In a chillingly authoritarian turn of events, Michael Gaffney, the city council member and Republican City Committee chair, responded to an article in Worcester Magazine by harassing a journalist and smearing its editor,* alleging that the the latter is a sexual predator. Gaffney wrote on social media that “there are consequences” to reporting stories critical of him, and then released screenshots of conversations purportedly between the newspaper’s editor and young women. Their veracity cannot be determined, and Turtleboy Sports has a well documented history of using fake profiles to smear opponents.
In the “Worcesteria” column of the current issue of Worcester Magazine, journalist Bill Shaner reported on what at first seemed to be an amusing piece: Gaffney found a quote he liked and posted it on his blog. Unfortunately for Gaffney, he didn’t do his research: while he thought the quote was from Voltaire, it was actually a quote from white supremacist pedophile Kevin Alfred Strom. While it makes Gaffney look foolish, it’s an honest mistake, and he’s not the first politician to have misattributed the quote.
On his Facebook page, however, Gaffney wrote, “I’m tired of the personal attacks from Worcester
Magazine and it’s editor … Tonight, I will release information from three women that [the editor] attempted to use his influence at Worcester Magazine for improper purposes. One of his victims refers to him as ‘a predator.’” (sic)
In a heated exchange between Gaffney and Shaner beneath the post, which contained images that the Republican leader says were between WoMag’s editor and a young woman, Gaffney wrote, “I’m sure you thought it was so witty to make the connection [between Gaffney and the white supremacist], but [k]now that there are consequences and it isn’t quite so funny.”
Gaffney then either wrote a post on Turtleboy Sports, the notorious Holden-based blog that often comments on Worcester politics, or sent an email to its founder, with more screenshots purported to be between the WoMag editor and young women. While the conversations are cringe inducing, none of them seem to be evidence of any wrongdoing. Gaffney, however, writes in the email that the editor “was in a position of power over them,” though he offers no proof. Gaffney does, however, say that he has more evidence he’ll reveal if the weekly’s editor, it is insinuated, dares to write critically of Gaffney again.
Why Gaffney’s threats are troubling
Here’s are the problems with what Gaffney’s done:
- It’s undemocratic to attack the press because it is critical of you
- Gaffney isn’t only attacking the press, he’s blackmailing a newspaper: He’s saying, basically, if you mess with me, I’ll take revenge, i.e. “there are consequences.” This is the takeaway from his saying that he has more screenshots of conversations he could release, if his demands are not met.
- The conversations between the WoMag editor and Gaffney might be fake. Gaffney’s Turtleboy blog and it’s associates routinely create fake accounts to embarrass or delegitimize their opponents. I’ve written about this before, when they did it to me.
- Perhaps the conversations are real, and perhaps Gaffney is right about the WoMag editor (unlikely, but maybe). But why would these women contact Gaffney, a city council member, about sexual harassment? The likely answer is that Gaffney is a lawyer. But here’s the problem:
- If Gaffney is a lawyer, he shouldn’t be releasing this information at all without permission. He hides the names, but releasing any information that a client gives to you to the press about this sort of matter is a grotesque violation of ethics. Gaffney should be censured if this is the case. It seems highly unlikely that several victims came to Gaffney and said, “Here is my story of abuse. Please don’t publicize it unless the newspaper writes something critical of you.”
- This one’s really important: Gaffney seems to take sexual abuse and predation very lightly (of course we know that is very true, really very true, anyway – very true). Is he really saying that he has evidence of sexual misconduct by an employer against his employee and has failed to report it? Is Gaffney saying he reports sexual misconduct only when the person guilty of it criticizes him?
- There is now no question that Gaffney is intimately associated with Turtleboy Sports. It was there that he chose to release the supposed evidence against WoMag’s editor, and it was that blog that immediately posted the story (the same way that just a few hours after Gaffney is seen at a local park, Turtleboy has a story about that park).
- The Turtleboy blog is in large part an arm of Gaffney’s campaign, desperate as it is, for mayor. This suggests major campaign finance law violations: Gaffney’s law firm pours money into the blog “for advertising,” and one has to wonder whether this is therefore an illegal campaign contribution/
In short, Gaffney has thuggishly attacked and threatened a newspaper for publishing an article that was slightly critical of him – and entirely truthful. Beyond that, he is either lying again about sexual abuse or using it callously as a bargaining chip to benefit himself, disregarding the will of the women involved.
Worcester – the election is in November. We can do better than this thug. We certainly don’t need someone who wants to muzzle the press, or who would exploit sexual harassment for his own personal gain in office.
*I’m not using the WoMag editor’s name. While it is easy to determine, I will not contribute to a Google algorithm that brings up Gaffney’s allegations when his name is typed in. As Gaffney and Turtleboy have made up very false accusations about myself, I know how unpleasant that feels.
Image courtesy Peter Massas.