Tag Archives: Charlie Baker

The Boston Globe doubles down on political coverage

Capital section front

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The message last night was straightforward: The Boston Globe was launching a new weekly political section, Capital, in print and online.

It was the messaging, though, that really mattered. About a hundred invited guests mingled in the lobby of the historic Paramount Theatre, elegantly restored by Emerson College, helping themselves to free food and an open bar. Owner/publisher John Henry joined the minglers, working the room like one of the politicians his reporters might write about.

And if you didn’t quite get the messaging, chief executive officer Michael Sheehan and editor Brian McGrory were there helpfully to explain.

“You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success,” Sheehan said while introducing a panel discussion. Added McGrory in his closing remarks: “We are investing in our political coverage at a time when virtually every other paper is retreating.”

If you’re a news junkie, a political junkie or both, enjoy it. The newspaper implosion that has defined the past decade may have slowed, but it hasn’t stopped.

Some 16,200 full-time newspaper jobs disappeared between 2003 and 2012, according to the American Society of News Editors. Just this week, about 20 employees — one-fourth of editorial staff members — were let go by the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, recently sold by Henry to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Aaron Kushner, whose print-centric approach was hailed as the salvation of the newspaper business just a year ago, is now dismantling the Orange County Register and its affiliated Southern California properties as quickly as he built them up.

The only major papers bucking this trend are Henry’s Globe and Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, both of which are adding staff and expanding their portfolios. (The New York Times remains relatively healthy, but in recent years the ruling Sulzberger family has tended to define success by keeping cuts to a minimum.)

So what is Capital? Simply put, it’s a Friday-only section comprising features, think pieces, polling, commentary and lots of graphics. The debut consists of 12 pages, including three full-page ads — two of them advocacy messages of the sort that might not have made their way into the paper otherwise — and a smaller bank ad on the front of the section.

The lead story, by Jim O’Sullivan and Matt Viser, looks at the implications of a presidential race that is not likely to have a Massachusetts candidate for the first time since 2000. A poll (and Capital is slated to have lots of polls) suggests that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is making some headway, trailing Democratic contender Martha Coakley by a few points and leading Coakley’s rival Steve Grossman by a similar margin.

Among the more intriguing pieces of content is a “social networks dashboard,” put together by SocialSphere of Cambridge, which tracks conversations and the “biggest influencers” on Twitter. The print version has the highlights; online, it goes into more depth. It could use some tweaking, though. For instance, it’s fine to know that Gov. Deval Patrick is +463, but I’d like to see an explanation of what that means.

And if the Globe is looking for suggestions, I’d like to see a more outward-looking orientation, at least in the online version. There are no few links to outside content. How about a curated reading list of the best political coverage appearing elsewhere? (Online, Capital does offer some outside links in an automated feature based on Twitter called “The Talk,” which combines mostly Globe content with a little bit of offsite stuff. I’m also told that a daily newsletter to be written by political reporter Joshua Miller will include non-Globe links.)

One challenge the Globe faces is to come up with compelling content that isn’t tied to the daily news cycle. Today, for instance, the paper’s two most important political stories appear not in Capital but, rather, on the front page: more questions about Scott Brown’s dubious dealings with a Florida firearms company and insider shenanigans involving Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration and the city’s largest construction company. Of necessity, Capital will have to focus on analysis and smart step-back pieces.

During the panel discussion, political editor Cynthia Needham said that a frequent topic of conversation in the newsroom is whether the Globe’s political coverage should appeal to “insiders” or to readers “who dip in every once in a while.” For Capital to work week after week, the answer needs to be both — and then some.

But seriously — how refreshing is it to be able to write about the Globe’s latest expansion instead of the cuts and layoffs that pervade the rest of the newspaper business? We’ll remember these times. Let’s hope they last.

What’s at stake in the Tierney-Tisei race

Richard Tisei

As David Filipov puts it in his front-page Boston Globe story today, “It was a good week to be Richard R. Tisei.”

Indeed. U.S. Rep. John Tierney, a Salem Democrat, is in meltdown mode over claims by two of his brothers-in-law that he was well aware of the family’s illegal gambling enterprises. The story was broken on Thursday by Julie Manganis of the Salem News, who reported that Daniel Eremian fingered the congressman just after receiving a three-year federal prison sentence. On Saturday, the Globe’s Michael Levenson got a second brother-in-law, Robert Eremian, to whack Tierney.

Tierney is scheduled to meet with reporters later today to say once again that they’re lying. Could be a tense Fourth of July cookout for the Tierney-Eremian clan tomorrow.

But it’s still too early to know whether Tisei, a Wakefield Republican, former state senator and Charlie Baker’s running mate in the 2010 gubernatorial election, will be able to capitalize on Tierney’s woes.

