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Render unto the Globe

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When I was a co-op student at the Globe’s State House bureau a couple decades back, the paper’s political editor at the time asked me to write a story about a minor issue. I pointed out to him that the Herald had run a story about the same issue a few days before and pretty much covered all the bases. His response was one of my first true journalism lessons: “It’s not news until we report it,” he said.

Having worked for – and in competition with – the Globe, Herald, Patriot Ledger and Brockton Enterprise since that time, I’ve come to learn that is a mantra that is not exclusive to Morrissey Boulevard. Even here at CommonWealth, we regularly see stories we’ve reported first get repackaged and re-reported by other outlets.

But within media circles, few stories trigger as much debate as to who gets and deserves what credit as the clergy sex abuse story, which won the Globe the coveted Pulitzer Prize Public Service award in 2003.

The debate was rekindled when the Globe earlier this week ran an interview with Cardinal Sean O’Malley on what they deem the 10-year anniversary of the scandal. But, in truth, it was actually the 10-year anniversary of the Globe Spotlight Team’s first story in the acclaimed series after the paper’s lawyers successfully argued to a Superior Court judge to release the impounded agreements from scores of sealed agreements with sex abuse victims.

It was the opening of a wound for the Boston Archdiocese, and, in turn, for the worldwide Roman Catholic Church itself, when it was shown that pedophile priests were regularly shunted from parish to parish after accusations with little treatment and zero criminal culpability. The result was the resignation of then-Cardinal Bernard Law and the payment of more than $100 million to hundreds of victims, with some of the claims dating back 50 years.

The interview with O’Malley caused former Boston Phoenix editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar to rip off a letter to national media critic and watchdog Jim Romenesko, saying, among other things, the Globe has consistently ignored the work of others in shining a spotlight on clergy sex abuse, including the Phoenix’s own Kristen Lombardi, now a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, who was writing about the issue for the weekly at least a year before the Globe series began.

“The Globe’s work on this story was phenomenal, and they deserve perhaps 90 percent of the credit for blowing the sex abuse story wide open,” Ryan-Vollmar writes. “But they continue to insist on taking 100 percent credit. Not only does the Globe today fail to credit former Phoenix reporter Kristen Lombardi’s work, but it seems to take credit for the swarm of other stories on clergy sex abuse that popped up around the country.”

Ryan-Vollmar, who is sitting on a media panel in Cambridge this weekend at a conference organized by sex abuse survivors to discuss the decade since the scandal erupted, also points out that Jason Berry’s work in New Orleans in the early 1990s also exposed the shameful practice but got little notice at the time.

Many in the news business give the Globe credit for tying the string together and getting information that no one had ever been able to get before. But many will also tell you the story was not exclusively about the Globe, either before or after, noting the sordid trial and conviction of former priest James Porter many years before and the scandal in the Fall River Diocese that O’Malley had cleaned up before getting the Boston assignment.

Romensko invited Globe editor Marty Baron to respond but as of this morning, he had not. Dan Kennedy, a former Phoenix writer and editor, says Ryan-Vollmar gets it “fundamentally right” in her assessment and awaits a response from Baron and Northeastern colleague Walter Robinson, who was Spotlight editor at the time.

                                                                                                                                                            --JACK SULLIVAN
 


BEACON HILL

Another accident reconstruction firm disputes the notion that Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray fell asleep prior to his accident, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reports. The Eagle-Tribune, in an editorial, says Murray needs to explain his “mystery ride.”  Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham zeros in on Murray’s cell phone records from the fateful morning, saying if he doesn’t release them his political future is toast.

A Globe editorial offers a “mend it, don’t end it” line on the state’s film tax credit, which is coming in for fresh scrutiny.

Black activists work to defeat “three strikes” mandatory sentencing proposal.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Mayor Tom Menino gets star treatment from Governing magazine.  

Larry Harrington, the chairman of Foxborough’s board of selectmen, learned of the Kraft Group’s casino plans in early August when he met with Robert Kraft, but kept the meeting a secret until the Sun Chronicle obtained the town manager’s schedule through a public records request.

The new harbormaster in Manchester outlines a plan for tracking the town’s moorings, which have been plagued with problems for years, the Gloucester Times reports. For a full report on mooring problems along the Massachusetts coast, check out CommonWealth’s story from last summer.

