Charles Taylor and The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe published what seemed to be a solid article on Jan. 17, alleging that former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor had been a U.S. intelligence informant. The article was based on a Freedom of Information Act request and stated that:

After a quarter-century of silence, the US government has confirmed what has long been rumored: Taylor, who would become president of Liberia and the first African leader tried for war crimes, worked with US spy agencies during his rise as one of the world’s most notorious dictators.

The disclosure on the former president comes in response to a request filed by the Globe six years ago under the Freedom of Information Act. The Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s spy arm, confirmed its agents and CIA agents worked with Taylor beginning in the early 1980s.

The story goes into methodology to some extent, stating their reasons for drawing that conclusion, etc.

Yesterday, however, the paper issued an editor’s note backing down almost completely.

A journalism professor professor of mine, Dan Kennedy, wrote up the case in more detail on Media Nation. If there’s anything fishy about this case, one of Kennedy’s readers, ‘dm wilson’ summed it up in a comment:

it’s a troubling editor’s note. don’t you think Bender would have had to have this conversation with his editors before the piece was published?

Yes. Without a doubt, an investigative story that the Globe knew would make a worldwide splash would be thoroughly checked out for holes and flaws, but the editor’s note seems to imply the paper did no such fact-checking.

Either the Globe made an extreme oversight, giving free reign to a rogue journalist or they allowed an outside source undue influence over their editorial process. Both scenarios seem unlikely.

It’s a strange case, as Kennedy says.

Bender is a good and careful reporter, and it seems pretty clear that there are other shoes yet to be dropped. The only thing we can say for certain at this point is that it’s all way too weird to come to any conclusions.

Disclosure: I spent the fall of 2011 working for boston.com, the Globe’s free website. I’m no longer on the company’s payroll.

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