald going to boycott espn as well? or is the herald a convenient target for your anger?
reporters are reliant on their sources and their word. did tomase screw up? we'll never know but his editors were apparently satisfied with his sources. no matter what readers believe or want, you can never reveal a source, even if the source goes public and says he wasn't the source. it's a bond we make. and you can't eliminate anyone publicly because that narrows the list and could out your source by exclusion.
in the end, you can be sure tomase will never again write a story that has less than three sources independent of each other saying the same thing. if anything, his future stories just got more solid.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 2:32:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Former reporter said...

An observation from a former reporter:
Yes, the general rule is you get two independent sources before you run a story. That rule is sometimes moot, however, if the source is the subject of the story himself. For example, for a story saying a person is going to resign, you can get numerous third party sources, or the single souce can be the person himself. The latter scenario, however, makes granting that person anonymity tricky, because his identity may be obvious by what is revealed, such as info only that person would know.
Based on the Herald's willingness to rely on a single source for this story, I have a sneaking suspicion the source was in fact Matt Walsh, his denial notwithstanding. If that is the case, Tomase may consider himself bound by an anonymity pledge, even though the source has burned him. It's too bad, because as an earlier poster said, this ain't Watergate.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 2:49:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon 12:03 (from Anon 9:30) - I understand it went through the editorial system. The question I posed is how high up? You guarantee it was vetted "extensively" by lawyers. Given how badly the Herald is backing away from this thing that level of vetting is precisely what is at question.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 3:00:00 PM EDT, Blogger Ron Newman said...

The Herald front and back pages are on the Herald's web site. Scroll down to "TODAY'S FRONT PAGES".

 
At May 14, 2008 at 3:10:00 PM EDT, Blogger Dan Kennedy said...

Ron: I know where "Today's Front Pages" is. Nothing there earlier today. I'm glad they're there now.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 4:19:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reminder of the Lucas/White case is sad. I later worked for one of Lucas's friends; he said while Lucas wrote for several years after that, he was ruined, a shadow of his former self.

 
At May 14, 2008 at 4:22:00 PM EDT, Blogger Dan Kennedy said...

Anon 4:19: I attended a talk Lucas gave a few years after the "WHITE WILL RUN" incident. He was funny and charming, and told the story about what happened with great relish. Why should he feel bad over what White did to him?

 
At May 15, 2008 at 10:05:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Rick in Duxbury said...

Wow. Tomase being compared to Peter Lucas. Boston papers really HAVE jumped the shark.

 

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