Our ‘Beat the Press Party’ Bakeoff (Spotlight the Globe Edition)

April 6, 2013

It’s time once again to review the Great Boston MediaWatch Dogfight, especially the rumpus over the Boston Globe’s Spotlight report, Driven to the Edge.

Start as usual with the underdog Boston Herald, which has been hounding its crosstown rival all week over the Globe’s three-part taxidermy of the Boston cab industry.

The Herald’s Press Party segment is here.


The set-up piece accused the Globe of deception and essentially declared reporters should never go undercover, a position host Joe Battenfeld persistently pursued.

And a position Suffolk University’s Bob Rosenthal seconded, asserting that the Globe did a good job but committed an ethical violation because the paper could have gotten the story otherwise – which is nonsense.

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson and State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, to their credit, countered that the Globe could not have gotten the story without going undercover.

Over at the Big Dog, WGBH’s Beat the Press (hosted by Emily Rooney), the conversation went this way:

Host Emily Rooney said sometimes the end justifies the means.

The panelists generally praised the Globe story, asserted that you need to cross your T’s and dot your I’s in these situations, and said the Herald was just being the Herald.

Who’s Top Dog?

You tell us.

Originally posted at Campaign Outsider.

Globe Can’t Keep Cab Story Straight

April 5, 2013

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.

Herald Hacks at Globe Cab Story (III)

April 4, 2013

Today’s Boston Herald takes another whack at crosstown rival Boston Globe’s Driven to the Edge three-part taxidermy of the city’s cab industry.

The latest piece:

Boston GlobeTimes defends Globe undercover scribe

A Boston Globe reporter masquerading as a cab driver for an undercover report appears to have violated the New York Times ethics policy, yet was defended by the Times yesterday.

Times policy clearly states that “staff members and others on assignment for us should disclose their identity to people they cover, though they need not always announce their occupation when seeking information normally available to the public.”

The policy further notes that “journalists may not pose as anyone they are not — for example, police officers or lawyers.”

But Times spokeswoman Eileen M. Murphy insisted Globe Spotlight Team reporter Bob Hohler “was within the policies” when he failed to identify himself as a reporter when he applied for a job at the Boston Cab Co. for the purposes 
of his undercover report.


Our feisty local tabloid, not surprisingly, disagrees.

You tell us.

Herald Hacks at Globe Cab Story (II)

April 3, 2013

In the aftermath of his post on Media Nation this morning about the Boston Herald’s drive-by coverage of the Globe series Driven to the Edge, Dan Kennedy had this Twitter exchange with Seth Mnookin:


Picture 1

I have the greatest respect for both these guys as writers, but I’m not sure the Herald piece is totally without merit. Start with the nondisclosure by Globe reporter Bob Hohler when he applied to drive for Boston Cab. We’re not talking Food Lion here, but this was at best some sleight of hand. Call it misdemeanor misrepresentation and sentence Hohler to time served.

Then again, what is meritless is this contention in the Herald piece:

“Deceptive methods are only acceptable if there was no other way to get the story,” said Stephen Ward, director of the Center of Journalism Ethics at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “This strikes me as a story you could get without having to go with these pretenses.”


Sorry, Mr. Ward, but no way the Globe gets this story without undercover reporting. (One Herald commenter wrote, “HERALD HAD TO GO TO THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN FOR A QUOTE ABOUT ETHICS? WAS THE UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX TOO BUSY TO COMMENT?”)

On the issue of reporting both versions of the crash, though, the Herald might have a point.

The article in question, written by Hohler and editor Thomas Farragher, described Hohler as driving a cab that was totaled in a 
Nov. 4 accident at approximately 10 p.m. after a “motorist ran a red light at Stuart and Clarendon streets,” sending the reporter and his two passengers to Tufts Medical Center with facial and head injuries.

But a Boston police report doesn’t paint the crash as so clear-cut. “At the scene there were two versions of what had happened,” according a police report.


