Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Death in the Shadows

A few days ago when I was speaking with the well respected Boston cop who lives a few doors away, he said in passing that the Department would use all the good press it could get. Looking at city officers who apparently were drug couriers and dealers, he's right, of course.

Secrecy don't help though. Nor does the lickspittle attitude of the Boston Globe.

In a city increasingly discomforted and fearful from climbing murder rates, we should be rallying around the men and women who put themselves between violent criminals and us. As one manifestation, today's Globe carries a report of a lawsuit demanding full staffing to 2,500 officers per a 1979 City Council ordinance.

Yet this is just the time for transparency, honor, honesty and building public trust. The old way was to whistle and look skyward as bodies disappeared. It's our version of don't ask, don't tell. That has been true of both the BPD and the Globe.

Let's take a couple of instances recently. One was last week when an off-duty officer plowed into a stalled car on 93 early in the morning, killing the occupant. Another was a few weeks ago and only secondarily the BPD and primarily the MBTA police when a man died on the Orange Line tracks.

In both cases, the Globe seems to rely entirely on handouts or press commentary from the police departments. It didn't follow up or do original reporting beyond these.

In the first example, as reported in the Globe Officer Thomas M. Griffin, 27, will not be charged for killing Michelle L. Vibert, 29.

Of course, imagine if a private citizen had been tooling up I-93 pre-dawn and did the same. The likely consequences would have been:
  • Testing for alcohol or other drugs
  • Charges for reckless driving or worse
  • Tear-producing coverage of the victim
  • Details on the actual wreck and related conditions
  • Follow up articles
Instead, we have:
  • Boston's Acting Police Commissioner Albert E. Goslin calling this simply "a tragic accident"
  • State Police not explaining why the victim's car was in a travel lane or whether it's lights or blinkers were on
  • State Police deciding not to file any charges
  • No mention of any effort to test the officer
  • The Globe not asking any meaningful questions for doing any follow-up coverage on what for all the world looks like a buddy cover-up
Dan Kennedy's Media Nation got a related comment on this wreck:
island_earth said...

When I saw your subject "In the breakdown lane," I thought you were going to address yesterday's horrendous Globe article Off-Duty Officer at Wheel in Crash somehow. The entire article describes how an off-duty police officer hit a woman's car that was parked in the breakdown lane, killing the woman, and he won't be charged. Heaven forbid the reporter would ask *why* he won't be charged, leaving it to the reader to assume it's because he's an off-duty police officer. Which may well be the reason, but you'd think the reporter would try to get someone on the record about that one...
Indeed, it is more understandable that police would like such incidents to disappear without examination than for the major local daily to do so. If the reporters have no guts or gumption, don't they have any good editors over on Morrissey Boulevard?

Likewise for the Orange Line death. We know only the barest details and neither the MBTA nor the Globe seems to have any inclination to flick on the light.

Some guy was on the tracks near Green Street. He died either from getting hit by a train or hitting the third rail. The Globe ran the press release and the short one later giving an unlikely name for the victim. ...nothing else.

By the bye, the Herald hasn't done squat with either story. They are badly understaffed and never ran with either. So their faults are less. Their days of excellent crime and death coverage are long behind them anyway.

A local daily should be all over these. Do we have a police cover-up? Is the Orange Line death an anomaly or does it point out station/track safety concerns? What of the human interest aspects of both victims? Will the Globe only follow up on the I-93 wreck if a wrongful-death suit comes to courts? (At least then they could get a press release to run and avoid any actual reporting.)

I am out of J-school and am appalled by the Globe unprofessional behavior on these and other such stories. Again and again, I read them and wonder why they didn't ask the obvious questions. Isn't there a single metro reporter who understands what makes a good story and what readers expect to learn from one?

From both cases, neither city, transit nor state police help their causes by ignoring these cases. Most certainly the Globe has failed again and again. Let's see them put the news in newspaper!

I have sent email to our daily asking for coverage of the Orange Line death. They did not reply and I don't expect them to. Of course, if a dozen or so folk asked why they are running press releases instead of telling us what is happening in these and similar cases...

If the editors are pulling the cover back up over their heads, perhaps the ombudsman might be awake.

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1 comment:

Ryan Adams said...

I'm really beginning to think we need a real newspaper in Boston. If I wasn't some lowly college student, I'd make that investment.

The Globe is a disappointment, the Herald is for the greater part a tabloid... the metro basically runs just AP stories and the Phoenix is quirky and fun, but not enough for a major daily.

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