October 7, 2017

Mariano: Michael Gaffney and the local media dustup

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Worcester Sun

Councilor Michael Gaffney, with his wife, Coreen

Ray Mariano

City Councilor Michael Gaffney has been in the local news a great deal lately – often not for a policy position he has taken, but as a result of his relationship with the local media and specific members of the media. As an ultimate show of contempt, Mr. Gaffney has refused to respond to media inquiries throughout the current election season.

Like President Trump and the national media, local emotions surrounding the Gaffney/media dustup are running pretty high.

The media’s treatment of Gaffney

I cannot remember a more volatile relationship between one city councilor and the collective local media. The first time I ran for mayor, the Worcester Telegram publisher and the lead editorial writer did everything they could to stop me from being elected. Even some of their reporters found their efforts so repugnant that they would concede, when they called to ask a question, that they thought the ensuing story was not fair but they were “told they had to call.”

But there were others in the media who were fair, some even kind, in their treatment of me and my candidacy. And once the election was over everything settled down, and the media was generally fair and reasonable.

Related Mariano: Media must stop whining about Trump

With the exception of local blog Turtleboy Sports, Mr. Gaffney seems to have just about everyone else looking for his scalp. While some of the critical comments are, in my opinion, fair and within the boundaries of reasonable journalism and commentary, some are not.

Commenting on the 2015  local elections, Worcester Telegram columnist Clive McFarlane wrote: “… Mr. Gaffney, who is openly dismissive of criminal justice reform advocates in this city and who seemed inclined to turn the public schools into armed encampments, is now the vice chairman of the City Council. And every time he swings that gavel in the people’s chamber, it will likely resonate among the city’s community of color with the sting of a slave master’s whip.”

The point Mr. McFarlane was trying to make was that Mr. Gaffney wanted more local police in the public schools. I am only guessing he felt the presence of police would disproportionately hurt minority students.

Reasonable people can disagree on the proper role of police in a public school setting. But Mr. McFarlane went way beyond what could be considered reasonable commentary. I cannot think of anything worse. In all my years in public office, that is one of the most outrageous things I have ever seen printed in a respectable newspaper.

More recently, Worcester Magazine reporter William Shaner went out of his way to try to link Mr. Gaffney to a white supremacist.

Shaner wrote: “Quoting a white supremacist is not the best look, especially after one of them rammed a car into a group of people, killing one and injuring 19.” Mr. Shaner went on to refer to an article Mr. Gaffney wrote in the Worcester Independent Leader. Mr. Gaffney used a famous quotation to make his point. “To learn who rules you, find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

Mr. Shaner acknowledged that Gaffney, like most other people, thought this quote was from the French writer/philosopher Voltaire. Whether Voltaire actually made these comments is disputed. He pointed out that, in fact, the quote was more likely from a white supremacist named Kevin Alfred Strom, a despicable person who “denied the Holocaust, advocated for a Neo-Nazi party and pleaded guilty to child pornography possession charge.”

If most people think Voltaire made the remarks, why would the reporter go out of his way to try to link Gaffney to what would have clearly been an honest mistake? Perhaps the better question is this: If someone else made this mistake, someone like Sarai Rivera or Joe Petty, would the reporter have taken the time to point out the discrepancy?

I understand why Michael Gaffney is upset with the local media.

Of course, Gaffney supporters have screamed that his treatment by most local media has been unfair. And many people have taken sides both for and against Mr. Gaffney on the basis of the comments made by the media.

Interestingly, I have spoken to a number of people who do not necessarily support Gaffney, but who think the local media is being unfair to him. “This isn’t news,” said a local voter who has never voted for Gaffney. “I’m no Gaffney fan, but they are ganging up on him and that’s not right.”

The sources of concern

There appear to be two primary sources for the racially tinged complaints against Councilor Gaffney.

The first is Mr. Gaffney questioning a minority-run, local nonprofit agency, Mosaic Cultural Complex, which accepted grant money from the city. Mr. Gaffney said the agency had used its facilities for political purposes, including being involved in a Black Lives Matter protest at Kelley Square. The city conducted an audit of the agency and a serious management issue was found, including lack of proper documentation and reporting.

