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News ::
Responses
19 Jun 2001
Modified: 21 Jun 2001
As of Tuesday, June 19, no responses to Thomas' column have been published in the Globe, though several have been written. Three of them follow. The first one is from Todd Paglia, the Forest Ethics staffer who attempted to place the initial ad in the Globe. The second is from independent journalists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman, who initially wrote about the ad refusal in their web-published "Focus on the Corporation" column and who Globe Ombudsman Jack Thomas attacked by name. The third is from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.

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Forest Ethics Responds to Boston Globe Hatchet Piece As the Globe Circles the Wagons, it Becomes Apparent that Lax Standards are Proliferating

Earlier this year my organization, ForestEthics, a non-profit dedicated to forest conservation, attempted to place an ad in the Boston Globe. The ad was intended to coincide with a national day of protests against a local company, Staples, that is responsible for thousands of acres of clearcut forests every year. Citizens all over the US came together in over 100 protests at Staples stores to demonstrate their disapproval over this company and its policies of destroying forests to make disposable paper products. The day of protests was a huge success but the ad in the Globe never ran. Staples just happens to be a large advertiser in the Globe.

Since that time media watchdog groups and columnists, surprised and disappointed that the Globe refused to run an ad that criticized one of its customers, have gotten involved. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (“FAIR”) sent out an alert to its members who in turn weighed in with the Globe by the hundreds. The Globe, and in particular the editor, Matt Storin, recently positioned the paper as above those that would refuse to run an advocacy ad that brought forth an uncomfortable truth about that advertiser. These statements were made after the Globe had refused to run ForestEthics ad against Staples.

In response to the outraged emailing members of FAIR, Richard P. Gulla, the head of PR, responded via email saying that the banned ad “contained allegations and accusations against Staples that were unsupported and unsubstantiated.” Mr. Gulla never bothered to contact ForestEthics to get its side of the story. But he is, after all, the PR director. Then I heard last weekend that the Globe’s “ombudsman” was going to write on the issue. I was excited because I would finally get my day in court. But Mr. Thomas had other plans. I was not contacted nor was anyone in my organization. So the ombudsman, the “readers advocate,” adopted not only the same standards as the PR department, but he also the same position.

In his piece published Monday, Jack Thomas claims the Globe asked for documentation of the ad’s position. This is not true. No one at the Globe ever gave me a straight answer as to why the ad was rejected, nor did they ask for any changes to the text or design, nor did they ask for documentation. I specifically asked what could be done to get the ad published. Each time the reply was either silence or confused rambling. I also asked for a written explanation for why they would not run the ad. Again, the reply was silence.

Had the Globe asked for substantiation it would have been easy. As the largest office supply store in the world, saying that Staples destroys forests is hardly a hazardous accusation. Even children know that paper comes from trees – unless it is recycled or an alternative fiber. And if the paper is not made from recycled fiber, it must be coming from somewhere. In the case of Staples it is coming from our forests. 100% of Staples store brand copy paper - their biggest seller - comes from virgin forests. Across all brands, the copy paper Staples sells is 97% tree-based. In the US, 12,000 square miles of forest – an area more than three times the size of Yellowstone National Park – are clearcut each year to make paper for companies like Staples. As a result of this environmental destruction, thousands of people have joined a national effort against the company known as StopStaples.net.

In spite of our confidence in the charge that Staples destroys forests – and the confidence of thousands of people and dozens of citizen advocacy groups that have participated in the StopStaples.net campaign – we were prepared to compromise with the Globe. We were prepared to offer substantiation. We were prepared to make a less aggressive characterization of the truth if that is what it took. Despite half a dozen phone calls to various employees at the Globe to find a compromise solution, ForestEthics was told again and again that the ad would not be run. The follow up by the Globe was an inaccurate and one-sided defense of the advertising department by of all people the ombudsman, the supposed “readers advocate.”

This leaves us with the unfortunate conclusion that the problem is not in the facts. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Boston Globe will not accept ads that are critical of major advertisers. When it comes down to money versus a healthy marketplace of ideas, the Globe will uphold journalistic standards only so long as they don’t interfere with the interests of their large corporate advertisers. The Boston Globe – and all of its readers – are diminished as a result.

Todd Paglia, ForestEthics Tpaglia (at) att.net
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To the Editor:

Ombudsman Jack Thomas writes in his June 11 column on the controversial decision by the Globe to refuse to run an ad from the environmental group Forest Ethics that we "fanned the flames by writing, falsely, on the Web that the Globe refused to run the ad because it mentioned Staples by name." Thomas reports that the Globe in fact refused the ad because Forest Ethics was unable to substantiate claims made in the advertisement. The ad complained about Staples' selling copy paper that comes from clearcut forests.

In fact, our reporting was based on interviews with both Forest Ethics and the Globe's advertising department. When we asked Dennis Lloyd, a Globe advertisment manager, if the paper refused the ad because of the naming of Staples, he said, "in a general sense, that's a concern." Lloyd told us that neither the substance nor the substantiation of the ad was at issue.

