Commentary: Once More, Back to the Little Shop of Horovitz
The strategic silences in the Boston Globe’s piece on the legacy of Israel Horovitz are disturbing.
By Bill Marx
Say what you like about the Boston Globe‘s Arts Section, it is consistent. Over twenty years ago the newspaper stonewalled my Boston Phoenix reports on Israel Horovitz’s sexual harassment at the Gloucester Stage Company. Now the paper’s cluelessness continues in a March 30 article by Don Aucoin (“At Gloucester Stage, a reckoning with Israel Horovitz’s legacy”) that explores the fallout at the company after the New York Times‘s November scoop, which detailed extensive instances of alleged misbehavior by Horovitz. Some of the story’s haplessness stems from its concern with airbrushing the past in order to help Gloucester Stage clean off the stain of Horovitz. And that approach is understandable — who wants the troupe to close up shop? But the strategic silences in Aucoin’s piece suggest something disturbing as well.
First, let’s set the record straight and deal with the Globe‘s penchant for pettiness. The editorial powers-that-be are angry at me because I have proclaimed an inconvenient truth regarding the newspaper’s lame response to my reports of sexual harassment at Gloucester Stage in 1993. The paper published two pieces at the time that I wrote up the accusations of abuse, talked to some of the same women I did, and ended up, for all intents and purposes, taking Horovitz’s side. (I have posted transcriptions of the Globe‘s articles, so please take a look, particularly at the paper’s decision to let him present his defense without including any voices to the contrary.)
This journalistic embarrassment was compounded when the NYTimes came along decades later and investigated a story the Globe had repressed and/or forgotten. A revealing anecdote: a woman Aucoin questioned for the March 30 article told me he asked her why she thought the Gloucester Stage board hadn’t done anything in 1993. She told him she didn’t know — and then asked Aucoin why the Globe hadn’t done anything at the time, given what they knew. He didn’t respond, she said. Judging by this evasive piece, the Globe never will, at least in public. I wasn’t interviewed for any of the Globe’s Horovitz pieces because the paper has no interest in hearing my side of the story. The Globe even refuses to mention that I wrote the articles for The Boston Phoenix. (The professional report in the NYTimes not only gave me writing credit, but the reporter talked to me. I was even quoted.)
But so what? All the relevant documents have been transcribed and are available on The Arts Fuse, including transcriptions of my original Boston Phoenix articles. I guess what bothers me is the Globe report’s lack of curiosity when it comes to examining its central contention:
But now, as it prepares for its 39th season, Gloucester Stage faces a double-edged challenge: to construct an artistic identity that is independent of Horovitz while confronting questions about whether theater executives looked the other way when it came to his alleged sexual misconduct.
They insist they did not, and there is no evidence that in recent years Gloucester Stage failed to act on complaints of sexual harassment or abuse by Horovitz. But the theater’s leaders over the years could not be described as proactive in guarding against the possibility of misbehavior by Horovitz …
Most of the people Aucoin quotes are connected with the Gloucester Stage and are interested in assuring the company’s future. We are given protestations of ignorance and second thoughts, but little else regarding how knowledge of Horovitz’s behavior was dealt with over the decades. Case in point: as recently as last year, an actress invited to a local theater awards ceremony asked if another honoree, Horovitz, was going to attend. His presence would make her very uncomfortable, to the point that she would stay home. A critic contacted a representative of the Gloucester Stage and asked if Horovitz would be going. The reviewer explained the situation and was informed, quite belligerently, that anyone daring to talk about Horovitz and the sexual harassment charges made in the ’90s would be sued. (I would have told Aucoin this story — if he had bothered to contact me.)This journalistic embarrassment is compounded by the fact the NYTimes came along decades later and investigated a story the Boston Globe had repressed and/or forgotten.Click To Tweet
Aucoin does not seem to have been interested in seriously investigating the ways Horovitz’s aberrant behavior might have been protected and/or excused over the years. For example, his piece on the dramatist’s ‘legacy’ doesn’t deal with the Globe’s ‘proactive’ decision (perhaps because of fear of litigation?) to choose amnesia and conveniently forget the women’s accusations against the playwright. In what ways was the newspaper’s responsibility different from that of the Gloucester Stage’s board? Compounding the injury: no doubt to the delight of the Gloucester Stage board, the Globe’s arts pages routinely huzzahed Horovitz — they were a lucrative publicity pasture for a little sacred cow on the North Shore.
But enough about the Globe‘s hypocrisy. Aucoin’s article gives me an opportunity to give thanks and to offer some advice to the theater community. This blast from the past proved to me that there is always value in planting seeds of truth. They may be trampled underfoot at first, but you never know. My deep thanks for the assistance of Skip Ascheim as well as the brave women who spoke to me in 1993. And kudos to the Boston Phoenix, which backed up a theater critic turned reporter, that told me not to worry about Horovitz’s huffing and puffing about suing me and the paper. We desperately need alternative publications that encourage serious journalistic coverage of the arts, rather than mainstream puff.
As for counsel, I want to repeat, with emphasis, what I wrote in an earlier column in which I examined why it took so long to take action regarding Horovitz’s despicable behavior. Does anyone (even the Boston Globe) honestly believe he is a one-off, that there are no other cases of sexual harassment to be found in Boston theater today? Given the newspaper’s weak-kneed coverage of Horovitz — then and now — I suggest people take their stories and tips to Jessica Bennett, gender editor at the NYTimes. A Boston University graduate (she had a gig as a crime reporter for the Boston Globe), she is young, professional, dogged, and knowledgable. It was a pleasure assisting her on the Horovitz story — I sensed the arrival (finally) of a generation of reporters and editors that are not dedicated to perpetuating silence.
Bill Marx is the editor-in-chief of The Arts Fuse. For over three decades, he has written about arts and culture for print, broadcast, and online. He has regularly reviewed theater for National Public Radio Station WBUR and The Boston Globe. He created and edited WBUR Online Arts, a cultural webzine that in 2004 won an Online Journalism Award for Specialty Journalism. In 2007 he created The Arts Fuse, an online magazine dedicated to covering arts and culture in Boston and throughout New England.