Boston Globe columnist suspended after review finds fabrications

Mr Kevin Cullen, who was part of the Boston Globe team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, has been suspended for three months without pay.
Mr Kevin Cullen, who was part of the Boston Globe team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, has been suspended for three months without pay.

NEW YORK • The Boston Globe suspended its columnist Kevin Cullen for three months without pay on Friday after a review found fabricated details and inconsistencies in comments he made in radio interviews and at public appearances about the Boston Marathon bombings.

"Our review leads us to a conclusion that Mr Cullen damaged his credibility," Mr John W. Henry, The Globe's publisher, and Mr Brian McGrory, its editor, wrote in a statement.

"These were serious violations for any journalist and for The Globe, which relies on its journalists to adhere to the same high standards of ethics and accuracy when appearing on other platforms."

Mr Cullen, part of the Globe team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for reporting about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, will work as a general assignment reporter for two months before returning to his role as a columnist.

He will also be barred from giving outside broadcast interviews for six months, after which his appearances will face "heightened editorial scrutiny", the statement said.

Reached by e-mail, Mr Cullen declined to comment on Saturday. In their statement, Mr Henry and Mr McGrory said Mr Cullen had "acknowledged his failures" in an earlier e-mail.

Mr Cullen has been on paid leave since April, when Boston radio station WEEI raised questions about remarks he made after the bombings. The Globe, which has faced a string of recent internal and financial difficulties, conducted two reviews of Mr Cullen's work and remarks.

In one interview the morning after the bombings, Mr Cullen told the story of a firefighter he had spoken with by phone who rescued a seven-year-old girl hurt by the bomb before going back to search for her lower leg, which had been blown off.

The firefighter, a lieutenant in the Boston Fire Department, denied that account and said he did not speak with Mr Cullen by telephone on the day of the bombing. He called the story of him searching for the child's leg "crazy", according to the report.

In another instance from August 2013, Mr Cullen was a panellist at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication when he described an encounter with a deputy fire chief outside a pub the night of the bombing.

Mr Cullen said the chief was on the phone trying to get the lieutenant, who had been with a child killed in the bombings, to come out for a drink.

The report called the story "problematic for several reasons, including the question of whether the situation occurred".

Neither the chief nor the lieutenant recalled speaking to each other by phone, although they said that it was possible. The lieutenant also said he did not meet Mr Cullen until the day after the bombings at a firehouse.

"It is clear from interviews with the firefighters Mr Cullen has cited that the episode simply did not happen," the report said.

Mr Cullen told investigators that he did not remember telling the story - a fact, the report said, that did not change "the inevitable conclusion that the story he told is a complete fabrication".

Ms Shelley Murphy, an investigative reporter at The Globe who has known Mr Cullen for almost 40 years and who wrote a book with him, said Mr Cullen made "embarrassing" mistakes that were unintentional.

"I don't think he fabricated; he screwed up," Ms Murphy said. "He made a mistake and now he is paying dearly for it because in this business, your reputation is everything."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2018, with the headline 'Boston Globe columnist suspended after review finds fabrications'. Print Edition | Subscribe