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No sex, please: Weíre liberals! (continued)

"Iím a big fan of bloggers, but the blogosphere has also become a repository of a lot of mean-spirited rumors that seem unaccompanied by a shred of evidence," says Kurtz. "I am not going to publish any such unsubstantiated crap without being able to pin down the facts. Thatís one of the things that distinguishes the much-maligned mainstream media from the freewheeling world of the blogosphere."

Susan Ryan-Vollmar, editor of the Boston gay-and-lesbian newspaper Bay Windows (and a former Phoenix news editor), points to another angle the media ought to explore, and that is hypocrisy: Gannon not only worked for an anti-gay Web site that promotes a president who opposes same-sex marriage and other pro-gay initiatives, but Gannon himself last year wrote that John Kerry "might someday be known as Ďthe first gay presidentí " because of his support for gay rights. In other words, Gannon was asking for it.

"You donít want to appear like youíre gay-bashing by going after this guy, but itís not gay-bashing," says Ryan-Vollmar. Indeed, Media Matters, perhaps the most mainstream Web site to pursue the Gannon story, is run by the well-known conservative-turned-liberal David Brock, whoís gay. Americablog, which has broken some of the seamier aspects of the Gannon matter, is a gay-oriented site. John Byrne, editor and publisher of the Cambridge-based Raw Story, is gay, and is no stranger to outing those he sees as hypocrites.

Still, the essence of the Gannon matter is that he received special treatment from a White House that is always looking for innovative ways to manipulate the media. If Gannonís sexual proclivities somehow helped him to obtain access, that ought to be investigated. But until thereís proof, the mainstream media are right to tread lightly.

"I think the idea is, does this guyís sexual preference have anything to do with whatís going on at the White House?" says Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on Politics, Public Policy, and the Press, at Harvardís Kennedy School. "Because thatís one thing and politics is another. And it certainly looks like it might have something to do with it, and that should be pursued. Especially since the White House seems to use these credentials as a reward-and-punishment system. So what was he being rewarded for? It certainly wouldnít be the first time something like that happened. Itís certainly legitimate to look into it."

Look into ó but, without proof, not touch.

IS THE Boston Herald for sale? Rumors are always swirling about the fate of the cityís number-two daily. But the Phoenix has learned that Herald publisher Pat Purcell and Hollinger International, whose properties include the Chicago Sun-Times, have held some serious talks in recent months. Still, whether a sale actually is imminent is anyoneís guess.

Word in the Herald newsroom, and from an outside source who has some familiarity with the situation, is that Hollinger was talking about paying between $240 million and $260 million for the Herald and Purcellís Community Newspaper Company (CNC), which comprises about 100 local weeklies and a handful of dailies in Eastern Massachusetts.

Presumably such a deal would represent a substantial profit for Purcell and his investors. Purcell paid $15 million to $20 million to buy the Herald from his mentor, international media magnate Rupert Murdoch, in 1994, and paid a reported $150 million to purchase CNC from Fidelity Capital in 2001.

Among other things, the Phoenix has learned that at least one newspaper-company owner in addition to Hollinger was approached by a broker to ask if he would be interested in purchasing the Herald and CNC. But a savvy Herald insider says Purcell may have been soliciting bids merely as a way of assuring his investors that the properties would bring a good return if he someday decides to sell.

Purcell describes talks heís had with Hollinger officials as beneficial to both companies, given their similar situations. The tabloid Sun-Times is that cityís number-two paper, lagging behind the dominant broadsheet, the Chicago Tribune, in both circulation and advertising revenue. The Herald, a tabloid, lags significantly behind the Boston Globe. Another similarity is that Hollinger owns about 100 papers in the Chicago suburbs, about a half-dozen of which are dailies. "We are very similar companies," Purcell told me. "Weíre comparing best practices. Anything else is just speculation on everybody elseís part." Asked about the rumored price Hollinger had offered, Purcell replied, "All youíre doing is speculating."

Molly Morse, a spokeswoman for Hollinger, declined to comment.

Hollinger is a colorful company, to say the least. More than a year ago, Hollinger ousted top executives Conrad Black and David Radler amid charges that they were improperly paid tens of millions of dollars; the two have denied the charges, and are reportedly fighting to regain control of the company. Hollinger has sold off its gaudier properties, such as Londonís Daily Telegraph and the Jerusalem Post, and is today largely a regional operation centered on Chicago. Michael Miner, the media critic for the weekly Chicago Reader, describes the Sun-Times as "understaffed, but very strong in investigative reporting. There are a lot of good writers there. Itís always managed to be better than it probably has any right to be."

The Hollinger buzz comes at a time when the Herald is facing challenges as serious as any in Purcellís decade-plus of ownership. Last Friday, the Herald was assessed nearly $2.1 million in damages after losing a libel suit to Superior Court judge Ernest Murphy, who claimed the paper in 2002 falsely and knowingly portrayed him as a "wrist-slapping" judge who had "heartlessly demeaned" victims of crime. The Herald is appealing the verdict, and may stand a good chance of winning, given that the law makes it exceptionally difficult for a public official such as Murphy to prevail in a libel case (see "Media Log," BostonPhoenix.com, February 19). The month-long trial did make it clear that the paperís reporting was inflammatory and flawed. But Purcell rejects the notion that the verdict reflects poorly on the Heraldís journalistic standards. "We did our job," he says. "And weíre going to continue to do our job."

The Herald is also in the midst of a painful round of cost-cutting, with newsroom sources telling the Phoenix that management is cutting back on overtime pay and other expenses. At a small paper where many staffers depend on overtime to offset the cost of health insurance ó more than $200 a week for a family plan ó thatís a significant blow. Herald staff member Lesley Phillips, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston, says the full extent of the cuts has not yet been made clear to her union, which has been working without a contract for 15 months, and which is scheduled to resume negotiations on March 9.

page 2  page 3 

Issue Date: February 25 - March 3, 2005
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