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Photo of BC students ill-advised

THE FEATURE photo of three sleepy Boston College students with eyes closed at their graduation ceremony had the potential, in the right context, to make readers smile. But the way the Globe displayed that photo in last Tuesday’s paper instead made many readers angry -- and prompted the paper’s editor to personally apologize to the school.

Making the weary students’ photo the sole image atop the BC commencement story made it look -- unfairly -- like commentary on the ceremony, and on graduates’ reaction to the main speaker, ‘‘Meet the Press’’ anchor Tim Russert. The photo, which spanned most of the City & Region front, was also out of sync with the featured quote above it and the headline below it: ‘‘Russert BC speech stresses values.’’ Overall, the package was confusing and -- at least to the many readers who contacted this office -- insulting.

Some critics said it was the result of an anti-Catholic bias at the Globe. Why else, they asked, would the paper give Yale, Brandeis, and Tufts nice coverage of their graduations on Monday, and then poke fun at the local Jesuit university the next day?

‘‘The Globe has done a great job on the sex abuse scandal, but -- and I hate to say it -- this had an anti-Catholic feel to it, in the context of how you handled the other three graduations,’’ said Rosalie Grattaroti of Marblehead. ‘‘They were elegant and reverent. This was not reverent!’’

Jack Dunn, a spokesman for BC, lamented by e-mail that ‘‘with 8,800 smiling faces to choose from’’ the Globe ‘‘chose to focus on three students who fell asleep.’’ He called the photo choice ‘‘a gratuitous slap in the face that has everyone here asking, ‘Why would Boston’s newspaper take such a cheap shot?’’ But he said he did not attribute it to underlying anti-Catholic sentiment at the Globe.

Rather, said Dunn by phone, the Globe is ‘‘susceptible to a lack of sensitivity toward things Catholic, as evidenced by the misjudgment in placing this photo -- a large photo that was at odds with the story beneath it.’’

Globe Editor Martin Baron agreed that the photo was ‘‘entirely inappropriate’’ as the lead image with the BC story, and on Tuesday apologized to the Rev. William Leahy, BC’s president, and others at the university. He also offered an explanation:

‘‘While staffers had in mind a lighthearted look at students exhausted at the end of their college years, their effort failed,’’ he said. ‘‘Some holistic thinking about how that photo would appear in conjunction with the story, headline, and featured quote was called for.’’

‘‘We did a disservice to Russert, Boston College, and those who attended and enjoyed the commencement ceremonies,’’ said Baron. ‘‘And we didn’t serve ourselves very well either.’’   Continued...

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