Boston Globe editor Martin Baron had been named editor of the year by the National Press Foundation. This is astounding because Baron presided over a journalistic scandal in which his paper published pornography that was falsely advertised as depictions of U.S. soldiers raping Iraqi women. The porno had been distributed at a news conference by a Boston city councilman, who was anxious to jump on the Abu Ghraib scandal and discredit the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Readers of the Globe were incensed over the graphic nature of the photos, and even the Globe reporter said “Can you imagine getting this with your cup of coffee in the morning?” When my associate Sherrie Gossett broke this story last year, she called the Globe and discovered that the paper was being inundated with complaints. At first, the paper thought its problem was that the published photos were too graphic. After being informed they were from a porn site, the reporter said her editor was “just dying” since finding out. That suggests the Globe initially believed the photos were legitimate rape scenes. Even though the Globe hadn’t authenticated the photos, the paper made no effort to shield the identity of the rape victims, or shield the nudity. Basic research on the Internet would have shown that the photos were staged and fake.
When I published my story about the scandal, the Globe’s reaction, under Baron’s leadership, was to threaten and intimidate WorldNetDaily for publishing it. Under editor Baron, the paper was desperate to avoid embarrassment and went after the messenger, rather than the message. The message was that Baron blew it.
“There was a lapse in judgments and procedures, and we apologize for it,” Baron finally said. The graphic nature of the photos and their lack of authentication made them unsuitable for publication, he said. But the paper still refused to admit they were porn photos. The half-hearted apology left open the possibility they might still be real. Even the ombudsmen pretended like she didn’t know the source of the photos. The Globe then attacked the councilman for having disseminated the photos, calling his actions reckless and inflammatory, since it now “appeared” the photos were porn. It was an all-time low in his career, the Globe sermonized.
The same could have been said for Marty Baron and his staff. After all, the councilman had left authentication up to Baron’s people. When it came to the fake rape photos, Baron’s editorial staff seemed most concerned with attacking the messenger, and maintaining appearances that it had done nothing wrong. Presumably, if members of the Globe staff had been accused of rape, the paper would have done the necessary authentication before going to press. It was American soldiers accused of crimes. So the procedure was to go full-steam ahead with the smear.
To give Marty Baron the award is to deliberately ignore his shoddy work, excuse-making, blame-casting and harrassment of the whistleblower who uncovered it. The award demonstrates that standards in journalism are low, if not nonexistent.