Best wishes and healing thoughts for Mayor Tom Menino and his family. The Boston Globe reports that Menino has suspended his book tour and his cancer treatments.
Someday a book will be written that is worthy of Tom Menino’s long and consequential tenure as mayor of Boston. And Jack Beatty may well be the person who writes it.
“Mayor for a New America” is not that book. The autobiography, which Menino wrote in collaboration with Beatty, offers a short, punchy look at the former mayor’s life and career, focusing on his 20 years as Boston’s top elected official. Together they offer an entertaining overview of the Menino era but not a comprehensive examination.
It was the summer of 2009, and the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication was in town. A group of us went out to dinner at Legal Seafoods at the Pru. Among them was Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University’s College of Communication and the former executive editor of the Miami Herald.
Fiedler held us in thrall with a blow-by-blow description of his best-known story: the sinking of Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign aboard the good ship Monkey Business. It was the Herald that staked out Hart’s townhouse in Washington and learned that a woman named Donna Rice had been staying with him. Hart soon dropped out of the campaign; he later re-entered it but failed to gain any traction.
Last month The New York Times Magazine published a long excerpt from a book by Times political reporter (and Boston Globe alumnus) Matt Bai arguing that the Herald’s pursuit of Hart represented something new and disturbing in American politics: Journalists in the skeptical post-Watergate era were no longer willing to give politicians a pass on any misbehavior, including their sexual peccadilloes. Perhaps the most damning part of Bai’s piece was his discovery that Fiedler, who had long cited Hart’s challenge to “follow me around” as justification, had actually not learned of that challenge until after the Herald’s stakeout.
Now Fiedler has written a strong, thoughtful article for Politico Magazine in which he responds to Bai, taking the view that a presidential candidate’s lies should not be considered “inconsequential.” Fielder’s take on the “follow me around” matter is worth quoting in full:
For Bai, much hinges on the precise timing of this quote. He claims that the Herald used the “follow me around” challenge to justify its pursuit of Hart. This was dishonest, he suggests, because we couldn’t have known about it before the stakeout — the quote appeared in the [New York] Times on May 3, the same day our story ran. What Bai doesn’t acknowledge is that we didn’t need the [E.J.] Dionne quote for justification.
A week or so before the Herald and the Times’ articles ran, in an interview with me, Hart had been similarly dismissive of the womanizing allegations, saying, “I’ve been in public life for 15 years and I think that if there was anything about my background that anybody had any information on, they would bring it forward. But they haven’t.” The Hart quote I published wasn’t as dramatic as the one Hart provided to Dionne, but its intent was the same. And it was a lie. That’s not news?
Fiedler’s purpose is not to discredit Bai. Indeed, Fiedler calls himself “a great admirer of Bai’s talents as a journalist and a writer.” But Fiedler does manage to provide a different context for why and how Hart’s downfall was covered. If you read Bai’s article, you owe it to yourself to read Fiedler’s as well.
(Disclosure: Fiedler is a friendly acquaintance and a colleague on WGBH’s “Beat the Press.”)
This story may take another day or two to ripen. But Gov. Deval Patrick’s firing of two members of the Sex Offender Registry Board has all the ingredients of a major donnybrook between The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.
Globe reporter Michael Levenson writes that Patrick fired the two officials in part because of their insistence that his brother-in-law register as a sex offender. The brother-in-law, Bernard Sigh, was convicted of raping his wife (Patrick’s sister) in 1993 and served a short prison sentence. The couple later reconciled, but the Herald made it an issue during Patrick’s first run for governor in 2006. Levenson writes:
Blaming the Herald and the Republican Party for the revelation, Patrick said the disclosure that his brother-in-law had been convicted of raping his wife, Patrick’s sister, more than a decade earlier in California “nearly destroyed their lives.”
In the Herald, Erin Smith and Matt Stout offer a similar account, including Patrick’s lambasting of their paper. A Herald editorial criticizes Patrick mainly for the week-long delay in explaining the reason for the two officials’ firing: “Eight years and multiple bureaucratic scandals in, how has this administration not figured out that honesty — from the outset — is the best policy?”
Finally, if you’d like to read a thorough account by a neutral reporter, I recommend Gin Dumcius of State House News Service. [Update: I don't mean to imply that the Globe and Herald accounts today are not neutral; they both seem pretty straight. I simply mean that the two papers are rivals, and the Herald's 2006 reporting may become an issue.]
So will this spark another chapter in the Hundred Years’ War between the Globe and the Herald? I think it mainly comes down to how vigorously Herald editors want to defend their paper’s 2006 reporting. As they say, stay tuned.
One of the more original political voices to pass through Boston in many years is fleeing the scene. My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, who’s been contributing to Boston magazine and WGBH since the Phoenix’s demise in 2013, is heading to Richmond, Virginia, where his wife, Kristin McGrath, is starting “an exciting new job.”
Bernstein’s political analysis is smart and straight from a liberal perspective. But it’s his use of social media that sets him apart. His Twitter feed, which has nearly 14,000 followers, is a great source of news, political humor and hashtag games. On Facebook, he pays tribute to the birthdays of often-obscure politicos with music trivia contests. A recent example:
Today’s Massachusetts political birthday is Segun Idowu of the Edward M. Kennedy Insititute, currently under construction. In his honor, what are the best songs with the word “build,” “shape,” or “make” in the title? I’ll start with Foundations “Build Me Up Buttercup”; Nirvana “Heart-Shaped Box”; and Nick Lowe “You Make Me.”
Then there is Bernstein’s #mapoli With Animals, a Tumblr consisting of photos of Massachusetts politicians posing with their (and other people’s) pets. If you haven’t seen it, you should. I’m sure you’ll agree that it is one of the signal accomplishments of the Internet age.
Bernstein says he’ll “still write and comment about Massachusetts politics beyond 2014,” and that he expects to continue with BoMag and WGBH. But it won’t be the same with him checking in from afar. Best of luck to both David and Kristin.
I missed the chance to predict Seth Moulton’s victory over John Tierney. Wish I’d said something. I did think it would be a lot closer. So let me go on the record with two predictions right now.
1. An easy one. Richard Tisei had almost as bad a day as Tierney yesterday. He’s a moderate and a good guy, but a Republican is not going to beat the liberal Iraq War hero who knocked off Tierney.
2. A harder one. I think Charlie Baker will defeat Martha Coakley, and that it won’t be all that close. Massachusetts has a track record of liking moderate Republican governors to keep an eye on the Democratic legislature. And Coakley, to put it mildly, is an inept candidate.
The New York Times today sanitizes U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, in a story on immigration.
Times reporter Jonathan Weisman writes that the Republican Party is starting to move toward its Tea Party base on immigration issues and quotes Bachmann as saying, “This was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve had in my eight years in Congress. We were able to achieve unity across the conference in what is likely to be the most consequential issue of this time: immigration.”
But though Weisman quotes incendiary remarks by Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, about a “war on whites,” he gives Bachmann a pass for her recent comments that President Obama wants to bring more undocumented children into the United States so that the government can carry out medical experiments on them. Here’s what Bachmann said on a radio show called “WallBuilders Today,” as transcribed by the liberal group People for the American Way:
Now President Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, those illegal aliens to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system. That’s more kids that you can see how — we can’t imagine doing this, but if you have a hospital and they are going to get millions of dollars in government grants if they can conduct medical research on somebody, and a ward of the state can’t say “no,” a little kid can’t say “no” if they’re a ward of the state; so here you could have this institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation and a kid can’t even say “no.” It’s sick.
I can’t imagine why Weisman and his editors decided it was all right to quote Bachmann on immigration issues without bringing up this piece of demented and very recent rhetoric.