BLACK FRIDAY: Boston Media’s Day of Reckoning

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Updated 2:30 p.m. Saturday

BOSTON — Seemingly minutes after The Boston Herald announced its bankruptcy and its subsequent pennies-on-the-dollar sale of the newspaper to the anti-union Gatehouse Media corporation, two of the Hub’s most prominent news outlets were in the process of dealing with their own internal bombshells — namely, the suspensions and resignations of two prominent journalists. 

In one corner, FM 90.9 WBUR — the largest of Boston’s three National Public Radio carriers — announced that one of its hosts, Tom Ashbrook of On-Point, has been placed on indefinite leave. Word leaked from the publicly-funded radio station mid-afternoon Friday, and just before 6 p.m., the nonprofit news organization confirmed the report in a story posted to its webpage. 

The station and Boston University, the educational institution it is tied to, were mum on details regarding Ashbrook’s suspension:

Yesterday, Boston University and WBUR received some allegations against Tom Ashbrook. Tom will be on leave from his duties at WBUR while an outside organization hired by Boston University examines these allegations. We will decide a course of action after getting the results of this investigation.

Meanwhile, across town, the Boston Globe was busy breaking some internal news of its own. 

In an email to the Globe newsroom, Editor-in-Chief Brian McGrory announced that a prominent journalist has resigned apparently due to allegations of sexual misconduct. 

And while one news outlet freely identified the employee being suspended — in WBUR’s case, Tom Ashbrook — it declined to reveal the subject matter. Meanwhile, the Globe acknowledged the resignation of a reporter over apparent sexual misconduct allegations, yet stopped short of identifying the employee.

McGrory in his email directed Globe employees to a story written by Globe reporter Mark Arsenault, posted Friday afternoon under the headline “Media, including Globe, walk fine line in the age of ‘MeToo,'” a reference to the viral sexual harassment social media hashtag launched by actress Alyssa Milano.

McGrory in his note mentioned work done by several Globe journalists to flesh out the stories of sexual harassment and assault that have most recently rocked Beacon Hill and Boston’s restaurant industry.

McGrory stopped short of publicly naming the since-resigned journalist. 

Per Arsenault’s lead:

“In the two months since uncovering explosive accusations of sexual misconduct against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, the media have maintained a starring role in the spiraling sexual harassment scandal that has brought down dozens of powerful men.”

Arsenault added that the media industry is now “looking inward,” but like McGrory, he stopped short of naming the Globe’s alleged male predator. Arsenault referred to a “mid-level manager within the Globe’s sales department” who earlier this year, ahead of the Weinstein stories, “was removed for allegedly making inappropriate comments to co-workers” and noted that “the Globe hired a law firm to conduct a review.”

He described the media business as a “male-dominated industry,” while McGrory in his email message pointed to how Arsenault and others at the newspaper are “aware of a journalist who has left the Globe.”

“We’ve made the decision not to publish the name, and here I’ll attempt to explain why,” McGrory continued.

Arsenault in his story revealed that the unnamed journalist has been accused by a female employee in her 20s of propositioning her to have sex with his wife — a detail that did not appear until 12 paragraphs into his story:

“She provided a reporter for this story a letter from the Globe’s human resources lawyer confirming her complaint was filed and investigated,” Arsenault wrote. “Her encounters with the male employee began with friendly banter over company e-mail, but he later asked for her personal e-mail address and cell number and then propositioned her by phone in November, 2016, she said.

“Later, the male employee was pressured into resigning after additional accusations emerged from outside the company, according to two people familiar with the situation. Globe managers declined to discuss his departure, saying it is a confidential personnel matter. The Globe chose not to identify the employee in this story because his alleged conduct did not involve physical contact, threats, or persistent harassment, and editors determined it is highly unlikely the newspaper would have identified the accused, or written about his conduct, if this situation had arisen at another private company.”

McGrory, meanwhile, claimed in his note that the “transgressions” of the journalist in question “would not meet the standards of our staff if they happened at another company.”

While he did not name the journalist, McGrory did refer to Friday morning’s airing of Kirk and Callahan, the popular show broadcast by WEEI-FM 93.7, which during Friday morning’s edition focused in part on the current situation facing the Globe, citing inside information. 

“To all our knowledge, nobody was physically touched; no one was persistently harassed; there were no overt threats,” McGrory wrote. “We’re covering it because we’re applying an extra measure of transparency to ourselves.”

McGrory, however, did not name the journalist. 

“Context, again, is vital in this moment, and it is ever more paramount for the Globe and other reputable news organizations to exercise good judgment in unwavering fashion,” McGrory wrote. 

He continued:

“So, to answer your inevitable question, yes, we’re well aware that by withholding the identity of the reporter involved, we’ll be accused of a double-standard by people and organizations that are not privy to all the facts. I can live with that far more easily than I can live with the thought of sacrificing our values to slake the thirst of this moment.”

(Read McGrory’s email here)

Meanwhile, the Globe was also busy reporting on the sale of the Herald and the impending destruction of that newspaper’s employee union. 

Per Herald reporters:

The belief among Herald employees is that pensions will be slashed:

Bob McGovern, the Herald’s chief legal reporter, had this to say: