The Globe Ombudsman Responds

Yesterday I reported on the December 12 promise by the Boston Globe's ombudsman to look into how the story that contributed to the resignation of Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn, and the fact that nothing had been heard since. Last night I got a response.

Yesterday, I posted a long review of the history of the Boston Globe’s reporting of former Massachusetts State CIO Peter Quinn’s travel to conferences, the investigation that followed, and Quinn’s eventual resignation. The specific purpose of the blog entry was to note that the Globe’s ombudsman, Richard Chacon, had promised on December 12, 2005 to review the situation, but had not responded since then to numerous inquiries from me and others regarding what he might have discovered, and when he would report on his investigation.

After posting the blog entry, I sent the link to Mr. Chacon and left voicemail at his office number as a courtesy. My brief email ended with the statement, “I still hope to hear the results of your inquiry, but have been disappointed how things turned out after such a good start.”

I’m pleased to report that I received a response from Mr. Chacon last night. Given that I have been acting as the proxy for many who have called and emailed the ombudsman’s office, here is Mr. Chacon’s email in full:


Greetings and thanks for your note and heads-up on the blog entry. I’ll take a look when I have a moment. I’m sorry you feel disappointed with the status of my inquiry. You should know that the ombudsman’s office fields hundreds of very varied comments, questions and requests for explanations or investigations every week. We (my part-time assistant and I) try our best to respond to as many queries as possible. Some requests are easier or quicker to resolve than others.

Part of the reason for the delay has been my inability to contact Peter Quinn so that I could hear his version of the story. I have spoken with Steve Kurkjian and so far have been convinced that the initial investigation into the story was for sound reasons – that Quinn had not followed proper state procedures for documenting his business travel. Although I do have some lingering questions over why the first story was allowed to run without comment from Eric Kriss, which might have provided a different tone to the initial article, I don’t doubt the initial reasons for looking into the story. I’ve been told by Steve that more stories on a related topic are coming, though I don’t know specifically what those stories are and wouldn’t ask him.

I (and the Globe) have no stake in the debate over Open Source or Windows. You and many of your blog readers clearly do and I understand that. I would invite Steve, whom I’ve cc’d on this reply to offer his own thoughts on the matter for you and your readers.

I will continue to try to contact Quinn. If I make progress on this, I would be happy to let you know. I won’t promise a time frame because, as I’ve learned repeatedly in this job, there are lots of balls to juggle every week.

Richard Chacon

I sent Messrs. Chacon and Kurkjian a lengthy email in response, which reads in part as follows:

Thanks for the response, which is appreciated. I will post it at my blog tomorrow. I know that there are many people who are looking forward to your report. I would also be more than happy to include anything that Steve Kurkjian might like me to include as well.

I do wish to clarify one point that you address in your email: I don’t question that Steve was following up on what he thought was a valid story. What I do question is who gave the tip (if I am right in assuming that this is the case), what that person hoped to accomplish, and whether Steve should have been more cautious given the possibility of ulterior motives. Finally, if it seems that Steve was the victim of a set up, then that is important news that the public is entitled to know – including how it was done, and by whom. I’m not finding fault here, as certainly the same thing will happen to me some day. But I am interested in the facts being made known of exactly what happened.

I am sure that you get many, many complaints, some of which must be laughable and some serious, and that a significant number must require some amount of your time. I hope that you can appreciate the frustration that I and many others have felt in this instance. I do expect that the volume of calls and email that you have received on this story has been unusual, which I would have hoped might have escalated it somewhat in your schedule. One reason that I both called and spoke to your assistant last week, and also sent an email, was to offer you the ability to let those that are following this story know that you were not ignoring them. I can tell you that there has been much spleen vented over the fact that the Globe has not yet publicly addressed this issue, both locally, nationally and internationally. In other words (at least in my view), it’s an issue of importance, both to Peter Quinn and others that are involved as well as to the Globe and its reputation. Again, my interest here is not in making the Globe look bad, but in getting to the bottom of the story – we have much in common. I should also say that I don’t have anything personal at stake in this story either, other than a belief that ODF matters. I’ve worked with hundreds of standards in my career, very few of which mattered to anyone other than engineers. ODF, on the other hand, matters to all of us.

Had I known that you were trying to contact Peter Quinn, I could also have been helpful in that regard. I am copying him on this email, and you can see his new email address above and arrange a time to speak.

Steve, to be clear, I do not think that you intended to do anything inappropriate in following up on what (I assume) was a tip. I am aware of your good reputation. I do suspect, however, that you were set up, and put in a position where your inquiry was used as an excuse to launch an investigation, perhaps leaving you in a position where you felt you needed to go to press…. [This] has also cast a pall over all state CIOs. As an example: at a recent briefing on the new GPL open source license, every state employee but one cancelled out – because none of them wanted to be seen at a meeting that involved open source.

This is a very high stakes game that is being played, involving 40% of Microsoft’s profit. IBM and Sun are betting heavily on the outcome as well. It is also a chance for Massachusetts to shine, or to be seen as a petty backwater, and thus far the events on Beacon Hill have relegated us to the latter. I would have loved to have seen the Globe play a leading role in covering this story for what it is – an important story of innovation that is being watched from all over the world. Instead, it has received little attention from the Globe, and much of that counterproductive. This could have been an opportunity for insightful, award winning reporting rather than scant attention and a story that backfired.

I am happy to hear that you are planning to do more stories, and I would be more than happy to spend as much time with you as you might wish, to fill you in on as much detail as you might want on standards and open source, to point you to all of the resources that are available, and to introduce you to any of the players involved…

No one would be happier than me if the Globe should decide to give serious attention to this story (as I have). I hope that you will dive into it, and that you will feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance.

I heard from Steve this morning, who took me up on my offer, and I’ll be sitting down with him on Friday to provide background on the story from my perspective. At his request, we will not talk about his sources for the original article, nor will I report on our conversations unless we mutually agree to do so.

I am glad that the Globe will be following up on this further. I am one of those that not only believes in a free, vigorous and independent press, but also in the responsibility that goes along with that privileged position. Had this been a story involving a politician whose actions gave rise to a perception that something might not be wholly proper, the press would expect answers to its questions, and would let the public decide whether it thought that the actions were appropriate after all of the facts became public.

In this context, the question isn’t the identity of the specific source, but whether it appears that the Globe allowed itself to be manipulated by that source, and how it acted after that became apparent. I believe that those that rely on the Globe for news, and those that have been the subject of the Globe’s reporting in the past (such as Peter Quinn), or may in the future (such as you or I), are entitled to know the answers to these questions.

I look forward to the Globe providing continuing coverage of this story, to the opportunity to provide what I hope will be useful information to provide additional context for that reporting, and to the eventual report of Mr. Chacon on how the original story about Peter Quinn’s travel came to be written, and whether he concludes that the Globe was taken advantage of to pursue a political agenda.

[To browse all prior blog entries on this story, click here]

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