It's no surprise that Peter Quinn has been cleared in the investigation over his travel records. But the story won't be over until the Globe tells its readers why it took it upon itself to instigate this fruitless investigation to begin with.
Note: this is a long blog entry (even for me). It covers three elements: a story by the Boston Globe announcing that Peter Quinn has been cleared; a review of the Globe's role in causing the inquiry into Quinn to be launched; and a letter to the paper's Ombudsman, requesting an inquiry into the propriety of the Globe/s reporting of this story.
The Boston Globe reports today that Peter Quinn has been cleared in an investigation into whether his travel to trade conferences had received proper approval. The article reads in part as follows:
The Romney administration's chief technology officer did not violate conflict-of-interest standards or other rules when he took 12 out-of-state trips to attend conferences during the past year without obtaining the written approval of his boss, according to a review by the governor's budget chief….
Also, Fehrnstrom said that while sponsors of many of the conferences included computer software companies, Quinn had assured Trimarco that none of the firms are currently state vendors or are bidding on state business.
The article also confirms Quinn's statements that his superior, Eric A. Kriss, who was then secretary of administration and finance, had not only verbally approved each of the trips in advance, but had told him that completing any paperwork in connection with the travel was unnecessary, " because he felt that the reason that the regulation had been put in place originally -- the fiscal crisis of the mid-1990s had cut out all state-funded travel -- had expired." It was the completion of this paperwork (only) that had been called into question, and not the travel itself.
As noted in my earlier entry, Massachusetts has an opportunity to showcase its innovation in technology through Quinn's policy proposal, or to attack the messenger as part of an internal squabble. The same point is implied in a quote in today's Globe, and has been made in letters to the Commonwealth by both IBM and Sun Microsystems:
''I knew of every trip that Peter was taking, and I approved them all," Kriss said. ''He was in demand at most of these [conferences] because of the path towards [open format] that we were taking. People in other states were anxious to hear about the Massachusetts experience."
So ends one sordid little story in the long unseemly saga of Massachusetts politics. But the story does not answer all of the questions that this incident raises, some of which may be much more significant than Peter Quinn's travel documentation: what caused this fruitless inquiry to be launched in the first place, and was the reporting of the Globe responsibly conducted?
In fact, the investigation was instigated in response to inquiries to the State Government made by the Globe itself, as it reported on November 26. Both articles were written by Globe staff writer Steven Kurkjian. As noted in my earlier entry, titled City on a Hill or Tammany Hall?, the inquiries were made by Globe staff writer Steve Kurkjian concurrent with moves by Senator Pacheco and others in State Government to curtail Quinn's ability to set rules for proper management of the IT needs of the Executive Agencies for which he is responsible.
The question that remains, is why did the Globe make these inquiries, and did it conduct the degree of investigation prior to reporting the story that is consistent with responsible journalism?
The reason these questions are relevant is because a paper can either be the source of invaluable information that might not otherwise come to light, or it can be used by enemies of a person -- or of a policy -- that are currently under attack. When a controversy is in process, I believe that it is incumbent upon a journalist to be especially cautious regarding sources that can be expected to have an axe to grind, and to subject those allegations to particular scrutiny before proceeding to make them public.
In this case, what did the Globe do before going to press with the story? According to today's story, "phone calls to Kriss's home [in connection with the earlier story] seeking comment at the time were not returned." The story does not say for how long the reporter tried to contact him, or whether it was known whether Kriss was even in town on Thanksgiving weekend, or why the Globe felt that it needed to rush the story to print before making further efforts to learn whether it indeed had a story to report at all. Andy Oram, an O'Reilly Media editor did manage to reach Kriss on the day that the first Globe story came out. Here's what the Globe reporter would have learned if he had held his story until he was able to do the same:
I managed to reach Quinn's former boss, Eric Kriss, which the Globe did not. (Choosing to break a story over Thanksgiving weekend, when protagonists are on vacation and government offices that could answer questions are closed, definitely does not contribute to clarity.) Kriss, whom I know because he's contacted me with a book idea earlier, pointed out that:
- Most of Quinn's trips occurred after Massachusetts made the decision to adopt OpenDocument. There is no possibility that the trips would influence the decision that had already been made.
