The Boston Globe and the New Fabulism
The most famous fabulist, in modern American journalism, is undoubtedly Stephen Glass of the New Republic.
The dissembling exploits of this reckless young features writer were the subject of a still talked about
2004 Hollywood movie called "Shattered Glass."
"Two-thirds of the 41 stories he [Glass] wrote for the magazine were at least partially fabricated, the magazine acknowledged," after a thorough
review, when his fraudulent handiwork came to light in 1998.
It was working so well for a while anyway, that Glass just could not lay off that banned performance enhancing drug of journalists, making stuff up,
. As a friend and colleague of Glass wrote 16 years later: "While "the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he [Glass] was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper's, and Rolling Stone-each one a home run."
A 1994 graduate of Penn, Glass was hired by the New Republic as an editorial assistant in 1995, but quickly moved up to writing feature stories.
In the year following his hire, the vociferous complaints from some of the subjects of his stories, however, had already begun.
But fortunately for Glass, he was punching down from the lofty heights of the New Republic and came out from those initial challenges
to his work unscathed. First it was the New Republic against the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
That might have actually been almost punching up, but it was the first time any had questioned the integrity of his
work, and he learned from the experience. The victims became smaller, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), and even smaller
the College Republican National Committee, then ad hoc, an academic conference at Hofstra University
about then President George H.W. Bush, in a piece called "Peddling Poppy," and then finally entirely fictional.
This is when Glass finally ran afoul and aground. It was then, and not before this,
that he fabricated a hit piece about a fictional corporation he named "Jukt Micronics," which in his telling,
was a thriving member of America's nascent, but not all that nascent, high-tech sector,
In falsely reporting that "Ian Restil, a 15-year-old computer hacker who looks like an even more adolescent version of Bill Gates, had gotten "a big-time software firm to grovel," armed with nothing more than "a computer at his high school library," Glass was delivering a shot across the bow of not merely a nonexistent company, but at an entire industry, once which had already begun the process of, if not taking over the world, at least
saturating it. And Glass didn't do this anonymously on an obscure hacker message board, but in a feature story in the New Republic.
If Ian Restil could get away with the antics described in this story, the whole informational technology sector was vulnerable.
So what is the takeaway from the Glass case here? Is it don't light a fabulist flame?
Or is it just, don't pull a Pinocchio and light one using the gut microbes of Leviathan for kindling? Because despite the shattering
of Stephen Glass, and the near shuttering of the New Republic, false facts thrive, not only in conservative news media, but to a
lesser, though concerning extent, in the mainstream nonconservative news media as well.
Journalism is a labor intensive and increasingly competitive profession.
It is hard to stand out in a crowd that includes experienced talent, aggregators and cheaters,
as well as other media productions competing for the attention of the same people, with a multitude of offerings only a click away.
Fabulism can be one way to gain a big competitive edge, in journalism as in other aspects of public life.
The fabulism of others can be quite profitable as well as a recent case in Rhode Island shows.
Dan McGowan reported for the Boston Globe, that Nicholas Alahverdian, who made international headlines
for faking his own death, possibly to avoid sexual assault charges was someone, who had
a horrific personal story to tell about his experience as a kid with the Department of Children, Youth and Families — one of those, “if this is true, they’ll make a movie out of it” scoops that reporters dream about.
McGowan described Alahverdian as someone who would disappear for months, sometimes years, at a time,
before popping up again with a new story to tell, begging to be quoted or interviewed on television.
"The cycle would repeat itself over and over. Journalists would feed the beast that is the news cycle, and Alahverdian would get his attention fix."
It appears that Alahverdian may have been using the media mentions
to establish trust with women he would meet online,
whom he would then exploit in various ways.
Is there any self reflection of the media for their role in this? On the contrary,
the consequences for the media outlets involved in this is more "news,"
more media attention for their stories and columns.
With the traditional mudslinging fabulism of Fox News, hardball playing politicians and Stephen Glass,
the whole point is frequently to discredit someone or something. There is an aggression behind it.
In the new fabulism, found in the Boston Globe with unwavering regularity,
related to the Gardner heist, the point is to elevate or protect someone or something.
When vulnerable parties are depicted in a falsely negative light, it is not the mission, just collateral damage,
the purpose is the furtherance of a false narrative serving the powerful, not in destroying
the reputations of vulnerable parties.
"The new fabulism involves conjuring up kiss ups to the powerful. while punching down at vulnerable targets and in ways that do not invite a damaging punch back."
Forbes Magazine took note of Glass' fabulism when it became anti-establishment, anti-corporate America,
("a big time software company"), and, shudder, anti-Silicon valley.
The conservative news media, such as Fox for example, have a fighting-for-you mission. Their consumers have a lower
expectation of truthfulness. Sean Hannity might be a lying son of a bitch, but he's your lying son of a bitch,
seems to be the pretext. Truth is a nice to have garnish, but not absolutely necessary to the Fox News consumer.
Fox News has created a demand for right wing fabulism, and from there it has spread to other conservative media
outlets and to right wing politicians as well.
In contrast, the mainstream, nonconservative news media claims to be making a sincere attempt
at objectivity, of being non-ideological. It strives to preserve and live up to that image.
But temptations and pressures from the world they cover can and do
lead to a small, perhaps still manageable amount of disinformation in their stories.
But the pressures and temptations are growing.
News outlets have lost some of their independence.
In times past, consumers would buy the newspaper just for the sports page, the comics, the advice columns,
or the classified ads. Today there is a great deal of pressure for each story to pull its weight, in terms of page views and profitability, which means the stories are less now independent. They have to be telling somebody or some group of people something they want to hear.
