The Boston Globe has placed columnist Kevin Cullen on “administrative leave” while it conducts a review of his work, after WEEI radio host Kirk Minihane scrutinized Cullen’s April 14 column about the five-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, and found several inconsistencies.
Minihane went through the column on Thursday’s episode of Kirk & Callahan and said he had spoken to multiple people involved in Cullen’s story as well as with Cullen himself, who confirmed that he was not at the Boston Marathon bombings that day, as he had previously claimed. “Important note: I just talked to Kevin Cullen, who told me he was not there when the bombing happened,” Minihane said. “He said he arrived there hours later.” The relevant segment starts at the 10-minute mark here. Here’s an excerpt of the column:
I happened upon a house fire recently, in Mattapan, and the smell reminded me of Boylston Street five years ago, when so many lost their lives and their limbs and their sense of security.
I can smell Patriots Day, 2013. I can hear it. God, can I hear it, whenever multiple fire engines or ambulances are racing to a scene.
I can taste it, when I’m around a campfire and embers create a certain sensation.
I can see it, when I bump into survivors, which happens with more regularity than I could ever have imagined. And I can touch it, when I grab those survivors’ hands or their shoulders.
Cullen, who was part of the paper’s 2003 Pulitzer-winning Spotlight team that broke the stories on the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, had established in this column, and in prior reporting, that he was present for the bombings. Any reasonable reader would interpret that from his wording. Cullen was reportedly not working that day but showed up hours later, which means he could have smelled and seen the aftermath. There are other details in his body of work, however, that leave him much less wiggle room. Here’s another article Cullen filed on April 16, 2013, a day after the bombing (emphasis mine):
And so it was alternately poignant and horrifying to watch as first responders frantically pulled metal barriers and the flags of so many different countries down into Boylston Street in a desperate rush to get to the dead and the injured on the sidewalk.
Those flags looked like victims, splayed on Boylston Street as the acrid smoke hung in the air.
After the initial explosion, runners instinctively craned their necks toward the blast site. Then, 12 seconds later, a second explosion, further up Boylston. It was pandemonium. I saw an older runner wearing high rise pink socks, about to cross the finish line. He was knocked to the ground by a photographer running up Boylston Street toward the second explosion.
Again, Cullen reportedly told Minihane he was not there when the bombs went off, only hours after.
There are other anecdotes that also come into question. In this year’s column, Cullen brings up Jane Richard, a young girl who was 7 years old when she lost her leg in the bombings. “Since the bombing, Jane has been my talisman,” he wrote, as he recounted a time when he saw her while driving, waved, then pulled over and wept. Her brother, 8-year-old Martin, was killed; her father Bill and mother Denise were injured from the blast. At the 15:20 mark of the segment, Minihane plays audio of Cullen talking about the Richard family to BBC on April 16, 2013. A transcript:
I just got off the phone not long ago with a young firefighter who I’m very concerned about. He’s a young kid. He’s a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he told me what he saw today was worse than anything he saw in the war zone. He carried a young girl whose brother was killed at the scene. I actually know the father [Billy Richard], just ran the race today. And when he finished the race, his young son left the sidewalk. He went out into Boylston Street and hugged his dad. And then he went back onto the sidewalk and his dad walked on to register his time, and the bomb exploded.
Bill Richard did not run the 2013 Boston Marathon, and even if he had, he wouldn’t have had to register after finishing. In the Boston Marathon, finishes are timed and recorded by chip tracking.
The boy was killed. His mother was severely injured, and the daughter—the girl—my friend the firefighter Sean picked her up, and he carried her to an ambulance. And he said that when he put her down, he realized her leg was missing. And he went back to the scene and, he told me, crawled on his legs, his hands and his knees, trying to find her leg, and he couldn’t find it.
The firefighter named Sean does not seem to exist, and he definitely did not pick up Jane Richard. Off-duty first responder Matt Patterson was the man who, along with a friend, carried Jane to an ambulance. Minihane said he spoke to Patterson, who said he had never talked to Cullen and did not know of a firefighter named Sean from that day. From the WEEI writeup:
Cullen told the BBC “Sean” was crawling on the ground in the midst of the chaos in an attempt to find Jane Richard’s leg, because he did not know whether she had lost it. Patterson said the first thing you realize when saving someone in that situation is if they lost an extremity, due to severe gushing of blood.
Here’s the Globe’s statement:
The integrity of each of our journalists is fundamental to our organization. In light of questions that have publicly surfaced, Kevin Cullen has been placed on paid administrative leave while a thorough examination, involving a third party with expertise, is done of his work. We will be transparent with the results of the review.