A weeklong journalism program in Mexico that was run by a former Boston Phoenix reporter and funded by a Massachusetts nonprofit plans to shut down following allegations that he sexually harassed female students, according to the former reporter’s lawyer.
Al Giordano, who runs Narco News, a Mexico-based website focused on the drug war and its effects in Latin America, founded the program, called the School of Authentic Journalism, in 2003, as a place to train aspiring young left-wing journalists and activists.
But in February, as the school was launching a Kickstarter campaign to raise $70,000 for this year’s session, a former student, Martha Pskowksi, posted on Facebook that Giordano and Greg Berger, who helped run the program, “systematically harassed/manipulated/intimidated young women who attended the school.”
The statement prompted Giordano to shut down the Kickstarter campaign and to circulate a letter asserting that he did not believe the allegations were accurate.
“They portray me as a harasser, something that none of the women I have worked closest with over the years have suggested,” Giordano wrote. He added, “We all experience events differently and have a right to our interpretation of them. If I have caused anybody pain for any reason, I apologize, even if we don’t agree on the truth or falsity of the claims.”
Berger did not respond to an e-mail.
Incensed by Giordano’s letter, a group of 21 former students and faculty from the school earlier this month sent the Fund for Authentic Journalism, the Massachusetts nonprofit that raises money for Giordano’s school and website, personal testimonies alleging that Giordano made unwanted sexual advances on students and verbally abused them if they rebuffed his overtures. Some of the students said they had been sexually harassed, while others said that, while they were not victims of sexual misconduct, they had been subjected to verbal abuse.
The testimonies portray the school as an alcohol-fueled retreat with a “fraternity vibe.” The former students and faculty said Giordano selected female applicants based on their appearance, encouraged them to drink alcohol, and propositioned them for sex. If they rejected him, he would “excommunicate” them from the school community and accuse them of being spies.
Isadora Bonilla, who was student at the school in 2012, when she was 26, and worked for Narco News the following year, said Giordano made crude sexual remarks about female students and boasted about the ones he had sex with. Bonilla said she was speaking out to “prevent this kind of abuse, harassment, and license to defame and mistreat women.”
“It has to stop,” she wrote in an e-mail. “There must be consequences.”
Thalía Güido, who was a student at the school in 2015, when she was 25, said Giordano proposed that she have sex with him when she went to his house the following year to apply for a teaching position at the school. She said she rejected his offer and, months later, was expelled from the school. Giordano later accused her and her boyfriend of being “undesirables and enemies of ‘the project,’ ” she wrote in her testimony.
“We want the board to immediately investigate these charges, and, upon finding misconduct, stop supporting and enabling the ongoing mistreatment of students and faculty who participate in the School of Authentic Journalism and/or work for Narco News,” the 21 former students and faculty members wrote to the three-member Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Board members did not respond to e-mails and phone calls. The Huffington Post first reported on the allegations against Giordano last week.
Giordano, who covered politics for the Boston Phoenix, the now-defunct alternative weekly, in the mid-1990s, declined through his attorney, Thomas Lesser of Northampton, to comment beyond the letter he circulated in February.
In that letter, Giordano describes himself as semi-retired and recuperating from cancer at his home in the Mexican countryside. Lesser said Giordano has also stepped aside from the school, which is no longer planning to hold training sessions for journalists.
“There are no plans for the school for 2018 — it’s been canceled — and no plans for the school in the future,” Lesser said. “Prior to allegations on social media, Al had handed over the running of the school to two other people because of his focus on recovering from cancer.”Michael Levenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.