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Silber Slams the Media (Still)

It's been 15 years since John Silber ran for governor in a campaign during which the press eagerly chronicled his "Silber shockers" and the candidate happily made the media the enemy. (A healthy number of journalists covering that campaign were graduates of Boston University's College of Communication or its forerunner, the School of Public Communication.) It is conventional wisdom that Silber's improbable dark horse candidacy for governor -- which came stunningly close to success -- was ultimately done in by his snappishness during a televised interview with Channel 5's much beloved news diva Natalie Jacobson .

Now, in a Boston magazine interview , the retired BU president makes it clear that his smoldering anger toward the media and his resolutely adversarial view of journalists have not abated a bit.

Some noteworthy examples:

1) When asked about the negative reaction to the news that BU had to pay $1.8 million in a walk-away buyout to former NASA administrator Daniel Goldin, who had been selected as university president, Silber responded: "The fallout wasn't terrible at all. That has been manufactured by the press."

2) In a rambling anecdote, Silber said that a 1971 editorial board meeting with the Boston Globe, after which he was told that he had offended editor Tom Winship and the owning Taylor family by giving short shrift to Harvard, poisoned his relationship with New England's most powerful media outlet for good.

"Prior to that, the Globe had been very kind to me and very favorable to me," Silber said. "They had published about two-thirds of my inaugural address, and everything changed after that. And this has been a constant drumbeat ever since."

Now mind you, this is an event that occurred 34 years ago. Tom Winship is dead and the Globe is on its fourth post-Winship editor. The Taylor family sold the paper to the New York Times Co. a dozen years ago. But Silber still believes that meeting doomed him on the paper's pages. Wow.

3) When asked about the U.S. News & World Report rankings that have BU ranked well behind schools like Tufts and Boston College, Silber's response, of course, is to blame the media first and then make it about him personally.

"So Boston University has, as far as the press is concerned, been given the shaft over and over again," he says. "It's like the way in which I've been characterized, as some kind of social conservative. That was [ Globe education writer Marcella] Bombardieri's latest pronouncement. This comes from the laziness of reporters who don't bother to check what they've seen in print, or whether it's accurate or not."

4) Later, discussing his reputation as something of a social conservative Silber declares: "When you're dealing with the press, and you have been mischaracterized by the press year after year, sometimes it seems that the press ought to be interested in the facts instead of in the lazy habit of simply repeating any falsehood that they can find in a previous issue of the newspaper."

5) Finally, he had this to say about the fateful Jacobson interview: "Well, that interview certainly didn't do me any good. I thought it was dishonest on her part, because Jacobson went after my children very hard in about the first 20 minutes of that interview, and that made me angry and put me off. I challenged her to show the entire tape on television to let an audience judge it, but she obviously didn't do it. I didn't think it was a fair interview."


I don't think I can recall another figure in public life who has carried such an open and angry grudge against journalists for so long. But it also makes me a little sad when you think about how much fun it would have been to cover a Silber administration on Beacon Hill.
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