"The reason we declined the ad was we did not feel comfortable not necessarily with the issue but the way it was expressed," he told us. The Globe "did not think it would fit into what we normally accept as an ad in our paper," he said. He specifically told us that neither substantiation nor revision of particular claims of the ad would lead the Globe to agree to print the ad.

We pointed out in our column that the Globe's editorial page had argued that newspapers should publish opinion advertisements without regard to the opinions expressed. We raised the issue of why the Globe refused to abide by this standard in its own advertising department. Irrespective of the division between the editorial and advertisement departments of the paper, this remains a fair question on the merits -- and unfortunately, even after Thomas's review of the issue, it is one that remains unanswered.

As we noted in our column, "The paper's refusal to carry truthful advertisements criticizing corporations mocks the spirit of the First Amendment and the notion that the press will serve as an institutional check on abuses of power."

Sincerely,

Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
Washington, D.C.

E-mail contact information:
russell (at) nationalpress.com
rob (at) essential.org
---------------------
FAIR Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

ACTIVISM UPDATE:
Boston Globe Ombudsman Distorts Readers' Concerns
June 12, 2001

In his June 11 column, Boston Globe ombudsman Jack Thomas distorted the concerns of hundreds of letter-writers, and failed in his responsibility to his readers by relying solely on his own paper's version of disputed events.

Thomas was responding to the many complaints he received about the paper's rejection of an ad from the environmental group ForestEthics that was critical of the office supply company Staples. Hundreds of people wrote in to question why the Globe editorialized in favor of other publications accepting controversial ads in seeming contradiction of the Globe's own advertising policies.

Most of these letter-writers heard about the Globe's apparent double standard through a pair of FAIR e-mail alerts (4/9/01, 6/5/01). Though Thomas received copies of FAIR's alerts-- indeed, many of the letters to the Globe refer to FAIR by name and were cc'ed to us-- his column does not mention FAIR, and falsely states that the letters were the result of a ForestEthics campaign orchestrated by public relations "consultants."

To clarify, ForestEthics was not involved with FAIR's action alerts, and FAIR has no financial or institutional connections with the group. We work to expose PR spin, not create it.

Thomas's baseless accusations of misleading PR are particularly troubling given that his explanation of the rejection of the Staples ad relies solely on the accounts of Globe employees, echoing the explanation offered to many FAIR activists over email by the Globe's PR director, Richard Gulla.

As ombudsman, it's Thomas's job to represent readers' interests by independently investigating matters like the Staples controversy-- simply repeating the paper's version of events is insufficient and inappropriate. But Thomas didn't contact ForestEthics for their side of the story, and he didn't even return the call ForestEthics campaign director Todd Paglia made to him when he found out that a column was forthcoming. (Likewise, FAIR has had no replies from Thomas or anyone else at the Globe.)

Perhaps as a result, Thomas's column does not acknowledge that ForestEthics disputes the Globe's account. Thomas claims that Dennis Lloyd, a Globe advertising manager, requested "supporting documentation" from ForestEthics to substantiate the ad's charges against Staples, which the group never provided. ForestEthics, on the other hand, says that the Globe never asked it to modify or substantiate the ad, but simply refused to run it.

"No one at the Globe could ever give me a straight answer as to why the ad was rejected," says Paglia, "nor did they ask for any changes to the text or design, nor did they ask for documentation." Paglia says he had several conversations in which he "specifically asked what could be done to make the ad acceptable to the Globe" without any clear response. When Paglia asked them to put their reasons for rejecting the ad in writing, "again, the reply was silence."

Information in the April 3 "Focus on the Corporation" column by journalists Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman-- which first drew attention to the story-- lends support to Paglia's account. The Globe's Dennis Lloyd reportedly told Mokhiber and Weissman that the ad was rejected simply because "the paper was not comfortable with the way Forest Ethics 'expressed' its views in the ad." In his June 11 column, Thomas claims Mokhiber and Weissman "fanned the flames" of controversy by writing "falsely."

Thomas managed to condescend to readers while failing to seriously investigate their concerns. He didn't blame them for being misinformed, he wrote: "There's no reason, after all, to expect a plumber from Arizona or a farmer in Iowa to comprehend the quirks of publishing a newspaper in Boston."

Thomas went on to chastise readers for addressing their questions to both him and Globe editor Matthew Storin, whom he says has "nothing to do with this controversy." But Thomas did not acknowledge that readers were only contacting Storin because their first letters to Thomas, written in April in response to the first FAIR alert on this issue, had been ignored.

It is troubling that readers had to appeal to an editor to ensure that the ombudsman respond to their concerns on a serious question about advertising policy and editorial hypocrisy. It is even more troubling that the ombudsman's hard-won response misrepresented those concerns.
***
Boston Globe ombudsman Jack Thomas can be reached at 617-929-3020 or ombud (at) globe.com .
***
Read FAIR's original action alerts:
--"Boston Globe's Continued Hypocrisy on Free Speech" (6/5/01), http://www.fair.org/activism/boston-globe-iwf.html
--"Boston Globe's Double-Standard on Free Speech?" (4/9/01), http://www.fair.org/activism/boston-globe-staples.html
See also:
http://www.stopstaples.net
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