Globe Can’t Keep Cab Story Straight

The Boston Globe newsroom might want to call a cab-inet meeting sometime soon, because it’s sending mixed messages about the paper’s three-part takeout on the Boston taxicab industry.

Start with reporter Bob Hohler, who spent eight nights driving for Boston Cab last fall, which he chronicles in the final piece of the series. In this interview posted on the Globe website, Hohler describes how he conducted his investigation.

Q: Did anyone know you were a Boston Globe reporter? How did you handle disclosure?

A: I drove for Boston Cab for eight nights and never got the sense that anybody there knew that I was a reporter. When I applied there I said I worked for the NYT Company  . . .  the New York Times owns the Globe. As for my occupation I said sports because I’m a sportswriter.

Q. But if they had said – I know the way it works – if they had said Are you a Boston Globe reporter you would say Yes I am. But no one asked you.

A. Absolutely. I would have told them that I’m here to try to get the experience, to try to learn.


Apparently the burden of disclosure was on Boston Cab.

So Hohler is guilty of a sin of omission, if one at all. Even so, that’s a time-honored journalistic practice in undercover investigations. When he was asked in the interview “what did becoming a taxi driver afford you accesswise that you wouldn’t get as a reporter,” Hohler replied, “Oh – everything.”

Globe editor Brian McGrory, though, sounded a much different note during Wednesday’s Jim and Margery show on WGBH radio.

Bob Hohler, a cab driver back in the 1970s, who brought this idea to us, went out, got his hackney license, drove a cab – unlike the way Margery’s paper [the Boston Herald] portrayed it, he was not masquerading as a cab driver, he was a cab driver, he got his license.

This was not an undercover operation. He went out and he immersed himself in that community and we did exactly what a newspaper is supposed to do. It was a major time investment, major financial investment, and it has gotten swift results.


Less  than a minute later, McGrory reiterated his position: “We never went undercover – let’s be clear about that. The word ‘undercover’ carries implications that just aren’t necessary here.”

But, all due respect, that certainly seem to fit.

12 Responses to Globe Can’t Keep Cab Story Straight

  1. I don’t see why McGrory’s point isn’t valid – “he was not masquerading as a cab driver, he *was* a cab driver”. What is wrong about that? And what is this “burden of disclosure” you’re saying exists?

    When Tom Friedman takes a cab somewhere and converses with the driver, does he have a “burden of disclosure”? Must he inform the driver that the driver’s opinions are going to show up in some column or book?

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      C’mon, Steve – you know what Hohler did is completely different from Friedman’s Taxi Driver column. One’s an ancedote, the other’s an undercover investigation.

      As for disclosure, Hohler’s position seems to be that it was Boston Cab’s responsibility to find out he was a reporter, not his to reveal it. I’m not arguing with that – just noting it.


  2. […] Read the rest at It’s Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town. […]

  3. Brad Deltan says:

    Oh give me a break, John. You’re “noting” it the same way one “notes” that James O’Keefe decided it was ACORN’s responsibility to realize he was a sting operative and not a pimp. If this is an attempt to present facts in a non judgmental manner, it failed miserably. If this is an attempt to say that you don’t like undercover journalism, it succeeded admirably.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      First of all, the Globe itself said the burden of disclosure was on Boston Cab. That’s a fact. (The O’Keefe situation was a Brain Freeze of epic proportions and not at all like the Globe investigation.)
      Second, I didn’t express an opinion one way or the other about undercover journalism. This is about how the Globe positions its journalism to the public.
      And third, be fair, Brad – criticize me for what I’ve actually said.

  4. Dan Kennedy says:

    Like you, John, I think the undercover aspect was worth it in this case, but I’m struck by how uncomfortable McGrory is with the term — and by how your commenters seem to think you’re being critical merely because you used the word. It wasn’t that many years ago that news organizations regularly engaged in undercover reporting and were proud of it.

    Here’s something of interest — New York University journalism professor Brooke Kroeger has written a book that in the main defends the practice:

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Thanks, Dan. I wonder if McGrory is tying himself into Talmudic knots out of concern for any potential lawsuits out there – from Boston Cab, Hohler’s passengers in the crash, the other motorist, and whoever.

      On 4/5/13 12:27 PM, “It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town”

  5. I don’t see the problem with an undercover investigation. ‘splain, please.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      I have no problem with undercover investigations, Mick. It’s McGrory who’s getting all exercised about applying that designation. I’m thinking maybe there’s some legal aspect to it for when the Globe gets sued by . . . well, everyone.

      On 4/5/13 3:25 PM, “It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town”

  6. […] reporter Bob Hohler got into an accident while posing as a cab driver. (Globe editor Brian McGrory insisted at the time that “[Hohler] was not masquerading as a cab driver, he was a cab driver.” […]

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