A Farewell to Ethics

(NOTE: This is the first column of what will be a regular Sunday fixture on this site. Just so we can avoid emails questioning where I get off voicing my opinions, I was a sportswriter from 1997 to 2004 for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Boston Globe and The Pawtucket Times. And just to clarify, I wrote approximately 1,000 stories for the Globe, but was never a staff writer.)

The Boston Globe sports department was once the best in the country. And while it has been living off that reputation — and an elite copy desk — for almost a decade, the sports section was still greatly respected nationally. Just last week, it joined The Dallas Morning News as the only two top circulation papers awarded the Associated Press Sports Editors Triple Crown, meaning its daily, Sunday and special sections rank in the country’s Top 10.

And then Steve Silva came along. The Globe should be absolutely humiliated at Silva’s actions, which were detailed this past Wednesday on this very site. And you know what? Numerous employees of the sports department are embarrassed and, even more so, furious that Silva is associated with them.

To call this an embarrassment would be an understatement, as Silva is a paid employee of Boston.com, which is owned by the Globe’s parent company, The New York Times Company. According to Boston.com editor Teresa Hanafin, Silva is not supposed to be held to the same journalistic standards as the rest of the Times’ employees. While that comment is irresponsible and ignorant at best, how about just holding Silva to standards used by the lowest form of national tabloids?

He received an email from a woman with whom he had no prior contact and immediately posted it on the Boston.com-based website, BostonDirtDogs.com, as fact. That’s all that happened, folks, plain and simple. A reporter at The National Enquirer would be fired and sued for what Silva did. A random email, from a person he didn’t know, purposely sent him a blatant lie in hopes of proving a point, and he posted it within minutes. No follow-up reporting, “Nomar Garciaparra doesn’t want his World Series ring from the Red Sox.”

The woman’s point was proven. Silva isn’t a journalist. He’s a joke. A cruel joke that lacks respect for not only the journalism profession but the human race. Sure Garciaparra was thrilled to hear the story making the rounds, even being spoken as fact on ESPN Friday afternoon.

Imagine the national reaction if a random person sent an email to a Globe sportswriter stating a professional athlete was homosexual and it ran on the front page. And the next day, it was revealed that the story had no truth, with a random email having served as the lone source. It makes Jayson Blair look like Woodward and Bernstein.

Yet, thus far, it seems the Times and the Globe don’t care. What was it that Hanafin said?

“Lighten up.”

Alas, the Globe obviously has.

This is the same company that won’t allow its employees to appear on WEEI for moral reasons, with former Globe sports editor Don Skwar writing in a memo to employees on March 21, 2001:

“We’ve decided that the show’s tone and content are not up to the Globe’s standards.”

And in January 1999 Skwar caused an uproar over the Boston City League reporting incorrect high school hockey scores. If a team won 11-2, the coach would report it 7-3, to cause the losing team less embarrassment. Skwar even bylined a story on Page One of the sports section. In the story, Skwar quoted then-managing editor for news operations Thomas F. Mulvoy Jr. as saying:

“Our franchise is built on credibility.”

The Globe’s standards and credibility are clearly not what they use to be. And Silva, while the most glaring case, isn’t the only guilty party.

Start with Dan Shaughnessy, who infuriated at least one co-worker last year when he landed his daughter an internship with Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner’s production company in California. Not exactly setting the standard for journalistic integrity are we, Dano?

And what about allowing college co-ops and other employees to make NFL predictions against the point spread under the names of highly respected writers like Will McDonough and Ron Borges? During my first three years of college, I was using their picks to help make my Sunday bets. My fourth year of college, I became a Globe co-op and remember being absolutely stunned that some kid that knew next to nothing about the NFL was making Borges’ picks. I was floored, thinking there’s no way other people aren’t looking to see McDonough’s and Borges’ picks before calling the bookie.

It surfaced this past year, but inexplicably received almost no attention. Borges picked the Patriots in his column, and then on a radio show, picked against them. When asked, he said simply, “I didn’t make that pick in the paper.” But his name was on it and he’s the NFL writer for the Globe! Why isn’t he making the pick? Why doesn’t this bother anyone? Am I missing something here?

The Globe is misleading its readers by putting Borges’ name under a college kid’s picks. This is nuts. Someone really needs to explain to me why this isn’t a big deal. And it’s been going on for ages. With McDonough it was even worse considering he was the most-revered NFL writer in the business.

Another example is not always running corrections, especially for certain writers. While this has happened numerous times, the most glaring case was when Shaughnessy wrote a column about an Eastern Mass. semifinal football game between Everett and Brockton in December 2002. His final paragraph of the column was:

“Steeped in history and success, Everett and Brockton are the Celtics and Lakers of EMass football, the most decorated football programs in the history of the region. Since 1988, Everett has won 20 EMass titles, while the Boxers have won 16.”

It’s actually stunning this made it past the copy desk, but since it did, a correction was obviously needed. The Globe sports department received several emails and phone calls regarding the error, which made no sense on various levels. Even dating back to the inception of Eastern Mass. Super Bowls in 1972, neither school had won close to that many titles, never mind that it was mathematically impossible to win 20 or 16 titles in 15 years.

Yet no correction ever made the paper. I personally informed an assistant sports editor of another Shaughnessy mistake in a story written in 2001 and that also never found its way into print.

“Our franchise is built on credibility.”

“We’ve decided that the show’s tone and content are not up to the Globe’s standards.”

Here’s hoping the Globe regains that credibility and terminates its relationship with Silva and Boston Dirt Dogs. And Hanafin, at the least, should be reprimanded for her comments regarding the situation and maybe even suspended.

For presently, the Globe’s tone and content are not up to anyone’s standards.

Especially its own.

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