Top management at The Boston Globe is investigating public allegations on social media of “an inappropriate text exchange” between Globe editor Brian McGrory and a former Boston.com editor, according to an internal memo sent to employees Wednesday.
“When we first learned about the social media discussion . . . we began investigating to gather as much relevant information as we could,” said the memo, from Linda Henry, Globe managing director, and Vinay Mehra, Globe president. Henry and Mehra said they have tried “to ascertain the timing and context of the text in question,” but “at this time it is still unclear when these exchanges took place.”
The former editor, Hilary Sargent, told a Globe reporter that the newspaper’s lawyers have sent her a draft of a Superior Court lawsuit, which names her as a defendant. That suit would seek to compel Sargent under the terms of her 2016 separation agreement from the organization to provide the newspaper more information about the text in question, such as the date, and ask for unspecified damages.
Dan Krockmalnic, general counsel for Boston Globe Media Partners, said Wednesday evening that the suit had not been filed and declined to comment further.
In a note to staff late Wednesday, McGrory said he did not recall the exchange but has told the Globe’s owners that they should try to retrieve the texts by whatever means possible. He said he and Sargent had dated many years ago, when, he said, they did not work together. “I have never harassed Hilary Sargent or any other women at the Globe or anywhere else — ever,” he wrote.
Sargent, who was a writer and editor at the Globe-owned website Boston.com from 2014 to 2016, posted this week on her Twitter account a screen-grab of a text exchange in which one of the parties asks the other, “What do you generally wear when you write?” She attributed the question to McGrory, and she wrote on Twitter: “If you’ve ever been sent a sext-type text from someone who was powerful enough that you felt you couldn’t do anything (other than panic/shake your head/cry), you’re not alone. The more we tweet these, the less they’ll send them.”
The screenshot did not indicate the date of the text exchange or the names or phone numbers of the participants.
McGrory, a longtime columnist and onetime metro editor, was named to the top post in December 2012.
In his statement, McGrory said he had no role in hiring Sargent at Boston.com, and that she did not report to him. He noted, “The site had a separate editor answering directly to the front office.’’
He said that after Sargent left the organization, “we would sometimes exchange text messages that included the kind of personal banter of two people very familiar with each other. I regret that very much for reasons that go far beyond the Globe.”
McGrory said he has “asked Hilary to provide the date and a more complete version of the exchange. She has not addressed my request.”
McGrory also defended his record of hiring and promoting women in the newsroom, and in seeking equal pay for women.
“I have no desire to argue with Hilary Sargent, publicly or privately. In fact, I very much respect her abilities as a journalist,” he said. “But I do think that it’s important to have the broader context known.”
In response to McGrory’s statement, Sargent said by e-mail: “If Brian McGrory truly does not believe he has ever acted inappropriately with anyone at The Boston Globe, then he and I have a remarkably different understanding of what is — and is not — appropriate.”
Henry and Mehra, in their note to staff earlier in the day, said they “discussed the issue with Brian in an attempt to understand both the nature of any exchanges between the two parties and also whether or not these exchanges occurred during her employment.” They said they “expect to have resolution on this matter soon.”
The draft of the suit alleges that the company has asked Sargent for the date of the alleged text exchange with McGrory so the company could properly investigate the claim, but she has not provided it. Under the terms of her severance, Sargent had agreed to cooperate with reasonable requests by the company in connection with any potential claim or investigation related to her time at the Globe, the lawsuit says.
As the controversy unfolded, Sargent issued a statement to news outlets late Tuesday: “Women deserve to be treated professionally and taken seriously. It is crucial that individuals in leadership positions are held to the same high standard of conduct that the Globe would expect of any individuals in leadership positions at other similarly powerful institutions. Those in leadership positions at media organizations have significant influence over how the issue of sexual harassment is covered, and the coverage they oversee should never be tainted or colored by their own missteps or misdeeds.”
Sargent has been critical on social media of the Globe’s coverage of sexual harassment in its own ranks, including the paper’s initial decision in December not to name a reporter pressured into resigning last year after misconduct accusations were made against him, as well as other men who have been accused. From 1998 to 1999, Sargent worked at the Globe as an editorial assistant in business, metro, and the State House, according to the Globe’s December 2013 announcement that she had been hired as a writer at Boston.com.