- While some two-way communication occurs at any conference--and is beneficial to the public--the primary purpose of the trips were to let Massachusetts government tell the rest of the world what it was doing.
- Far from being junkets, these trips were normally squeezed in on weekends around his normal duties and represented a contribution of his free time to the community.
In other words, the reporter would have learned exactly what the investigation would learn: that there had been no impropriety, and that there was no story to report.
The more troubling question is, why did Kurkjian wake up one morning and decide to look into Quinn's travel documentation at all, among all of the other stories and areas of inquiry available to him at that time?
That's something I'd very much like to know. As it happens, the Globe, like a number of other papers, has an ombudsman, and his name is Richard ChacÃ³n. His email address is email@example.com, and his number is (617)929-3020; he also has a separate voicemail number: (617)939-3022.
Today I sent him the following questions by email:
Dear Mr. ChacÃ³n:
I refer you to two stories by Steve Kurkjian, one appearing on November 26 and one on December 9, relating to the travel documentation of Peter Quinn, the CIO of the Commonwealth. Currently, as reported by the Globe in several stories, Mr. Quinn, and a policy that his department, the Information Technology Division, are being criticized by Senator Pacheco, Secretary Galvin and Microsoft, among others. They are also being applauded by a large number of people, companies and governments around the world.
In the first of the two stories I refer to above, titled Romney administration reviewing trips made by technology chief, Mr. Kurkjian reports that he made inquiries into the travel of Peter Quinn which resulted in an investigation being launched by the State into the same topic.
In the second story, titled Review backs trips by technology chief No conflict found for aide, also by Mr. Kurkjian, Mr. Quinn is reported to have been cleared. The article also reports that he was cleared through the testimony of a person, Eric Kriss, who Mr. Quinn had told Mr. Kurkjian prior to November 26 could substantiate his story.
Mr. Kurkjian, however, went to press over the Thanksgiving weekend with a story that was damaging to Mr. Quinn's reputation before meeting with success in reaching Mr. Kriss. Had he done so, as indicated by today's story, he would have found that there was no need for an investigation, and indeed, no story to report at all.
Given the controversy surrounding the possible displacement of Microsoft products by the policy that Mr. Quinn proposed, I believe that it is important for you to address the following questions, in order to determine whether the Globe was used by opponents of Mr. Quinn or his policy to pursue the ends of any such opponents, and if so, whether the Globe followed appropriate journalistic practices in order to avoid this outcome:
1. Did Mr. Kurkjian decide to look into Mr. Quinn's travel on his own, or was this suggested to him by someone?
2. If there was a source, who was that source?
3. If there was a source, was that source inside the Massachusetts government or outside?
4. If the source was inside the government, were the disclosures made to Mr. Kurkjian made in violation of any State policy?
5. If the source was outside the government, did the source have any affiliations that would lead him or her to have an interest in the disparagement of Mr. Quinn?
6. Why did Mr. Kurkjian not wait to run the story until he was able to reach Mr. Kriss, who Mr. Kurkjian knew could confirm or disprove the basis for the story?
7. Was this story, and the investigation behind it, in compliance with the Globe's policies?
Given the importance of the information technology policy that underlies this story, which is literally being watched from around the world and has generated hundreds of articles in the world press, I hope that you will undertake to answer these questions.
By way of disclosure, I have been reporting on this story for several months at my blog, and have reproduced this letter there in an entry that will be read by thousands of visitors over the next several days. The address of that entry is: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/article.php?story=2006012611055755
I am also an attorney, and one of my clients is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems (OASIS), which developed the OpenDocument standard that lies at the heart of the discussions that are going on within the State House. However, I am neither authorized nor acting for, nor am I being compensated by, that organization in connection with this email or any of the entries at my blog.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Andrew Updegrove, Editor
Consortium Standards Bulletin - ConsortiumInfo.org
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ANSI 2005 President's Award for Journalism
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