Second is Mr. Gaffney’s relationship with Turtleboy Sports. A number of local activists have accused the writers at Turtleboy, among other things, of being racist. They complain that by advertising his legal services on the blog, Mr. Gaffney is associating with racists and therefore is one himself.

Gaffney’s response

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Mr. Gaffney’s response to his media critics has been equally as volatile and over-reactive as the people he has disagreements with. He has personally attacked his media critics with a ferocity that we have never seen locally.

He has posted personal comments on Facebook and then, like a child watching the wind take his kite higher and higher, sat back and watched people on social media try to destroy his opponents. And when the wind comes out from under his kite, he blasts new air into social media to keep his kite flying.

In particular, his recent campaign to destroy the editor of Worcester Magazine has been disgraceful. I understand why he is angry, but his response put him right in the middle of the mud pile he was complaining about.

Mr. Gaffney released portions of online conversations the editor, Walter Bird Jr., had with a woman in 2015 saying the texts were part of a campaign of sexual harassment by the editor. Mr. Gaffney threatened to release other texts from two other women. As a result, the editor was suspended by Worcester Magazine and an investigation was conducted. The internal investigation found the exchanges to be consensual and the editor was allowed to return to work.

Instead of going to the appropriate authorities or encouraging the women who complained to him to do so, Mr. Gaffney held the damaging information for months and then released it as an attack when he felt he had been harmed – and in a way that would do the most personal damage to the editor.

Like I said, I think some of the comments made about Michael Gaffney have been unfair and beyond the bounds of responsible journalism. But his response has been equally inappropriate – perhaps more so.

Stop the personal attacks

How should Mr. Gaffney have responded? First, he should never have responded with personal attacks. But personal attacks seem to be his modus operandi.

And second, he should have relied on the good judgment of people watching and reading the news to decide what was, and was not, fair.

I remember in my first campaign for mayor, when I thought the Telegram had gone well beyond the boundaries of a respectable publication. Its attacks on me were vicious. Near the end of the campaign, I had gone through enough. I put together a scathing written response which we intended to distribute to every household in Worcester.

I called my campaign steering committee together and went around the room and asked each person, one-by-one, what they thought we should do. Every one of the 30 or so campaign supporters in the room was as angry as I was. They wanted to hit back and hit back hard.

When everyone was done venting their anger, I tore up the material I had prepared to respond. They were stunned. I explained that if everyone could clearly see that the Telegram had gone way beyond the line, so could all of the voters in Worcester. There was no need to respond. We would keep our hands by our sides and let the good voters do what they knew was right. Personally and politically, it turned out to be the right decision.

Just like our personal focus on President Trump takes away from our focus on the important issues facing our country, the media focusing on Michael Gaffney and calling him names only takes our eye off the ball – safer neighborhoods, cleaner streets and better schools.

Locally, we need to resist the personal attacks that have become so commonplace in our national politics. We need to stay focused on what matters.

Editor’s note: We hope you’ve enjoyed this free preview of Ray’s unique perspective and unmistakable candor. Be sure to check back in coming weeks to find out how you can keep on reading Worcester’s best commentary without becoming a Sun member when the preview ends. Ray can be reached via email at Mariano@worcester.ma.

Raymond V. Mariano is a Worcester Sun columnist. He comments on his hometown and global issues that impact it every Sunday in Worcester Sun.

