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No sex, please: We’re liberals! (continued)

"All the managers aren’t saying the same thing, they’re not all on the same page, and it’s creating chaos," says Phillips. She adds: "The fact is, we love working for the Boston Herald. And some of us have been here a damn long time. But this kind of dis-ease, if you will, is troubling. And it’s impacting people on a daily basis."

Purcell responds that the Herald is no different from other newspapers in trying to cut costs at a time when national advertising is soft, and that he’s targeted possible savings in the production department as well as in the newsroom. "In editorial, we’re looking at becoming more efficient," he says. "It’s really across the country, and we’re looking at all our expenses."

There are external threats as well. Purcell has filed an antitrust complaint with the US Department of Justice in an attempt to stop the New York Times Company — parent of the Boston Globe — from acquiring a 49 percent share of Boston’s Metro, a free, weekday tab aimed at commuters and young people. No sooner had the $16.5 million deal been announced than veteran journalist Rory O’Connor broke a story on MediaChannel.org about a culture at the Metro’s European-based parent company that encouraged brutally racist jokes (see "Don’t Quote Me," News and Features, January 21). The Herald flogged the story for days, developing a few new angles of its own; but there is no sign that the deal will be called off, and, so far, no word on what, if anything, the Justice Department may do. "They’ve said they’re reviewing it, and we haven’t heard anything else," Purcell says.

But perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Herald — and, for that matter, the Globe, although to a lesser extent because of its dominant position — is the news that the on-again, off-again merger talks are on again between Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores. Federated’s holdings include Macy’s, the successor to Boston legend Jordan Marsh, and Bloomingdale’s. May owns Jordan Marsh’s traditional Boston rival, Filene’s, as well as Lord & Taylor and Marshall Field’s. For generations, Boston newspapers depended on ads from Jordan Marsh and Filene’s. Now there’s a real prospect of greater consolidation and less advertising.

What will a merger mean to the Herald? "Obviously it’s not good for newspapers," Purcell replies. No, it’s not. And it’s another sign that the economic underpinnings of the newspaper business continue to change for the worse.

COLUMNISTS ERIC Alterman and Cathy Young are at each other’s throats. It began on February 7, when Young, who writes for Reason magazine, suggested in her weekly Boston Globe column that Alterman might be a "self-hating" Jew whose views would be considered "anti-Semitic" if they had been written by a non-Jew.

Alterman’s offense, in Young’s eyes: writing on his MSNBC.com blog, Altercation, that he could not find fault with the British Muslim Council’s decision to boycott 60th-anniverary ceremonies marking the liberation of Auschwitz. Among other things, Alterman wrote that "the Palestinians have also suffered because of the Holocaust. They lost their homeland as the world — in the form of the United Nations — reacted to European crimes by awarding half of Palestine to the Zionists.... To ask Arabs to participate in a ceremony that does not recognize their own suffering but implicitly endorses the view that caused their catastrophe is morally idiotic."

On February 10, Reason’s Web site ran both the full text of Alterman’s letter of response to the Globe and a response from Young, who said, "I think it is entirely possible to argue that Israel bears the primary responsibility for the enduring Middle East conflict, and consequently for the suffering of the Palestinians, without being anti-Semitic. But, of course, that was not what Alterman wrote, and that was not the issue in this debate." Nowhere, though, does she address her use of the "self-hating" phrase, which is clearly what placed her column out of bounds. (By the way, Young herself is Jewish.)

There things stood until February 15, when Alterman unloaded on Young in Altercation, and blasted the Globe for publishing Young’s column, for the way it truncated his letter to the editor, and for not running letters it had received defending him from Young’s accusations. "There are many journalistic issues raised here regarding the Globe editors’ irresponsibility in allowing it to be used by a know-nothing ideologue like Young," Alterman wrote, promising to return to the issue in the future, in Altercation as well as in the media column he writes for the Nation.

The Globe’s normally mild-mannered ombudsman, Christine Chinlund, delivered a rebuke to Young this past Monday, calling her criticism of Alterman "not up to op-ed page standards," as well as "ad hominem and inappropriate." Regular Chinlund readers know that, for her, that’s unusually tough. Even better, she provided a link to the Altercation item on this piss fight, titled "Slandered by the Globe."

So is this over? Not by a long shot. On Monday, Alterman posted 14 questions on Altercation that he wants Globe editorial-page editor Renée Loth to answer, promising "to publish all of the answers in full on this site, thereby offering the Globe far greater courtesy than it offered me following the publication of the slanderous piece." Gee, Eric. Only 14?

Unlike Alterman, I only have one question: how could a toxic suggestion that Alterman is a "self-hating" Jew make it through the editing process? Young is entitled to her opinion. Alterman’s reflections on the British Muslim Council were pretty provocative, and were exactly the sort of thing I would expect a columnist like Young to react to.

But the "self-hating" characterization was an ugly smear that never should have found its way into print.

Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com. Read his Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com.

page 3 

Issue Date: February 25 - March 3, 2005
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