With click-counters delivering, readerships and views of their online platforms, newspapers now
have much greater knowledge about what people want,
and a stronger than ever need, to serve up exactly that, and not what an editor thinks is more in the public interest.
Crime and justice stories, like the Gardner heist, are a reliable profit center for news outlets.
These stories are often emotionally charged, and mostly nonideological, typically with some
powerless, or unsympathetic individuals at the center of them. They are less to receive the same kind of pushback from
inaccuracies, less likely to undergo the kind of fact checking, partisan scrutiny, and expectations of logic and reason,
that political news stories do.
In some ways, crime stories seem to exist within our world, while not being of our world.
The public, fascinated and credulous, might be more interested in a good yarn, than in historical accuracy.
In addition, they are also stories that can be sustained,
expanded and invigorated by leaks and access from powerful interests, in powerful institutions,
within an investigation, and adjudication.
And these sources can also be considered in light of their potential for assistance
future stories as well.
All of these factors make crime and justice stories ripe for a little or maybe more than a little fabulism.
In these stories, mistakes and misunderstandings, seem to be not so much a problem
as they are an opportunity to do yet another story.
In 2019, at a Brown University ACLU panel discussion, "What Press? Whose Truth?"
long time New York Times journalist C. J. Chivers said thirty years ago The Times would limit reporters to a maximum term of seven year on any particular "beat,"
to help ensure the independence and objectivity of the newspapers coverage.
No more. Kurkjian and Murphy have both been covering the Gardner heist since last century.
Legacy publications, like the Boston Globe, New York Times, and even small town newspapers, have typically have
an edge on crime news stories, as they navigate their way alongside numerous upstarts and aggregators in and online news jungle.
Crimes occur in a specific geographic place, and are investigated and adjudicated in a specific jurisdiction. Legacy publications typically have the staff, the long standing relationships with key sources, the courts, the prosecutors, the defense attorneys and the law enforcement personnel. Access to these sources is vital. But the sources are often shrewd enough to understand the
power, the potential sway they have over journalists,
and grant access, based on how willing they are to spin it their way.
"When I first sent my request for an interview to the museum’s public relations director,
she emailed me back and said: 'We have to decline access.' If I needed quotes,
I could get a written statement from the director of the museum or interview the head of security.
But I continued to write emails and letters, and we built up trust and a shared understanding.
And since then the museum has been exceptionally supportive." Ulrich Boser, author
of the Gardner heist, February 20, 2009.
Twelve years later when the news that Gardner heist suspect
Robert Gentile died, that shared understanding was holding firm.
Boser tweeted out, If you're reporting on the Gardner theft today, please reach out to
[Gardner Museum Security Director Anthonym Amore] @anthonymamore. He's the expert."
When Boston gangster Whitey Bulger was slain in 2018, Emily Rooney, on the WGBH media watch program, Beat The Press
"Once again the only way we are getting information about an important story is by leaks in the media,"
These leaks, not surprisingly, often seem to be distributed through a kind of media spoils system. Compliant spinners and fabulists, like Kurkjian, Murphy and the Boston Globe are rewarded while skeptics, and those who ask difficult follow up questions or stray from the officially sanctioned narrative are shut out.
The false Gardner Museum heist narratives, a fairy tale story of a sincere effort
by the FBI to identify and apprehend the perpetrators,
has been elaborated and updated over time and across multiple media platforms.
In the case of the Boston Globe that includes, a book by one of its long time reporters now a retired Boston Globe freelancer Stephen Kurkjian, a podcast partially owned by the Boston Globe, Last Seen Podcast, a documentary, in which Boston Globe CEO, Linda Pizzuti Henry was executive producer, and numerous articles written about the Gardner heist in the Globe itself, nearly all written by Kurkjian and Murphy, or both since John Henry bought the newspaper in 2013.
Kurkjian also appeared and was a consultant on both Last Seen Podcast
and the Netflix documentary, This Is A Robbery.
Murphy too appeared in the documentary and the podcast.
In addition, there are the interviews and personal appearances in support of these projects,
and the big stories, supporting the official narrative. These Boston Globe side projects,
the podcast and documentary in nearly cases are judged purely on their entertainment value,
even by serious minded publications like the
and the New York Times.
Last Seen Podcast
and This Is A Robbery
do not meet the editorial standards of the Boston Globe newspaper.
Many of Kurkjian's fabulist stories from his book, the podcast, and the documentary have not appeared in the newspaper, although each format strengthens the other in a sinister synergy.
And the Boston Globe plans on doing more of this, according to an internal memo.
"The Boston Globe Media Group has been expanding from a newspaper into a modern multimedia company. Many of the stories told in the journalism the Globe has produced - and those stories from STAT and boston.com, too -
are well-suited to be told in other mediums - be they about a larger-than-life personality, a you-can't-believe-it's-true [I don't believe it's true] crime story, or a world-leading medical breakthrough," Dan Krockmalnic Executive Vice President, of the Boston's Globe New Media group wrote in a memo addressed to colleagues in December of 2021.
The fact a well developed source within government will be doing more than delivering a timely quote or leak about an ongoing investigation or trial,
which can be spun and leveraged into multimillion dollar media projects, one where the rules of journalism do not apply,
represents an additional threat to the independence of news journalism, and most certainly the Boston Globe, given
their track record of deceit.
on these "new media" projects. These spinoffs will likely continue to be heavy on the spin.
by Kerry Joyce
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