Iwrote recently about how Michael Gaffney, a city council member and Worcester’s Republican leader, had been blackmailing the editor of Worcester Magazine into not publishing articles that cast him in a negative light. As I wrote, the evidence showed that either Gaffney was lying or that he was covering up allegations of sexual abuse, holding onto them to release only when they could benefit him politically. That was Aug. 17, and a week has gone by. Since then, the WoMag editor has been placed on suspension.
Turtleboy Sports has been gloating, saying that they “broke” the news story.** That’s the blog Gaffney finances and on which he published screenshots of conversations purportedly between WoMag’s editor and an unnamed young woman* – and where Gaffney essentially admitted to blackmail. Given the low quality of Turtleboy Sports’ writing, it was unclear whether screenshots were of one alleged conversation or of several. Gaffney claims to have three.
While Gaffney’s and his blog’s antics are sleazy and disgusting – and almost certainly violate the law, including civil rights laws and laws relating to freedom of the press – they are not disappointing. This is what we expect from that crowd. What is disappointing, however, is the response the Worcester print media have put forward.
Worcester Magazine, the target of the blackmail, has published nothing more than a statement noting that there were “serious allegations” that they were investigating, and that the publication would follow up. At least, however, that they noted that there was “malicious intent” behind Gaffney’s and Turtleboy’s postings and promised to report on it. The story in the Telegram and Gazette, however, simply quoted the WoMag press release.
The best coverage so far has been from MassLive, the website of the Springfield Republican newspaper. In their report, journalist Alban Martishi did note that it was Michael Gaffney who had posted the conversations on Turtleboy Sports. Unlike the other publications, MassLive quoted the Turtleboy blog, specifically citing a paragraph that clearly states Gaffney released the conversations for revenge:
In a blog post published on Aug. 17, Turtleboy wrote: “But today Worcester Magazine (which is free because no one would ever buy it) basically called him a white supremacist. We’ll blog about that later. But just understand that for now Gaffney has reached his breaking point with these people and he’s ready to spill the beans.
The reality is this: we have no idea about whether Gaffney’s allegations are true. If they’re false, Gaffney’s lying and engaging in libel to intimidate the press. If they’re true, Gaffney has been collecting information about people’s misdeeds and, instead of reporting them to the authorities, has been holding on to them to use for blackmail. Either way, Gaffney’s shown himself to be untroubled by playing around with sexual harassment and untroubled by the idea of being a government official working to blackmail and intimidate the press.
Of course, most hope the voters toss Gaffney out in November. But the perhaps the most important way that people know about their elected leaders is through reading about what they do in the press. This is why the founders of the United States argued that a free press was essential for democracy. When the media fails to report such an important story, the democratic system is undermined.
A plea for real, even investigative, journalism
But what about the press? It’s been a week, so one might have expected that an assault on their freedom would have generated some buzz. It hasn’t, at least not yet. It’s perhaps possible that neither the T+G nor MassLive had known about the story. Budget cuts have left newsrooms bare bones and their reporters spread too thin. There is, unfortunately, no Worcester version of the Globe’s spotlight team. But they know now, and one would think they would be launching a vigorous campaign defending the rights of the fourth estate.
One thing they might consider doing is contacting other elected officials, other city council members, to get their take on what Gaffney’s done. Or they could publish an editorial on the First Amendment and how a government official is trying to violate it. They could do any of these things; what they shouldn’t do is roll over and let Gaffney and the Holden-based Turtleboy Sports have their way. This is un-American, contrary to the rights enshrined in the Constitution, even if it is an extremely local expression of anti-Americanism.
The national news media has realized, albeit too late, the mistake of not going after the real story. Most of the real media (what the fringe calls the “MSM” or “mainstream media”) at the national level are now noting that “facts matter,” and have been reporting aggressively on politicians’ lies and misdeeds, calling them what they are. They are beginning to act as impartial umpires instead of bystanders.
The Worcester media should follow this trend and devote the time and the resources to doing the same. It’s important, because, as the Washington Post tagline now reads, “democracy dies in darkness.”
*Obviously sexual harassment is always to be condemned, but this is Gaffney and Turtleboy Sports, and especially given their followers’ propensity for making fake accounts on Facebook and lying about even the worst sexual misconduct, we have no evidence that these screenshots are real.
**Hardly real journalism: Gaffney gave the story to Turtleboy, and they printed it verbatim; this is not exactly the work of Woodward and Bernstein.