Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Globe, Jack Connors and Mike Barnicle

Mike Barnicle

I’m just catching up to this excellent analysis by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds of the Aaron Kushner group’s ongoing efforts to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. Edmonds’ bottom line: a sale is possible but unlikely.

With the Globe’s business having stabilized and the Times Co.’s debt burden eased, Edmonds writes, “It looks to me like a keeper for the company — unless someone comes forward with cash and is prepared to way overpay.”

Last week the Globe’s Brian McGrory reported that local advertising executive Jack Connors has joined the Kushner group, which already includes former Globe publisher Ben Taylor and his cousin Steve Taylor, himself a former top Globe executive. This isn’t the first time Connors has tried to become part of the Globe’s ownership.

It also raises the intriguing question of whether the specter of former Globe columnist Mike Barnicle can be far behind. Barnicle was involved in a bid by retired General Electric chief executive Jack Welch and Connors to buy the Globe several years ago, a bid that Barnicle told Boston magazine was “very serious.” In a 2007 Boston Globe Magazine piece by the legendary Steve Bailey, Barnicle’s wife, Bank of America executive Anne Finucane, was described as one of Connors’ “closest friends.”

It’s hard to know what to make of the Barnicle connection, but my guess is that it diminishes the likelihood that the Times Co. will sell the Globe. It would be the ultimate revenge for Barnicle. It’s also a victory that I suspect Times Co. chief executive Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would rather not let him have, given that Barnicle was let go by the Globe in 1998 — possibly with a push from New York — over a series of ethical transgressions.

Wild turkeys near Beverly Airport

While driving home from Bradley Palmer State Park a little while ago, I came across a flock of about a half-dozen wild turkeys off Burley Street in Danvers, near Beverly Airport. I think it’s a resident flock, as I’ve seen turkeys in the area before. I grabbed my iPhone and took some picture of the birds, whose skittishness seemed to diminish after I had been there for a few minutes.

Obama’s secret war on civil liberties

Remember Section 215? It was a notorious provision of the USA Patriot Act, renewed on Thursday, that allowed the government to snoop on what library books you’d borrowed, what videos you’d rented, your medical records — anything, really, if investigators thought it might have something to do with terrorism, no matter how tangential.

I wrote about it for the Boston Phoenix in 2003 as an example of the then-budding excesses of the Bush-Cheney years.

Well, Section 215 is back — not that it ever went away. Charlie Savage reports in today’s New York Times that two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, have accused the Obama administration of using Section 215 for purposes not intended by Congress. Then-senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, raised similar alarms in 2009.

The senators know what the White House is up to because they were privy to secret testimony. But, legally, under Senate rules, they can’t reveal what they learned. Thus they have demanded that the White House come clean with the public. “Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out,” Udall is quoted as saying.

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute recently described Section 215 in an interview with Salon:

It allows investigators to get an order from the FISA court permitting them to compel the production of any tangible thing that is relevant to an investigation. It’s pretty unlimited in scope. Any record or other thing that pertains to a suspected agent of a foreign power or someone in contact with them is under the law considered to be “presumptively relevant.” That means the judge has no discretion to deny such requests. The records don’t have to belong to anyone who is thought to be guilty of anything.

“FISA,” you may recall, is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. At the height of the Bush years, the White House didn’t even bother with the niceties of going to a FISA court before ordering wiretaps. But as Sanchez notes, the FISA provision isn’t much more than a fig leaf anyway.

Which reminds me: The Obama Justice Department recently issued a subpoena ordering James Risen, one of the New York Times reporters who broke the story about the Bush administration’s secret wiretaps, to reveal his confidential sources.

President Obama’s approach to civil liberties has been similar to that of his predecessors: for them when convenient, against them when upholding our rights would interfere with his exercise of untrammeled executive power. Last year, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero pronounced himself to be “disgusted” with Obama’s civil-rights record.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney remain outliers because of their embrace of torture, secret rendition and the like. But, otherwise, Obama fits into a long pattern of presidents whose actions on civil liberties are very different from their pious words.

I found the photo at a blog called the Bourgeois Librarian. I do not know its provenance.

One from the heart

I’m not an Ed Schultz fan. And of course MSNBC did the right thing by suspending Schultz for a week for calling Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” and a “talk slut” on his radio show. But give him this: I can’t remember the last time I saw an apology as abject and sincere as Schultz’s. I hope we see a better Ed when he returns.

Ingraham accepts Schultz’s apology.

Kristen Lombardi named a Nieman Fellow

Kristen Lombardi

Congratulations to my friend and former Boston Phoenix colleague Kristen Lombardi, who will be a fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation in 2011-’12. FOKs have known for a few weeks, but today Nieman made it official. It looks like an impressive group.

Kristen is a dogged investigative reporter, the best I worked with. While at the Phoenix, she broke several important parts of the pedophile-priest story months before the Boston Globe began its Pulitzer Prize-winning work. I’m proud to say I worked at the Phoenix during the Kristen Lombardi era.

For the past few years she’s been at the Center for Public Integrity, where she recently won a Dart Award for her reporting on sexual assault on college and university campuses.

Scott Brown’s very bad — no, very good — day

Scott Brown

Monday started out looking like a very bad day for U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. But it turned out to be quite the opposite, as two media outlets backed away from reports that were embarrassing to Brown, and Brown himself smartly broke with the Republican Party over Medicare after seeming to have dithered. Let’s take them one at a time.

The handshake. On Sunday night, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) aired video that appeared to show Brown declining to shake hands with one of his Democratic rivals, Newton Mayor Setti Warren, at Newton’s Memorial Day parade earlier in the day. That’s how the report itself described it, and it appeared to be a small but classless moment for the senator. Brown’s supposed snub was the talk of local political blogs (including Media Nation) and Twitter feeds.

By midday, though, the Warren campaign was spreading the word that the mayor and the senator had already shaken hands before the video was shot. In an email to Media Nation late Monday afternoon, Channel 4 spokeswoman Ro Dooley-Webster acknowledged that “both campaigns confirm that Senator Brown and Mayor Warren greeted one another and shook hands earlier in the day.” Oops.

The incoherent quote. Late Sunday afternoon, the Boston Globe passed along an entertainingly incoherent Brown quote that he supposedly uttered in front of a business group:

“When I said last week that I was going to vote for the House GOP’s plan to abolish Medicare what I really meant was I was going to vote on it — and I have no idea yet which way I’m going to vote,” the Massachusetts Republican said in comments reported by Talking Points Memo.

Unfortunately for the Globe, that quote was a TPM parody of Brown’s position, not an actual quote. Though the faux quote does not appear in quotation marks, I can see where it would be a little confusing to a blogger in a hurry. On Monday afternoon, the Globe posted a correction and removed the Sunday post from its Political Intelligence blog. You can still read the cached version here.

According to the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam, the incident prompted Brown to write to Globe editor Marty Baron complaining about the use of “a manufactured quote” and saying the matter “could have been cleared up with a simple phone call to my office.” (Note: She tweaks Media Nation as well.)

The party pooper. Until Monday, Brown had been unclear on whether he would vote for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a voucher system that would be called — voilà! — Medicare. The Ryan plan has proved to be a poisonous issue for Republicans. In western New York, for instance, a Democrat may win a congressional seat for the first time in many years because of the issue.

Then, on Monday morning, in an op-ed piece for Politico (very interesting that Brown chose neither Boston daily), Brown declared he would vote against the Ryan plan because “as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support — and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays.”

Brown’s commentary includes the requisite amount of Obama-bashing and praise for Ryan. The bottom line for Massachusetts voters, though, is that they don’t have to worry that Brown will support dismantling a key part of the social safety net.

As Channel 4 political analyst Jon Keller observes, “Scott Brown understands the politics of survival in a staunchly Democratic state.”

It’s too soon to proclaim Brown the winner of his 2012 re-election bid, as Boston Mayor Tom Menino sort of did the other day. But state Democratic leaders know they’ve got their work cut out for them. The New York Times reports today that the party is stepping up its efforts to talk financial-reform crusader Elizabeth Warren into running.

Elizabeth Warren would be a formidable candidate, at least in theory, but it’s by no means certain that she’ll run. And it’s clear that top Democrats have real doubts about Setti Warren, Alan Khazei, Bob Massie and Marisa DeFranco, the Democrats who’ve gotten into the race already.

A Globe-Herald spat, 31 years down the line

Jimmy Carter in 1980

Former Boston Herald (and Boston Phoenix) political reporter Peter Lucas checks in with an account of his exclusive Herald interview with then-President Jimmy Carter during Carter’s 1980 re-election campaign against Ted Kennedy.

Lucas’ stroll down memory lane was prompted by a Jessica Heslam piece in the Friday Herald — part of the paper’s multi-day package on its White House snub — recounting past instances of journalists and presidents not getting along. Heslam wrote:

Veteran White House reporter Curtis Wilkie, who covered former President Jimmy Carter’s administration for the Boston Globe, said that Democratic commander in chief “so disliked” the Hub broadsheet that he gave the conservative Herald an interview rather than the Globe, because the administration felt the Globe had been unfair to Carter.

“He didn’t care for the Globe. It didn’t matter to me,” said Wilkie, who teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi. “Nothing wrong with being in an adversarial position with the White House. Better to be adversarial than too cozy.”

Wilkie’s recollections prompted an email from Lucas to Heslam. Lucas, now a columnist for the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Enterprise & Sentinel, sent along a copy to Media Nation and gave me permission to post it. I’ve broken it into a few paragraphs for readability:

Jessica: Curtis Wilkie doesn’t know what he’s talking about regarding the Herald’s interview with Jimmy Carter. I got that interview and by no means was it “given” to me. Wilkie is in need of a memory transplant when he says it did not matter to the Globe at the time. The Globe absolutely panicked and whined to the White Housse for weeks.

Not to bore you with an old war story but here it is. Ted Kennedy was challenging Carter for the presidency in 1980. The Globe was in the tank to Kennedy, (what else is new?) and Kennedy was not talking to the Herald. I told Jody Powell, Carter’s press secretary, that the Globe would kill him in the primaries but that the Herald would give him a fair shake.

All I wanted out of it was an exclusive interview with the president who at the time was in his Rose Garden strategy because of the Iranian hostage situtaion and not talking to any reporters. The primary coverage was important because you had the Iowa caucus coming up and this was to be followed by the caucus in Maine and then the really important New Hampshire primary.

Powell was skeptical and wary. He did not want to anger the Globe. I persisted. So Carter beats Kennedy in Iowa and the Globe gives the headline to Kennedy. The same happens the following week in Maine. I go to Jody Powell and say I told you so. I hound him (as only a Herald reporter can do) in the days before the New Hampshire primary and Carter finally relents. I get to interview Carter alone in the Oval Office and the story leads the paper Feb. 15, 1980. It is a huge deal and makes the national news. (I still have it hung up in my garage.)

Days later Carter beats Kennedy in his own backyard of New Hampshire and it is all over for Kennedy, although he staggers around through the convention. The story was a clean exclusive and it embarassed the Globe to no end, including my friend Wilkie. The Globe had a huge Washington Bureau at the time and we had nobody down there, and here comes a Herald reporter out of nowhere and beats the hell out of them, It was great. Joe Sciacca will remember.

Keep up the good work. Cheers, Peter Lucas.

Highly entertaining stuff. I would, of course, love to post a response from Wilkie. And just to keep the historical record straight, Lucas in 1980 was working for the Hearst-owned Herald American. The modern Herald came into existence two years later, when Rupert Murdoch saved it from being shut down.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Scott Brown gives Setti Warren the brush-off


You’ve got to see this WBZ-TV (Channel 4) video of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown declining to shake hands with Newton Mayor Setti Warren, one of his Democratic challengers, at a Memorial Day parade in Newton yesterday. I’m not sure Brown knew who Warren was. But doesn’t that make it worse?

Update: Brown spokesman Felix Browne tells the Newton Tab that the senator did, in fact, shake hands with the mayor, saying they “had already shaken hands and exchanged greetings” just before the moment captured by video. I’ve emailed Channel 4 spokeswoman Ro Dooley-Webster, and will report back when she responds.

Update II: The Warren campaign tells Blue Mass Group that Brown didn’t decline to shake Warren’s hand. Rather, he waved off a chance to meet some veterans who had been marching with Warren. “We’re not concerned or worried about this, and Mayor Warren greatly enjoyed his time out at the parade yesterday,” the Warren staffer wrote.

Update III: I received the following statement from Channel 4 spokeswoman Ro Dooley-Webster a little before 6:30 p.m.: “We reported in our noon newscast that a representative for Mayor Warren confirmed that Senator Brown didn’t make time for the mayor when he approached him after the parade to introduce the senator to some veterans, but both campaigns confirm that Senator Brown and Mayor Warren greeted one another and shook hands earlier in the day and that the Mayor is not at all upset.”

Main Street Connect acquires CentralMassNews

CentralMassNews.com, a network of 10 community news sites in suburban Worcester, has been acquired by Main Street Connect, according to an announcement made on Thursday. The company will soon comprise 52 sites in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Westchester County, N.Y.

Jennifer Lord Paluzzi, a GateHouse refugee whose initial project, the Greater Grafton Blog, grew into what is now CentralMassNews, spoke to my students in February 2010. Here’s an account of her talk by Mary Ann Georgantopoulos, who has since graduated from Northeastern.

Paluzzi and publisher Jack Schofield will hold significant positions in Main Street Connect. “And we’re hiring!” says Paluzzi.

Frankly, I’m always sorry to see a grassroots news organization give up some of its independence. But this may give CentralMassNews the critical mass it needs to compete with other corporate players, especially AOL’s Patch.com. Paluzzi and Schofield are both great examples of journalistic entrepreneurship, and I wish them success.