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan held a “beer summit” -- along with cheeseburgers and buffalo wings -- with a group of residents looking to recall him, but even paying for the tab out of his own pocket didn’t persuade the dissidents to abandon their effort.

The chairman of Scituate’s Board of Assessors has been disbarred for mismanaging clients’ funds and failing to pay 11 of his clients more than $195,000 he collected on their behalf.

A software error in printing Brockton’s tax bills increased everyone’s lot size 10 times, though city officials say the glitch did not affect the actual tax owed. In light of the recent water billing problems, not all residents are so trusting.

State planning officials tour Leominster.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

President Obama sidesteps Congress and angers his Republican challengers by issuing “signing statements” and appointing a new consumer watchdog. Senate Republicans will protest the latter move by slowing Federal Reserve Board appointments.

ELECTION 2012

His religiously-inspired social conservatism is a tougher sell in New Hampshire than Iowa, but Rick Santorum may get fresh look from Granite State voters after his dead heat with Mitt Romney in this week’s Iowa caucuses. The Brits are wondering who he really is. Joan Vennochi explains what he has going for himself that Mitt lacks. Karl Rove says that if/when Romney wins New Hampshire, he’ll become “the prohibitive favorite.”

What Mitt lacks was in evidence at his embarrassing rally in Manchester with Sen. John McCain, who was obviously pressed for time. The Washington Post’s roundup of NH coverage  is here. Walter Shapiro, in The New Republic, says the pile-up of big-name endorsers Romney rolled out at yesterday’s rally (joining McCain yesterday were former governor and White House chief of staff John Sununu and Sen. Kelly Ayotte), seemed “designed to bludgeon voters into submission.” The Obama campaign sharpens its knives, while Newt Gingrich goes into suicide bomber mode. And speaking of: The Wall Street Journal looks at the history of negative campaigns. Joe Battenfeld sees Romney crawling back inside his front-runner shell: “It’s pretty hard to look bad the day after you win the lead-off presidential contest, but Mitt managed to do it.”

The New York Times debates whether the Romney-Santorum-Ron Paul split in Iowa will pave the way for a third party run this year.

Marisa DeFranco, looking to replace US Sen. Scott Brown, is reminding voters there’s still a Democratic primary.

FISHING

Newly inaugurated New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell met with fishermen, boat owners, and other members of the fishing industry to assure them that their concerns would remain a priority under his administration.  Meanwhile, scallopers have until January 18 to weigh in on proposed federal regulations designed to cut down on the number of sea turtles trapped in dragging nets, an outcome that usually ends badly for the turtles.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Connecticut regulators, reversing an earlier stand, now say they want to review the proposed merger of NStar and Hartford-based Northeast Utilities.

INTREDUCATION

The mother of a 14-year-old Andover special education student, who previously fought for and won placement at a private school in Beverly, is now seeking compensation for $52,000 in legal fees, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The Connecticut Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, calls for tenure reform, Governing reports.

HEALTH CARE

John McDonough says the press has fallen down on the job when it comes to pressing Mitt Romney on his declaration that his first act as president would be to repeal “ObamaCare.”  McDonough lists 50 provisions of the law that he’d like reporters to ask Romney whether he’s committed to repealing.

TRANSPORTATION

Beleaguered MBTA riders were greeted yesterday not only by word of impending fare hikes and service cuts, but also by slowdowns and equipment failure that have become standard fare whenever cold weather hits.

An independent panel comes down hard on the proposed high-speed rail line linking northern and southern California.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The state has doubled the maximum benefit for low-income fuel assistance for the poorest recipients but the program is still 28 percent below last year’s funding.

A local panel moves to prepare its final report for a wind turbine project in Lenox.

MEDIA

Slate launches a news video channel on YouTube as part of an effort by YouTube to attract more original content, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

One-time Herald editor Kevin Convey is now one-time New York Daily News editor, replaced yesterday after a year and a half on the job by publisher Mort Zuckerman. Zuckerman tapped Colin Myler, most recently editor of New of the World, which was shuttered by owner Rupert Murdoch in the wake of the British phone hacking scandal.

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