It’s not often that the Globe makes the Herald look restrained, but it happened earlier this month. On November 5, Boston’s broadsheet ran a front-page, above-the-fold story on a truce between the city’s H-Block and Heath Street gangs. Both Suzanne Smalley, the Globe’s cops reporter, and Michele McPhee, her Herald counterpart, had been aware of the truce for several weeks, but were asked by the Boston Police Department (BPD) not to publicize it. The Herald complied; the Globe didn’t.
The result — 2 GANGS FIND REAL PEACE, IN SECRET: OFFICIALS’ SUMMIT HALTS BLOODSHED — was a 1500-word opus filled with exquisite detail. For example, Smalley’s story identified the place where the truce was finalized (the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum), the organizational methods used to build support for the cease-fire, even the dialogue that immediately preceded the agreement:
“An H-Block leader, who had been shot a few days earlier, said, ‘It’s time to throw up hands,’ street lingo for an offer of peace. . . . His counterpart from Heath responded simply, ‘Then it’s done.’ ”
Afterward, Globe readers learned, members of the two gangs shared Cokes and pepperoni pizza.
It was a feel-good piece — with one notable exception: Elaine Driscoll, the BPD’s spokeswoman, stated that then-acting commissioner Al Goslin wouldn’t comment because of the possible consequences of publicity. “Commissioner Goslin believes that it is premature to engage in public discussion about this ambitious initiative,” Driscoll said at the time. “Disclosing details is potentially detrimental to the mission, which is decreasing gun violence on the streets of Boston.”
Fast forward to November 28, when Jahmol Norfleet, an H-Block leader and one of the architects of the truce, was fatally shot in Roxbury. Norfleet’s murder remains under investigation, and there’s currently no evidence linking Smalley’s story to Norfleet’s death. Still, given the BPD’s initial plea for silence and Driscoll’s prediction that “[d]isclosing details” might be “detrimental to the mission,” it’s fair to ask whether the Globe did the right thing in publishing Smalley’s scoop.
According to Foon Rhee — the Globe’s city editor, and the editor in charge of the November 5 story — the answer is an unequivocal yes. “We don’t make a decision to run stories like this lightly,” Rhee tells the Phoenix. “I was having conversations with more senior editors as late as the Saturday before the story ran” — i.e., November 4. Ultimately, Rhee says, the story was published for two reasons. First, Globe sources who’d been involved in hammering out the truce were comfortable with it being printed. Second, the paper expected the truce to be made public at some point in the relatively near future.
Rhee also notes that Smalley’s story omitted the names of Norfleet and other gang principals, and that the truce — while news to the general public — was already common knowledge on the street. “Everyone who was directly involved with it knew it was going on,” Rhee concludes. “The only people who didn’t know it was going on were our readers.”