Thursday, October 21, 2004

UNBELIEVABLE! What an amazing, stunning, wonderful week this has been. I watched bits and pieces of the Red Sox' "Impossible Dream" season in 1967. I distinctly remember Game Six of the 1975 World Series, perhaps the greatest baseball game ever, and Game Six of the '86 Series, certainly the all-time worst on a long list for Sox fans. And, of course, there was last year's Game Seven, number-two on the list.

I have nothing to say beyond that, other than what hundreds and thousands of others are saying. I just thought you'd enjoy the back page of today's New York Post, along with this piece on New York's newest villain: Alex Rodriguez, the Greatest Shortstop of All Time, the guy who almost came to Boston and who is now a distinctly mediocre third baseman for the Yankees.

Not to mention a poor sport and a crybaby.

JOE FITZ, MEDIA CRITIC. If you're like most people, you may be surprised to learn that Joe Fitzgerald still writes a column (free this week) for the Boston Herald. The former sportswriter's sleepy compendium of religious pieties and gay-bashing isn't exactly a must-read.

Yesterday, Fitzgerald turned his keenly honed moral eye to the Boston Globe, which, he claimed, had done something truly repellant: this past Tuesday the Globe mentioned in a front-page subhead the fact that Joe Nee, a just-arrested 18-year-old suspect in the Marshfield "Natural Born Killers" case, is the son of Boston Police Patrolmen's Association president Tom Nee.

"What did this father's job have to do with his kid's alleged offense? How were the two in any way connected, let alone worthy of such attention?," asked the shocked, shocked Joe Fitz in a column headlined "Globe's Headline Hit Way Below the Belt."

Now, let me back up for a moment. I've been troubled by the way both dailies (not to mention other media outlets) have handled this story. The Globe actually led the paper with it on October 7, the day after authorities revealed they had arrested Tobin Kerns, 16, on charges that he had planned to kill eight teachers and students at Marshfield High School in a plot reminiscent of the Columbine killings.

Granted, you never know until something horrible actually happens, but it struck me then - and still does - that the Globe and the Herald have both overplayed the story, given the high likelihood that Kerns is guilty of little more than having an unusually disturbing fantasy life. The primary fault lies with law-enforcement officials, who should have quietly insisted on this kid getting help rather than turning him into a poster boy for school violence. Still, the papers shouldn't have played along.

Okay, now, back to the scene of the crime, as it were. It turns out that the first newspaper to mention Joe Nee's name in connection with this case was - yes! - the Herald. Way back on October 7, the Herald reported:

Benjamin Kerns [the suspect's father] and other sources said one of the other members of Kern's group is Joe Nee, the son of Boston police union President Thomas Nee. Numerous attempts to contact Thomas Nee were unsuccessful.

However, a source said Nee was one of a group of kids "hanging around saying, 'Wouldn't it be cool to blow up the high school?'"

But "once they realized [Kerns] was serious, they went to authorities."

Here is what the Globe reported the same day:

[Benjamin] Kerns said that ... his son had associated with three male friends from school and that the group may have discussed plans for a violent act, but he didn't think the youths would have carried out the plan. And he said one of the other three youths was the ringleader, not his son....

Kerns identified the teenager who he said was the mastermind, but the Globe is withholding that identity because the youth has not been charged. That youth's father declined to comment last night.

Uh, Professor Fitzgerald, who do you think was leading the journalistic ethics battle at that point?

In his column yesterday, Fitzgerald hangs his hat on the fact that the Globe stuck Joe Nee's father in its headline, whereas the Herald merely gave it a "mention" in its story. (Actually, three mentions, including a story with this lead: "The teen son of the Boston police union head showed a handgun to a classmate near Marshfield High School and showed another a hit list of people 'they were going to kill,' prosecutors said.")

I'm sure Fitzgerald knows all this, which is why he was clever enough to restrict his criticism to the Globe's headline. For good measure, he also threw in a few of the Herald's past journalistic sins, just to make sure everyone knew that of course he wasn't singling out the Globe. But his selective presentation of the facts was, needless to say, fundamentally dishonest.

As this story moves forward, I hope both papers, as well as other news orgs, stop salivating over handouts from prosecutors and start showing proper skepticism about this story.

But Joe Fitz's take on the Globe's subhead is ludicrous. He might have a point if Joe Nee's arrest had gotten more attention than it should have simply because Nee has a well-known father. But that's obviously not the case given how much coverage this story has been getting all along.

The real concern is that the media's overheated coverage could end up damaging the lives and prospects of at least two troubled young men. In that context, the headline about Tom Nee was irrelevant.

READ THIS. Former Phoenix news editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar has started a blog "about motherhood, politics, and gay marriage." Last night she posted a dispiriting item about a meeting she attended on Boston's school-assignment plans. Her conclusion: "When I came home from the meeting, I gave Mrs. SRV a summary and, just one year after buying our house in Boston, we had our first serious discussion about moving out of the city."

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Dick Cheney's reputation is that of "the evil genius." His record at Halliburton, though, reveals him to be nothing more than a corrupt, incompetent hack.


Anonymous said...

I wonder how Joe Fitzgerald feels about the hideous front page picture of the dying college student, and the even more horrible picture inside today's Herald of her bleeding to death. That paper has no shame. Please God, make us a one paper town.

Vincentine Vermeille said...

I have to disagree with the previous comment--we're one of the last two-dailies towns left. Go, yellow journalism!

Also, thanks for the referral to SRV, Dan. And how does Mrs. Media Log feel about being Mrs. Media Log?

--Secret Agent "Don't Call Me Wife" Cathy

Vincentine Vermeille said...

See my next comment.