by Dan Snapp
Nobody says “quash” anymore. A verb meaning “to suppress or extinguish”, it’s been all but stricken from usage. It’s been replaced by “squash”, which sounds more like what “quash” means.
The word “accountability” is pretty well squashed, too.
Once upon a time, those claiming accountability had actions tied to their words. Something went wrong, somebody stood up, and something got done. It wasn’t always fair, often with some scapegoat sacrificed to protect the higher echelon. But heads most certainly rolled.
Not anymore. Now all you need to be deemed accountable is to say, “I’m accountable.” No penalties, no punishments, no nothing. Say the buck stops at your desk, and we’ll take you at your word and be on our merry way.
On Friday, the Boston Herald’s John Tomase fessed up, admitting his negligent and damaging account of an alleged Super Bowl walk-through tape was skimpy on facts and bereft of journalistic process.
He told us yes, he indeed was accountable, yet he’s not being held to account. He gets to keep his job, keep his Pats beat, and it’s like it never happened. Worse, whichever editors green-lighted the article remain hidden behind Tomase’s skirt – he’s their Pats patsy – and they presumably keep their jobs as well. They get to say, “Oops, our bad,” and that’s the end of it.
If only it were so easy for the Patriots. They violated a league rule, were investigated, and were punished heavily. So what do they do? They cooperate with the investigation, turn in their tapes and materials, apologize to the team, coaches and fans, and later apologize to the rest of the league. They give an explanation for the practice (an explanation that’s remained consistent to this day), and admit they were wrong.
In return for their cooperation, admission, explanation and apologies, every team achievement is declared tainted, and they’re presumed guilty of any charge speculated in print or on the air, from now ’til the end of Bill Belichick’s tenure.
Now Belichick didn’t comply with what the media really wanted: full explanation to each and every Spygate question, contrition for the way he treated them in the past, and a promise to respond to each text message from here on out. But then Tomase didn’t answer our questions either: not revealing his sources, which editors were involved, and the real reason anonymous third-party hearsay was decreed fit for public consumption. Somehow, he gets a pass.
Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, when finally questioned on his Comcast ties and the huge conflict of interest they cast over his Spygate crusade, responded, “I’ve been at this line of work for a long time and no one has ever questioned my integrity.” No reporter thought to follow up with, “Wait a minute; Yes we have.”
So Specter and Tomase get to say “that’s that” and apparently, that’s that. There’s no that’s that for the Pats.
Tomase’s explanation at times revealed the personal angst involved with running such a story. But it was a baser emotion that ruled that day: they didn’t want to get scooped, so they ran it.
It was a story that the editors simply had to know wasn’t vetted properly: anonymous sources describing the action of other anonymous sources, no physical proof of the tape, nor any description of where the tape went, or how it got there. They ignored their duties even more aggressively than Tomase ignored his. So where are their public explanations? Where’s their accountability?
In the end, Tomase appeals for forgiveness, speaking naively of mending relationships, regaining trust and moving forward. Like Shylock pleading for his life in the “Merchant of Venice”, Tomase is hoping everyone forgets the pound of flesh he tried to extract.
Already, the wagons are circling. Some suggest his explanation is more noble than Belichick’s apology. Others praise the courage he displayed in facing the music. All ignore the fact that his mea culpa came only after all other avenues were exhausted. To borrow a quote from the movie “Quiz Show”, Tomase shouldn’t be commended for simply, at long last, telling the truth.
Most damning to the Herald is that they waited until after Matt Walsh’s meeting with the commissioner before coming clean. If Walsh was their source (or source of their source), then either the story wasn’t fully vetted back to Walsh, or Walsh lied. If he wasn’t the source, then they already knew the story was wrong, and were hoping, by some saintly stroke of luck, Walsh would confirm what they were only guessing. Either way, it proves the Herald didn’t give the story its due diligence.
Throughout his explanation, it’s clear Tomase knew the gravity of what he was reporting and that there were repercussions if proven untrue. He stated it was a story he simply couldn’t afford to get wrong. A reporter friend even advised him, “There’s no coming back from this.”
And yet, there he is, back on the beat.
This isn’t a demand for Tomase’s termination; his careless editors should carry the brunt of it. But there should be some price for him as well.
Saying you’re sorry and having to explain yourself, well, that’s a punishment for children. Part of being an adult is facing the consequences of your actions. How else would you be held accountable?