Bad News

The seven (or more) sins of the Boston Herald

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The Boston Herald is a really bad newspaper.

The Herald does its part seven days a week to corrupt the public discourse and sink journalistic standards to a new low. So, for your reading pleasure—and to help discredit Boston’s most dastardly daily—I’ve compiled a list of the Herald’s Seven Sins. In no particular order:

The Editorial Page. Bitingly sardonic and bereft of thoughtful reasoning, the Herald’s editorial page is where inane arguments go to die. I give the opinion page some leeway since it’s the one spot where pontification is to be expected. But the soapbox shouldn’t be an invitation for the patently ridiculous. A post-election political cartoon featured an obese Ted Kennedy asking an equally rotund Michael Moore “Are we twins?” while a caricatured Jesse Jackson goes off on a nonsensical diatribe/rap about black oppression.

The Herald’s written editorial commentary deals largely in vitriol, name-calling, sarcastic quotation marks and condescending rhetorical questions. One of last Thursday’s editorials was entitled: “Safety vs. Union ‘Rights’” (note the quotes around “rights”). The editorial begins: “Let’s see now, what’s more important: the safety of the city’s school children or whether school bus drivers feel ‘spied upon?’” The ensuing two-hundred-word editorial could have been penned by a nineteenth-century robber baron. Also, in case you were wondering: “Guess what happens when courts, not legislators, make laws? There’s a backlash. Duh.” Don’t have a cow, man.

Howie Carr. Meaner than a junkyard dog, this three-times-a-week Herald columnist doubles as a radio talk show host and is about as even-handed as Rush Limbaugh. Stamping each column with his mark of bitterness and contempt for all things left or even moderate, Carr implicates the entire Herald by association, lowering the “acceptable” bar so that it is physically touching the floor.

On Oct. 29, Carr posited the age-old question: “Why is it always the rich, spoiled college pukes who get nabbed for rioting?” Carr goes on to gleefully detail his take-no-prisoners telephonic harassment of the mother of one of the aforesaid pukes. This week, he called the Massachusetts Turnpike chairman “fat” while labeling a former state official a “midget.” In articles vilifying Democrats, Carr takes quotes out of contexts and appeals to his readers’ worst instincts like a schoolyard bully.

Subjectivity. Most newspapers like to clearly differentiate between fact and opinion. If you were flipping through The Crimson and saw my column embedded somewhere in the news section, you would probably be a little weirded out. At the Herald, however, columnists regularly park right next to news stories.

More alarming—because it is less recognizable—opinion is covertly slipped into supposedly objective articles throughout the paper. For example, a few days ago—on the obituary page, no less—the Herald ran a news article on Phillip Johnson, the chairman of the Democratic State Committee. The first sentence: “Perhaps taking a cue from the national Democratic post-election struggle for identity, the state party boss yesterday changed his mind after announcing he was resigning as chairman.” If The New York Times ever had the gall to print a sentence like that in a new story about a Republican, their headquarters might actually be burned to the ground.

Headlines. The headline of that last story, by the way, was “State’s Dem Chairman Flip-Flops on Resignation.” Flip-Flop: such a neutral term with absolutely no political charge. By this week, the online archivists at the Herald must have gotten the message, editing the headline to read: “State’s Chief Dem Changes his Mind About Resignation.”

Hollywoodization of the News. The Herald is ostensibly in the business of news reporting, but purveying information regularly takes a back seat to keeping readers entertained at any cost. Important stories can be glossed over with minimal detail while much attention is paid to John Kerry’s supposedly fake tan. This lopsided rendering of world events contributes to the information gap on critical issues that plagues our country.

Photographic Sensationalism. Not everyone has the time or the inclination to read the articles, so they look to the pictures. Believe it or not, the Herald has a penchant for publishing unflattering photographs of people it doesn’t particularly care for, like Hillary Clinton. But this is mild compared to last month’s photographic scandal.

The Herald found itself in a whirlwind of controversy after publishing graphic photographs of a bloody Victoria Snelgrove, the Emerson student killed during Red Sox rioting in Boston. Any didactic dimension of the photos was lost on hordes of appalled readers. Though the paper later issued a next-day apology for this classless stunt, the damage had been done.

Veiled Motives. What’s more, the newspaper pushes its right-wing agenda under the guise of honest journalism. The Herald is innocently packaged as an easy-to-read page-turner and priced below the competition. Masquerading as some wholesome, populist hometown rag, the paper force-feeds its propagandistic, Murdochian worldview to unwitting consumers.

So next time you’re in the market for a newspaper, consider passing up the Herald in favor of something less bad. Otherwise, make sure you bring a sifter to sort through all the bull. Drop me a line and let me know what you came up with.

Jared M. Seeger ’05 is a government concentrator in Pforzheimer House. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.