Hohler’s report certainly leaves the impression that he was the victim of the crash. Of course if you want to get all Talmudic about it, you could actually read it as either version if you assume Hohler to be the “motorist” as well as the cabdriver. But let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

So, to recap: Is the Herald magnifying what most observers would say is a minor matter? Yes. Is the Herald presenting it in an entirely overcaffeinated manner? Yes. Is that what the Herald does? Yes.

Does that mean there’s no legitimate question about the Globe’s version of the accident? Not really. It’s just not front-pageworthy.

Except in the Herald.

Herald Hacks at Globe Cab Story

April 3, 2013

Our feisty local tabloid does a Page One drive-by on the Boston Globe’s three-part taxidermy of the city’s cab industry.


Picture 1

The story in question? Globe reporter Bob Hohler’s takeout yesterday on renewing his hackney license from the ’70s and driving the streets of Boston for eight nights.

hohler012As a Globe reporter discovered over eight nights as a licensed Boston cabbie and throughout a nine-month Spotlight Team investigation, the city’s newest taxi drivers join thousands already navigating through two Bostons: a luminous city of gleaming towers and vast opportunity whose workers and visitors they shuttle about daily, and the city’s struggling underclass, of which most of them are a part.

Laboring 12 to 24 hours a day as independent contractors, without job protections or benefits, they will endure shifts of public service and private indignities, outsized risk and systemic exploitation.

Many will be cheated by their taxi owners and customers. They will confront hazards more potent than potholes: violent crime, distracted and impaired drivers, and their own debilitating fatigue.


Not to mention car crashes, which Hohler actually does:

Boston Cab . . . charges [a] $5 waiver to subsidize its self-insurance program. The Globe reporter purchased that insurance Nov. 4 hours before a motorist ran a red light at Stuart and Clarendon streets, totaling the 2011 Camry hybrid taxi he was driving.

The cabbie and his two passengers are taken by ambulance to Tufts Medical Center. The passengers suffer facial injuries, the reporter a minor head injury.


Which maybe affected his memory, because the Herald has a different story:

040213hohlercab001 Globie’s cab crash raises eyebrows

Drove taxi while reporting story

A Boston Globe reporter masquerading as a Hub taxi driver gave a disputed version of a two-car crash that sent him and his two passengers to the hospital in a front-page story yesterday that’s raising questions about liability and whether he misrepresented himself.

The one-sided account of the crash, included in a report about Boston’s cab industry, also came after the reporter appeared to conceal his Globe employment in an application to the cab company that hired him.


Here’s the Herald’s two-sided account:

Hohler initially told cops that “while he had a red light,” another car “came out of nowhere” and struck the left side of his cab, causing him to slam into a traffic light, according to the report.

But in a handwritten supplemental police report filed six days later, Hohler said he in fact had a green light and the other driver had run a red light, citing “confusion on the scene” to explain the “misinformation.”

The other motorist, driving a gray Nissan Maxima, told police he believed he had the green light all along and instead was struck by the cab, according to the first police report. As of yesterday, no one had been cited in the crash, according to state Registry of Motor Vehicles officials.


The Herald piece proceeds from there to the topics of lawsuits, journalistic ethics, and general skullduggery.

Plenty of material, in other words, for multiple follow-up stories.

Page One Herald Ad No Cab-incidence

April 1, 2013

Both local dailies are living in Taxichusetts this week, as the hardworking staff noted yesterday. There’s Driven to the Edge, the Boston Globe’s massive three-part takeout on the Boston taxicab industry, which is the latest in a series of impressive in-depth reports by the stately local broadsheet. And the Boston Herald piped up with this piece yesterday:

DSC_0400.JPGCabbies battle app services

The taxicab and limousine industry has fired another salvo in its war on certain transportation apps by releasing a list of what its members call “rogue” services that endanger the public.

The report by the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association names three applications that operate in the Boston area: on-demand private-driver service Uber and ride-sharing apps SideCar and Tickengo.

“There’s nothing wrong with technology; it just needs to comply with the regulatory structure to ensure that it doesn’t take advantage of the public,” said Alfred LaGasse, the association’s CEO. “Some of these apps are basically 21st century hitchhiking.”


Yes, well, speaking of hitchhiking, look who flagged the Herald’s front page today:


Picture 1


Everybody appy now?