Thursday, January 10, 2013

Voices of Franklin: Boston Globe Headline Misleads Public in Dookhan Case

The Boston Globe published an article on January 9th titled Ex-chemist's Husband Warned She Was a Liar.

What is the factual basis for such a defamatory headline?

Let us examine closely.

Notice the missing words "government claims" or "allegedly" in the headline. For it is well-established that a large percentage of news consumers will scan headlines quickly to get the gist of a given day's news. And the Boston Globe surely knows this.

More importantly, notice the glaring error within the article itself.

Globe reporter Adrian Ballou states, incorrectly, that Surren Dookhan "has not spoken publicly" about his wife's legal problems.

In fact, Mr. Dookhan has spoken publicly. On August 30th he told Fox 25 that he and his wife maintain her innocence and that they fear she is being scapegoated:
So, rather than relying on an easily searchable first-hand public statement by Mr Dookhan about his wife's situation, the Boston Globe is relying instead on third-hand hearsay provided by Annie Dookhan's accusers.

To demonstrate the corrupting effect of Ballou's reporting error, on the same morning's Fox 25 edition of "Let It Rip," several anchor-pundits were discussing Ballou's article and puzzled hard over why Mr. Dookhan would be sticking by his wife even after telling a prosecutor that she is a chronic liar. It never occurred to any of the Fox 25 newscasters that perhaps the reason why Mr Dookhan is sticking by his wife is because of what he had previously told their very own news station: he believes she is being scapegoated!

Now let's dig a bit deeper. What, exactly, is the source of the information being relied upon by the Globe in reporting Mr. Dookhan's opinion of his wife? Answer: a purported interview that was allegedly given to Dookhan's accusers by a former assistant DA, one George Papachristos, who resigned his position in October despite his insistence -- and the insistence of all his superiors up the entire chain -- that he had done nothing wrong.

Papachristos reportedly claimed that the reason for his October resignation had been merely that he did not want to be a distraction to the investigation. Sorry, George; the distraction horse left the barn the moment the Boston Globe printed your name three months ago, as evidenced now by its being trotted out again and again in the Globe's ongoing conviction of Ms Dookhan in the court of public opinion. Question: Who of any integrity resigns from a career that he reportedly cherished despite having done nothing wrong? And what boss accepts such a resignation? Surely any reasonable observer can see that such a resignation might, itself, raise more than a few eyebrows.

So here we have yet another biased headline about "rogue chemist" Annie Dookhan which relies on the testimony of a demonstrably questionable witness who "believes" that a few texts sent to his cell phone in 2009 "appeared" to have been sent by Mr. Dookhan, all while ignoring a first-hand public statement by Mr. Dookhan himself.

But here's where things get interesting. Another former assistant DA publicly scolded the Globe in October for portraying Papachristos's and Dookhan's purported friendship as inappropriate. Former Norfolk County Deputy District Attorney Matt Connolly wrote in his blog on October 18th:

"There is not one scintilla of evidence that Papachristos did anything wrong that I have seen. I don't know where the Globe gets off labeling his activities as 'unauthorized.' I wonder, unauthorized by whom? It would be nice if the Globe was more specific."
"There is nothing wrong with a prosecutor being friendly or having a relationship with a witness. It is quite common for prosecutors to socialize with witnesses who will testify... It is the nature of the job to develop these friendships..."

Okay, so, according to expert witness Connolly, such relationships are not only routine but essential, provided of course that no inappropriate favors are being exchanged between prosecutor and witness. Thus, in light of Connolly's informed insights, it appears that the state is trying to have it both ways with Papachristos: By absolving him of any wrongdoing on one hand while accepting his resignation on the other, prosecutors, politicians and the media can simultaneously perpetuate the public myth that Dookhan somehow behaved unethically with Papachristos while also shielding him from any legal liability of his own. Heads, the state wins; tails, Annie Dookhan loses.

The Boston Globe's pattern of wheeling out Papachristos's "unauthorized" friendship with Dookhan, rather than highlighting and questioning the uber-convenience of the state's two-faced handling of his weird resignation, frankly smacks of an agenda. Particularly given the timing of Ballou's erroneous story, dropping coincidentally on the same day that Dookhan was to be arraigned for obstruction of justice in two additional counties.

Sadly, it is becoming clearer every day that justice is indeed being obstructed in this case. And the media's flagrant bias and sloppy reportage is a major part of it.

Bottom line: we can either base our understanding of Mr Dookhan's opinion of his wife on his obvious devotion to her and by taking him at his word. Or we can rely on demonstrably false and shamelessly unfair media coverage that relies exclusively on the state's made-for-TV propaganda and the third-hand account of a dubious character whose own behavior raises serious questions.

Rich Aucoin

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