6 thoughts on “Mariano: Michael Gaffney and the local media dustup

  1. Ray, Thank you for admitting that the media has overstepped their bounds and Clive wrote “one of the most outrageous things I have ever seen printed in a respectable newspaper”.(Although respectable is a loose term here.) Yes, we all realize that a nasty media can come with the territory. The Gaffneys can handle the ridicule of their beautifying efforts in Sarai Rivera’s filthy, garbage-filled district or Williamson’s silly and petty rants about Mike’s hair.
    But, I cannot imagine you, or any respectable leader, continuously being referred to as a racist and just taking it on the chin. It’s a whole new ball game when you bring the ‘R’ into it. And when you have fellow councilors, like Sarai Rivera, lighting the fire, it becomes deeply concerning for our city. Holding onto “damaging information for months and then releasing it when he felt he had been harmed” is right out of the Democrat’s playbook (Hillary ring a bell?) Somehow it’s now abhorrent when a conservatives uses the same tactic.Still doesn’t give Walter a pass. In our current environment, social media gives politicians the opportunity to respond, expose the lies and reveal the truth. The liberal media no longer has the market cornered and they are beside themselves.
    I like that Gaffney fights back. That’s his appeal. He will take on anyone to do what’s right for this city and us taxpayers. He exposed the fraudulent actions and thievery of Mosaic (the Council voted 11-0 in favor of audit) and Rivera’s unscrupulous behavior trying to use public funds to level her dilapitated church. He stood up to Ed Augustus for overtaxing Worcester residents and called out Petty’s wimpiness to call this a sanctuary city. (Yet, it was Petty who called the illegal immigrants ‘uneducated’ ‘morons’ and the media gave him a warm cup of cocoa and a fuzzy blanket. ) We are a city being governed by one man…Rep. Jim McGovern. And it is clear that anyone who dares rock the boat will be attacked viciously and without apology. No doubt these are the same people with a “Hate has no home here” sign on their lawns. How ironic.

    • I don’t think Mr. Gaffney should take it on the chin. He has the Ishtar to defend hims of. Yes, he should respond when he feels he has been wronged. Yes, he should defend himself. But, he should stay away from the personal attacks -the very thing he has accused others of. Rely on voters to see things for what they are.

  2. Mr. Mariano ably expresses how to play by the rules of politics of a bygone era. It can be entertaining to watch Spencer Tracy in “The Last Hurrah” but that story should not be interpreted as a primer on how campaigns are run today in our Commonwealth. Nor should anyone watch “Citizen Kane” as a how to lesson on building a media empire. Both media and politics have coarsened over the years. Vulgarities, lies, and hateful epithets have pushed out all other forms of discourse in both venues.

    While I encourage Mr. Mariano to defend the old chivalry, it is naive to believe it is coming back anytime soon.

  3. Dustup? You jest, if you don’t see a cultural/political war happening, then you’re deaf and dumb. That said.
    Mike Gaffney is the David in the Goliath parable, standing up to the socialists in Worcester. Why is Petty and his gang of spineless liberal apologists so threatened by one person? Worcester as it stands today is run by a bunch of white people who do what they want and lash out at people who try better (for ex., expose the corruption at city hall – recall Mosaic, it was out right theft, Gaffney was called racist) the lives for all in Worcester. Yes, I do believe that.
    I concur with the commenter Collen (Gaffney), blame the McGovern crime family, out to protect its turf and any threat to the existing order is to be dealt with by vicious personal attacks by his henchmen – Petty and his mindless council, and of course, the so called local media.
    The local media, led by the likes Walter Bird/Womag, by anyone’s definition, a dirty old man who knows no boundaries, using his position to entreat female city hall employees into trysts. That is somehow excusable – they’re adults? In another business Bird would have been fired. The same with the T&G’s Williamson and her despicable public attack of a tow truck driver, a good Samaritan – she’s just having fun. If anyone else does it (Turtleboy for example) its despicable racism or hate speech?
    Recall the Williamson’s laughable defense of Petty’s hot mic blunder? McFarlane’s incessant brutal attacks on Gaffney and his wife? Whatever happened to impartiality – they classify it as opinion so they can lie and spin as they please. Recently Williamson publically libeled Gaffney, yet there are no consequences? Just a small print correction makes it okay. What is the T&G thinking?
    If Womag, T&G etc. think they have credibility, then they’re truly delusional. And they call Gaffney an unethical, racist monster out to destroy Worcester’s minorities. The fact is the Worcester media has lost its collective mind, and we all pay for it. Will that ever change? No, and it’s too late, there’s no turning back for them, they don’t care. All credibility has been lost and they don’t care. Local liberals enable them.
    Can someone tell me what exactly has McGovern done in 20 years?

  4. Our Founding Fathers regarded the Media as a vital organ to prevent the excesses of whoever was in power. They did NOT ever refer to or specify one party or another’s train of thought.
    Contrast this philosophy with the Media (Including the T&G.) of today. Largely favoring the Democratic Party because of this Part’s practice of vote buying by the wholesale spending of public funds in the form of free entitlements.
    It appears to me that Gaffney, along with one other person (Lukes) are lone voices crying out for a return to the sanity proposed when our country was founded.

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