The Boston Globe suspended columnist Kevin Cullen for three months because he “damaged his credibility” with his comments on the Boston Marathon bombing, the Globe‘s publisher John W. Henry and editor Brian McGrory said. However, the Globe said “Cullen did not commit irrevocable damage,” so he will be back on the job later this year.
One of two reviews of Cullen’s work concluded, “We find no evidence to support the allegation that Mr. Cullen intended to mislead readers” by suggesting he was an eyewitness, noting he “never claimed to have been on the scene.” The problem was “his writing style of crafting scenes that imbue him with an omnipresence (a style often used by columnists) could cause a reader unfamiliar with the media saturation coverage of that event, or of Mr. Cullen’s writing style, to conclude that he was an eyewitness to the bombing and its immediate aftermath.”
In April, the Globe put Cullen on paid leave while it reviewed his work after Boston sports radio station WEEI alleged various errors and problems with Cullen’s 2018 column on the five-year anniversary of the Boston marathon bombings, as iMediaEthics reported. Namely, the concern is that Cullen wrote and talked about the Boston marathon bombing as if he were actually present at the scene when the bombs went off, though he was not.
The Globe published a letter to readers from publisher John W. Henry and editor Brian McGrory explaining the actions and review it took. The Globe also published the reviews, explaining the Globe commissioned two “parallel reviews,” explaining:
“The first review, performed by retired AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll and Boston University dean of the College of Communication Thomas Fiedler, is of Mr. Cullen’s column work and broadcast appearances in the aftermath of the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings.
“The second review, conducted by Globe assistant managing editor for projects and investigations Scott Allen, deputy projects editor Brendan McCarthy, and former Globe staff writer Joseph Kahn, is of a sampling of 100 randomly selected columns, checking for authenticity and accuracy.”
The first review found “significant problems,” such as Cullen “details ‘scenes in which he was centrally involved but, to the best of our knowledge, didn’t occur,'” but the second review praised Cullen’s work as largely “diligent” and fact-checked. “The problematic assertions made by Mr. Cullen in broadcast interviews never appeared in the pages of The Boston Globe, which explains at least in part why editors did not learn about them until five years later, when they were publicly raised. But Mr. Cullen did make a key mistake in his first-day column that was never corrected – a violation of Boston Globe standards and practices,” the Globe said.
The first review identified errors in a 2013 column, “misstatements made by Mr. Cullen in media interviews and panel comments in the hours, days and months after the April 15 attack,” a “writing style, common among columnists, of relying on unnamed sources,” and editors not maintaining accountability and accuracy.
According to the Globe, Cullen will be on unpaid suspension for three months, then return for two months as a general assignment reporter, and then become a columnist again. “He will be barred from outside broadcast interviews for the first six months after his return, and subsequent appearances will be given heightened editorial scrutiny,” the statement said.
iMediaEthics has written to the Globe and Cullen for their response to the reviews.
UPDATE: 1:22 PM EST