Editorial: WoMag Controversy Could Have (And Should Have) Been Handled Differently

by | Sep 5, 2017 | Politics | 0 comments

Most people would agree that sexual harassment is not something that should be taken lightly.

In light of the release of a Facebook message exchange that allegedly took place several years ago between Worcester Magazine Editor-in-Chief Walter Bird, Jr. and at least one unnamed woman, the alleged act of sexual harassment was followed by several lacking responses.

It’s in our opinion that everyone involved in the exposing and aftermath of the allegations could have handled each particular situation differently, with more earnest and, quite frankly, with more concern for the woman or women involved.

Editorial: WoMag Controversy Could Have (And Should Have) Been Handled Differently 1

The controversy started when City Councilor-At-Large Michael T. Gaffney perceived a personal attack from Worcester Magazine [WoMag] in a Worcesteria column by reporter Bill Shaner suggesting that Gaffney intentionally quoted white supremacist Kevin Alfred Strom when Gaffney posted an image in his column at The Worcester Independent Leader with a quote by Voltaire reading “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

Although this quote is typically attributed to Voltaire, it was conceived by Strom. In response to Shaner’s column, Gaffney announced on Facebook that he would release information relative to a claim that Bird used his position at WoMag for “improper purposes” with at least three different women.

Gaffney released the information and a series of screenshots of the alleged messages between Bird and one woman to local blog Turtleboysports.com. The blog published the screenshots, an email from Gaffney describing the alleged messages between Bird and the woman, and a series of jabs at Bird.

Since then, Turtle Boy’s blog has been viewed more than 2,200 times in nearly three weeks.

In that same amount of time, there has been a shockingly inadequate response from Worcester Magazine, and not a single statement issued from Walter Bird confirming or denying the accusations made by an elected official.

Beyond a brief Publisher’s Note from Worcester Magazine publisher Kathy Real buried away in the magazine’s print edition on August 24, and a recent editorial detailing from Shaner last week,the only correct course of action taken place in all of this mess is Bird being placed on leave while the publisher can investigate the allegations.

Both Real and Shaner stated that Worcester Magazine is taking the allegations seriously. However, it’s too bad Real didn’t think to publish her note on the magazine’s website where it could be shared on social media instead of waiting a week to run it in the weekly print edition.

And it’s a shame that Shaner — who has only been with Worcester Magazine a few months — is put in the unfortunate position of answering for these allegations for the company while Bird is on leave.

This controversy should be a learning experience for each and every media outlet staff in Worcester from publisher to copywriter, editor to reporter. It’s certainly a learning experience for our staff.

If ThisWeekinWorcester were in existence on Aug. 17, and if Gaffney had come to us with the information he shared with Turtle Boy, we would have demanded to have seen the rest of the conversations between Bird and the other women with a promise of confidentiality and anonymity for the sake of the women involved.

Typical journalistic protocol would require a frank response from Gaffney as to why sharing this information was important and necessary to him and asked him if he felt this was the type of conduct that falls in the peripherals of an attorney and elected official.

An immediate interview with Bird should’ve been requested.

These accusations should have been investigated to the point of determining whether they real or not and whether they needed to be public knowledge. Either way, Bird should be given the opportunity to — and want the opportunity to — address them.

The input from women’s centers, counselors, attorneys and doctors on both real and false accusations of sexual harassment would be and should be integral sources of information if these claims are substantiated.

Most importantly, any media outlet with this information should have addressed the real dangers of sexual harassment, learned at what point messages like Bird’s alleged ones would be considered sexual harassment, and explore the ease in which malicious and unsavory messages are sent to our smartphones and over social media.

We hope that’s what Worcester Magazine is doing at this very moment and that their investigation is completed soon.

The longer Worcester Magazine stays quiet on this subject, the more likely their readers forget that allegedly three women felt — at one time or another — unsafe and mistreated by their Editor-in-Chief.

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