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[Don't Quote Me]

Hush-hush(continued)


McNamara also says that since she had interviewed people at WEEI for her piece, it was entirely predictable that they would call her and ask for a comment when they noticed that her column did not appear as scheduled on March 28. And it's certainly true that in her radio appearance she was even more critical of Dennis & Callahan's " offensive " tone than she was of Globe management. But Storin clearly believes McNamara said a lot more than she needed to.

It wouldn't be the first time McNamara's outspokenness has gotten her in trouble; she has long had a reputation for being the Globe's resident conscience/scold. Her book on the now-forgotten case of psychiatrist Margaret Bean-Bayog, Breakdown: Sex, Suicide, and the Harvard Psychiatrist (Pocket Books, 1994), included a critique of the Globe for its " Harvard-centric " view of the universe, which she contended provided the well-connected Bean-Bayog with undeserved protection. She wrote a notably tough column about management's indulgence of Patricia Smith after Smith's fabrications were exposed, and says she wanted to weigh in after Barnicle's departure as well but was told not to. On another occasion, Storin killed a critical column she had written about New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft.

Storin says he didn't want McNamara to write about WEEI because the paper's sports-media columnist, Bill Griffith, had already mentioned it twice, and because he believes that, in general, Globe columnists write about their paper to excess. No kidding. But he made a mistake in not publishing a serious piece about a serious issue by one of his most highly regarded columnists.

Asked if he's had any second thoughts, Storin said he realizes that if he'd simply let the column run, there would have been no controversy. But, he adds, " I absolutely thought I did the right thing.... I'm not going to presume that every time I have a conversation it's going to be exposed on a radio or television program. "

The ombudsman. Whether you agree with Storin or not (and I don't), at least he's approached the issue in a deliberate, thoughtful manner. By contrast, ombudsman Jack Thomas's column this past Monday was a disgrace. " She's lucky she wasn't fired, " he wrote of McNamara's outspokenness. That outrageous statement ran roughshod over Storin's own message that though McNamara might suffer unspecified " consequences, " neither her job nor her column was in any danger.

Thomas is entitled to his opinion, of course, and maybe he thought that, as a former metro columnist himself, he had some special insight. The problem is that his piece was devoid of reflection or seriousness of intent. After deriding 'EEI as " one of Boston's lesser media outlets, " mocking talk-show hosts who act like " naughty little boys, " and rattling his saber at McNamara, he closed by actually making fun of the notion that free speech was somehow threatened by the paper's actions. " After all, " he wrote, " it's been two years since Globe writers were banned from Ordway's program, and the First Amendment's still in effect, the Republic survives, and Western Civilization endures. "

During his three-plus years as ombudsman, Thomas has had his moments. The biggest came when he stood up to Storin and then-publisher Ben Taylor in August 1998 over their (temporary) refusal to get rid of Barnicle. But when op-ed columnist Jeff Jacoby was suspended last summer for the relatively minor sin of failing to note that one of his pieces was not entirely original, Thomas piled on, writing, " Jacoby is lucky he wasn't fired. " (Detect a pattern?) He also proposed a regimen for Jacoby of interviewing " unwed mothers, gay teenagers ... and assorted scalawags, " making it clear that, in his eyes, Jacoby's conservatism was at least as offensive as his ethical lapse.

Incredibly, Thomas has yet to write a word about the Globe's extraordinary front-page apology of February 21, when the paper retracted a story speculating that the murders of Half and Susanne Zantop had been related to a love triangle. The theory had to be abandoned when two teenage boys were charged with the crime. Recently, though, Thomas did get to the bottom of why the pages of the Globe curl up more than they used to.

In past conversations Thomas has always struck me as smart, a good guy, and someone who loves the newspaper business. But obviously the expiration date has passed on his stint as ombudsman.

McNamara didn't necessarily deserve to be agreed with. But she has certainly earned the right to be taken seriously, and Thomas failed to do that.

AS FAR as McNamara and Storin are concerned, the contretemps of the past week is over. McNamara met with Storin last week and this past Monday, and describes her talks with Storin as " amicable. " Says Storin: " It was much more to do with moving forward. It had nothing to do with discipline. "

Yet to be heard from, though, is publisher Richard Gilman, who, according to Globe spokesman Rick Gulla, wants to talk with McNamara face to face. " There will be a meeting between the two, the contents of which will remain confidential, " Gulla says.

Gilman should give McNamara an earful if he's so inclined and then move on. But neither he nor Storin should forget about the issues that McNamara raised. " Speech is what we do for a living, " McNamara said on Dennis & Callahan. " Suppressing it is what we oppose for a living. "

Acting well within its rights as an employer, the Globe has managed to 1) prevent its sportswriters from being heard on one of the city's larger radio stations; 2) stop one of its columnists from writing about it; 3) hold out the possibility of disciplinary action after said columnist took to the airwaves to explain what had happened; and 4) publish a piece by its own ombudsman saying the columnist was lucky not to have been fired for speaking out.

In a narrow sense, every one of those decisions can be justified. More broadly, though, they add up to a newspaper that's distinctly uncomfortable with the sort of robust debate that it supports in politics, government, business, and other areas that it covers.

That's not the sort of newspaper Matt Storin or Richard Gilman should want to put out every day.

Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com.

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