Seems The Irish Times Is Not Reviewing Kevin Cullen’s Work

Earlier this week the hardworking staff noted the rumpus around Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen’s shifting coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Central to the issue is Cullen’s dual versions of the role he says Dorchester firefighter Sean O’Brien played in the immediate aftermath of the bombings. First there was this description Cullen gave to the BBC the following day.

“I just got off the phone, not long ago, with a young firefighter I’m very concerned about. He’s a young kid, he’s a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he told me what he saw today was worse than anything he saw in a warzone. He carried a young girl who had a brother killed at the scene, I actually know the father, he just ran the race today … and the daughter, the girl, my friend Sean the firefighter picked her up and he carried her to an ambulance and he said when he put her down he realized her leg was missing. And he went back to the scene and he told me he crawled on his legs and his hand and his knees trying to find her leg and he couldn’t find it.”

Several days later, however, Cullen told a different tale in a piece for The Irish Times.

Seán saw one of his friends from Dorchester, Bill Richard, standing there in shock. Bill and his wife, Denise, had brought their three children, nine-year-old Henry, eight-year-old Martin and six-year-old Jane, to watch the runners cross the finishing line across from Boston Public Library. It is a great family tradition, something done by thousands of families. They were standing in front of what police believe was a backpack containing a pressure cooker loaded with ball bearings and nails when it exploded.

“I can’t find Denise!” Bill cried.

Seán kneeled down over Martin, a beautiful boy who was always kind to Seán’s daughter, his third-grade classmate at the local charter school.

“When I looked at young Marty,” Séan told me, “I knew he was gone.”

WEEI’s Kirk Minhane said last week that he had talked to Sean O’Brien and O’Brien denied the first version and wouldn’t comment on the second.

Regardless, when The Irish Times reported earlier this week that the Globe had placed Cullen on paid administrative leave, we wrote to both the Times editor and the paper’s newsdesk.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am a Boston-based media analyst and author of the Campaign Outsider blog.

I just posted this to the site, documenting discrepancies among Kevin Cullen’s multiple versions of the Boston Marathon bombings, from the Boston Globe to the BBC to The Irish Times :

As you reported on Monday, the Globe has put Cullen on administrative leave “while an examination of his coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings is conducted.”

Is a similar examination occurring at The Irish Times?

Thank you for your consideration . . .

We also wrote to the Press Council of Ireland and Office of the Press Ombudsman.

We haven’t heard back from anyone.

Your conclusions go here.

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5 Responses to Seems The Irish Times Is Not Reviewing Kevin Cullen’s Work

  1. telegonus says:

    I don’t know what to think. Or rather, I think but not sure if I can come to any conclusion about this other than the fact that Kevin Cullen appears to have a vivid imagination. However that may be, the rules of journalism, such as there are or ever were any, seem to have changed over the years. Words like professional and unprofessional have crept into the vocabulary of those who teach and write about journalism, and while I think it’s a good thing to have standards maybe there ought to be clear-cut distinctions between journalists whose jobs are basically those of reporters of news and those whose work consists more of opinion and interpretation. It seems to me that Kevin Cullen falls more or less into the latter category, thus he embellishes, doesn’t even tell a story the same way twice, or he didn’t this time.

    Go back maybe half a century after such an event as the Marathon bombing and Cullen might turn up in a bar somewhere named after a country in Ireland,–the Galway Tap, say–and guys who know him and his work would be patting him on the back with hearty praise, saying things like “good work, Kevin” and “my wife loved the piece you wrote”. There was less fact checking then; and even those aware of some discrepancies between what a journalist wrote and what really happened would likely cut him some slack for dramatic effect, as in “it should have been that way”. I know this happened with sports news, can’t say for sure about other matters, just guessing. In any event, this subject is worth bringing up now. I know that the expression “he never let facts get in the way of a good story” was common in the past; but about journalists, newspaper reporters?

  2. Bob Gardner says:

    The Globe once claimed to have a policy of not letting its writers report on subjects if they had expressed an opinion on the subject. I would say that in his writings about Gerry Adams (in the Globe) Cullen violated that policy rather freely. That is, I would say that except that I suspect that the Globe never had such a policy in the first place, but pretended they did in order to appease Martin Peretz, who went after one of the Globe’s interns.

    • Campaign Outsider says:

      Well don’t leave us hanging, Bob – what’s the rest of the Peretz story?

      • Bob Gardner says:

        The rest of the story is on this blog ,actually. Two posts from 2010 “Peretz Blasts Boston Globe” and “The Boston Globe’s Israeli Peretz-el”.

  3. Campaign Outsider says:

    Thanks, Bob. You’re a better Campaign Outsider than I am.

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