It's hard to think of a more dead-serious story than a plot to assassinate John Boehner.
The FBI doesn't mess around. And the bureau says that Ohio bartender Michael Hoyt threatened to kill the House speaker in one of two ways: shooting him to death or poisoning his drink. Hoyt, who served Boehner drinks for five years, blames him for the loss of his job, and also for Ebola and who knows what else.
How on earth does this chilling report about a man who's been treated for a psychotic episode lead to media mockery?
But that's precisely what happened at the Boston Globe's website, Boston.com.
Writer Victor Paul Alvarez treated this as an occasion for levity, writing:
"Stories about Boehner's drinking have circulated for years...Had he been poisoned as planned, perhaps his pickled liver could have filtered out the toxins."
Get it? Boehner, who likes his Merlot, must be a drunk, and the idea of his being poisoned is kinda funny, ain't it?
How does bile like this get published?
It tarnishes all the mainstream media reporters who try to be fair, deepening the impression that journalists secretly hate Republicans and laugh at their misfortune.
Fortunately, the Globe apologized after Boehner's office complained. But the damage had been done.
Alvarez, an associate editor, tweeted yesterday that he is out of a job:
"The story I wrote was awful. Tasteless. Mean. Bosses felt it was inexcusable. They fired me."
Here's the editor's note posted on the website:
"Last night, an opinion piece was published on Boston.com that has since been adjusted to what you'll see below. The original column made references to Speaker Boehner that were off-color and completely inappropriate. It reflected the opinions of one of our writers; what it did not reflect, by any standards, were the site's collective values. Rather than remove any reference to it or pretend it didn't happen, we are handling with transparency and self-awareness. We are sorry, and we will do better. --Corey Gottlieb, General Manager, Boston.com."
Mike Sheehan, chief executive of Boston Globe Media Partners, told his paper: "It's very difficult to hit the epicenter of tasteless, mean-spirited, and humorless in one fell swoop."
I couldn't have said it better myself. I don't understand how a journalist thinks that or writes it, and how a major-league news outlet allows it to be posted without somebody raising a red flag.
This isn't the first major screw-up by Boston.com, as Boston media critic Dan Kennedy reports:
"In December with Harvard Business School professor (and lawyer) Ben Edelman, who was revealed to have sent a series of legalistic, threatening emails to a Chinese restaurant owner because he'd been overcharged by $4 when he placed an online order.
"The story went sour after the site published and then pulled a post falsely claiming that Edelman had sent a racist email. It then turned out that deputy editor Hilary Sargent, the lead reporter on all things Edelman, was selling T-shirts online making fun of him, which led to her suspension."
The Chinese restaurant story had been a viral hit for Boston.com, but staffers pushed it way too hard.
The Boehner blunder is more than an embarrassment. It's a window into a media mindset that is very ugly indeed.