When Covering Accusations and Exonerations, the Media Often Has Two Different Speeds

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Almost three months ago, the Boston Globe published an article on the first page of its Metro section on the forced resignation of Michael Festa, president of the Carroll Center for the Blind, Newton, ("Board ousts Carroll Center for the Blind's president," 3/18/11).

The article said Festa, a former state rep from Melrose and Gov. Deval Patrick's first Secretary of Elder Affairs, had been "abruptly forced out" during an emergency meeting of the center's board of directors two nights before "amid issues about his performance and an internal investigation into whether he harassed a visually-impaired female employee..."

All the damaging information in the report came from two unidentified, nebulous "officials," who talked to the Globe "only on the condition of anonymity because it involved a personnel matter..."

According to the Globe, the nameless duo "...said that an outside lawyer was hired to investigate concerns over inappropriate behavior by Festa and that the lawyer made a roughly 90-minute presentation to the board," which "focused on two incidents, both of which involved Festa touching female workers, the officials said. The first was allegedly at a school holiday party in December, and the second involved a witness seeing Festa embrace the visually-impaired worker in the basement of the school, the officials said."

The harassment claim caught Festa by surprise. He was quoted in the 3/18/11 Globe as saying, "That's totally out of the blue. I can assure you on my father's grave I've never heard any of that."

When contacted later by a Melrose publication, Festa emphatically denied harassing anyone at the Carroll Center. "I agreed to resign -- not having any knowledge when I gave that statement, and sent that letter of resignation by email -- that any discussion about harassment had occurred at that (board) meeting," he told "Wicked Local Melrose," the online arm of the Melrose Free Press. "Anything that had to do with harassment of any kind I totally dispute...(the allegations of harassment) are baseless, and the human resources director (at the Carroll Center) has assured me that she has never heard any such allegations from any employee."

He added: "I am going to vigorously contest, and deal with, what I consider to be a very slanderous and terrible way I've been treated."

On May 18, the Carroll Center released the following statement:

"On March 18, 2011, the Boston Globe published an article concerning the March 17, 2011 resignation of Michael Festa as president of the Carroll Center for the Blind that included inaccurate and misleading statements regarding certain deliberations of our Board of Directors on March 16, 2011. The Carroll Center and its Board of Directors deplore the unauthorized disclosure regarding the Board meeting made by at least one of our Board members.

"Most importantly, the article did not fairly describe the Board's deliberations of March 16 regarding a report made to the Board during only one portion of the meeting. As a result the article was very unfair to Mike Festa in that it presented a distorted picture of the various considerations that led the Board to request his resignation.

"In particular, the Board wishes to make clear that no employee or service provider to the Carroll Center, or any other person, has complained that Mr. Festa subjected them to any unwanted or inappropriate contact or harassment. No finding of harassment or improper contact was made by the Board. At the time that Mr. Festa informed our Chairman of his resignatioon, it was made clear to Mr. Festa that our Board had not determined that any cause for termination existed under his employment contract.

"We were stunned by the unauthorized disclosure of matters intended to be discussed in a confidential manner by the Carroll Center Board. The Carroll Center respects and appreciates Mr. Festa's efforts and many positive contributions during his tenure as President, and the restraint and dignity he has shown in addressing this most unfortunate situation. We wish him well in his future endeavors."

Twenty-two days ago, the story that Festa had acted inappropriately was definitively refuted, ("No finding of harassment or improper contact was by made by the board"), and so far, there's been not a word in the Boston Globe about that.

They're very busy on Morrissey Boulevard; I'm sure they'll get to it soon.

Reflecting on his exoneration in "Wicked Local Melrose," Festa said, "I've come to realize over these last few months many profound things: how truly fragile our reputations can be, the loyalty of family and friends, the importance of faith, and the knowledge that truth will eventually find a way to express itself."

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