The Tyranny of the Meek

So are his two contemporaries. And just as Carr’s never-ending hack-a-thon wears thin, so, too, do the Kleenex-exhausting Lifetime movies that double as the Globe‘s metro columns. Mixing it up would be grand—perhaps hammer the cause as regularly as the paper weeps for the effect. But the former Globie who fondly remembers Cullen’s mock columns says, "I just don’t think the paper wants it."

A frightening thought. One current Globe employee takes that thinking a step further, adding that editor Marty Baron isn’t a larger-than-life personality, and he doesn’t like his columnists to be, either. "[The Phoenix] did that piece saying this is Marty Baron’s newspaper," the staffer says. "I think he likes quiet. I think you’re seeing a reflection of him, for better or worse."

Baron balks at that suggestion, saying he welcomes aggressive columns. Baron also says he doesn’t intervene one way or the other with his columnists, and Cullen and Walker confirm they’re free to write what they please.

"Some people think what makes a good column is the latest outrage," Walker says. "Eileen [McNamara] was a good example of that. Her columns were mostly about what outraged her…. None of this has anything to do with Marty. He doesn’t walk over to everyone’s desk and tell them how they should do their jobs every day. And my God, wasn’t Marty the editor when Steve Bailey was a columnist?"

Fair enough. But Bailey was predisposed to swagger and brawling. The remaining columnists appear less naturally inclined to adopt the same edgy gait, which is why the editors need to prompt them to do so. In the Globe’s current lineup, there is no McNamara to balance the McGrorys. No one doubts that Baron likes hard-hitting investigative work—the Spotlight Team’s various successes (from exposing the Catholic Church to taking down local repo men) are evidence of that. But collectively filleting institutions is a different proposition from tasking your columnists to pick individual fights.

Ultimately, how its columns shrank in stature matters less than the Globe’s growing them back to an appropriate heft. We need the Globe’s columnists to speak to us and for us about the big issues. Actually fighting City Hall—not to mention Beacon Hill—would be a fine start. Piggybacking off what’s reported in the paper wouldn’t hurt. Fewer nods to sickly children and the Irish would help. And please, above all, leave the sickly Irish children be.

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