May 28, 2020
By Jeremy C. Fox
The executive editor of the Washington Post reflected on the values underlying journalism, the threats the profession faces amid a global rise of authoritarianism, and his years leading The Boston Globe in a speech Thursday during Harvard University’s online commencement.
Martin Baron, who was Globe editor from 2001 to 2012 before taking the Post’s top newsroom job, said the coronavirus pandemic that forced Harvard to cancel its traditional commencement ceremonies has helped demonstrate that providing accurate information to the public is absolutely vital.
“Facts and truth are matters of life and death. Misinformation, disinformation, delusions, and deceit can kill,” Baron said. “Here is what can move us forward: Science and medicine. Study and knowledge. Expertise and reason. In other words, fact and truth.”
Baron had been scheduled to receive an honorary degree, but that has been postponed until the university hosts an in-person commencement for the class of 2020 at a date yet to be determined, a Harvard spokesman said.
More than 7,900 undergraduate and graduate students across the Ivy League university’s dozen schools received their degrees virtually from university president Lawrence Bacow during the one-hour ceremony.
Baron reflected at length on the beginnings of the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese, which led to systemic change in the global Catholic Church.
“A priest had been accused of abusing as many as 80 kids. A lawsuit alleged that the cardinal in Boston at the time knew about the serial abuse, didn’t do anything about it — and repeatedly reassigned this priest from parish to parish, warning no one, over decades,” said Baron, 65, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “The archdiocese called the accusations baseless and reckless.”
The Globe’s investigation, the subject of the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” revealed a coverup of widespread abuse in the church and held the powerful to account — a central purpose of journalism, Baron said.
After the Globe’s reporting on abuse in the church, the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a priest who had sounded an early alarm on abuse by clergy, wrote thanking Baron for the newspaper’s reporting.
“It is momentous, and its good effects will reverberate for decades,” Doyle wrote, according to Baron.
Without naming President Trump or any other political figure, Baron criticized those who seek to discredit journalists, saying attacks on the news media are a tool of authoritarians.
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