A note to Globe readers about our sexual harassment coverage
We published a story on Dec. 8 about news organizations, including the Globe, facing sexual misconduct issues in their midst as they cover these issues elsewhere. The story noted that a Globe journalist was “pressured into resigning” after misconduct accusations were made against him.
At the time, Globe editors chose not to publicly identify the journalist. We believed that we were adhering to our journalistic principles, standards on sourcing, and sense of basic fairness. We believed that the misconduct was not at the level of what we had been covering and uncovering in other organizations. We didn’t believe we had definitive proof to name him in a news story.
Time and circumstances in this extraordinary national movement have given us, or at least me, a different perspective.
For the record, the journalist’s name is Jim O’Sullivan, a former State House reporter of four-plus years for the Globe. I am confirming what other news organizations have reported already. He made lewd propositions to one newsroom colleague and to two women that we are aware of on Beacon Hill. Though we know he apologized to his Globe colleague and stopped his advances, we felt his actions were an abuse of his position as a Globe reporter and completely inappropriate.
In reaching the decision not to identify him, I consulted with many women and men around the newsroom. The merits were debated extensively by senior editors, women and men. All harassment stories, and we’ve done many, are challenging to report and complicated to write. Victims are understandably raw and often reluctant to speak. We require corroboration to get over legal thresholds. Quite often, we decide we haven’t met our standard and end up with a lesser story than we expected. Sometimes, we choose to do no story at all.
While our discussions on the O’Sullivan matter were mostly focused on proof, fairness, and spectrums of misconduct, there’s now a fairly obvious realization that I didn’t focus enough on another very important factor: the Globe’s institutional credibility.
The bottom line is that we believed we were taking a principled position and applying our journalistic standards evenly, including to ourselves. Some here still believe that, while others don’t. Even as we were debating, norms of coverage, and even the broader definition of harassment, were changing. I got too caught up on nuance and failed to grasp the need for transparency by this organization in this unprecedented reckoning. It was my mistake.
We have since gone back and, to the best of our ability, reviewed O’Sullivan’s work to make sure it wasn’t compromised by his actions. We have found several stories that either involve or at least mention organizations that we believe are connected to one of the subjects of his propositions, but there is nothing to indicate that the stories are unusual or slanted. These things, admittedly, are difficult to determine. We will continue to review as more information becomes available.
This has been an important time in our country, but by no means an easy time for many organizations. I unintentionally made it more difficult for the Globe. Please know that we’ve learned vital lessons about holding ourselves to a higher standard, lessons that I pledge will be vigorously applied to our coverage of these and many other issues going forward.