Tisei is a moderate and a genuinely nice guy. I covered him in the 1980s when he was beginning his political career and I was a reporter for the Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn. Back then, reform-minded Republicans like Tisei were occasionally able to work with Democrats and have an effect in the Legislature. Those days are long gone.

I ran into Tisei at the town pancake breakfast in Danvers this past March. Same guy — personable, greeting everyone. He seemed to be having a good time. Obviously he is an enormous improvement over William Hudak, the extreme right-winger who ran against Tierney in 2010. As an openly gay man, Tisei will not be able to excite the social-conservative crowd; but that’s a crowd that you could fit into the phone booth these days. (For you young’uns, this a phone booth.)

I also covered Tierney’s congressional campaign for the Boston Phoenix in 1996, when he unseated Republican incumbent Peter Torkildsen two years after losing to him. Tierney has always struck me as sharp and quick, if not especially warm.

The question is, do such atmospherics matter, and will Tisei be able to take advantage of Tierney’s troubles? The U.S. House of Representatives, more than any other elective office, is an institution where the color of your jersey matters more than who you are.

If elected, the first thing Tisei is going to do next January is vote for John Boehner as House speaker. Last Thursday, Tisei popped up on NPR to say that, yes, he voted in favor of Romneycare, but that he would vote to repeal Obamacare because, well, you know.

We all wish it were otherwise, but party identification is very close to the only thing that matters in Congress. I suggest that folks in the Sixth District figure out where Tierney and Tisei stand on the issues that matter to them and vote accordingly. You’re choosing how you wish to be governed — not whom you want living next door.

Tim Cahill’s wacky yet serious lawsuit

Tim Cahill

Tim Cahill’s lawsuit against his former political consultants is the craziest Massachusetts political story since — oh, since U.S. Rep. John Tierney’s wife pled guilty to federal tax-fraud charges involving her rambling, gambling brother who’s holed up in Antigua. Since Suzanne Bump thought she had two principal residences. Since —

Well, you get the idea. It’s been a nutty week. And the temptation is to make fun of Cahill, the state treasurer who’s mounting a hopeless independent campaign for governor. It’s as though he’s trying to outlaw politics as usual.

But let’s let this play out a bit, shall we? There are two competing explanations for what’s behind the suit, and I’m not sure we can say which is more credible at this point. Cahill is claiming dirty tricks on Republican candidate Charlie Baker’s behalf by people who were on his payroll. Cahill wants to stop the turncoats from giving confidential campaign documents to Baker, which is reasonable, even if it adds to his reputation as a figure of fun.

The Republicans, meanwhile, argue that Cahill is trying to stop the disclosure of possible wrongdoing such as the use of state employees on his campaign.

Well, now. Couldn’t both be true? If the ex-Cahill folks have proprietary knowledge of such wrongdoing, they have no business bringing it to Baker. If they think it was actually illegal, then they should take their information to prosecutors. Otherwise, they cashed their checks and they should shut up.

At times like these, I turn to one of my favorite political pundits, the Outraged Liberal, who observes: “The only winner in this bizarre but entertaining tale of political intrigue is Deval Patrick, which is obvious in the silence out of his campaign.”

Indeed, Patrick has proved to be incredibly resilient during this campaign. An unpopular incumbent in a bad year for Democrats, Patrick has run slightly ahead of Baker, long seen as the Republicans’ best hope, all year.

I still think it’s going to be difficult for Patrick actually to win re-election. But he has been surprisingly lucky in his opposition.

Even Republicans are offended by Loscocco

Benedict Arnold

Given the low standards that pass for acceptable political behavior, I’m not entirely sure why I was so offended by Paul Loscocco’s decision to bow out as independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill’s running mate.

But according today’s Boston Herald, I’m not alone. “What a snake! What a betrayal!” said erstwhile gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos. Added WRKO talk-show host Charley Manning: “In all the years I’ve followed politics, I’ve never seen someone leave a ticket like Paul Loscocco did.”

Jon Keller calls it the “final blow” to Cahill’s gubernatorial campaign. But Cahill never had a shot, and unless Loscocco is delusional, he knew that the day he joined the ticket. This race was always going to come down to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker. That’s what makes Loscocco’s act of betrayal so loathsome.

Nor can you compare this to high-profile consultant John Weaver’s recent resignation from the Cahill campaign, followed by his endorsement of Baker. Consultants come and go. Loscocco is a candidate for a statewide constitutional office, joined at the hip to Cahill. The only honorable path before him was to stick it out until the end.

Perhaps the most laughable aspect is that Loscocco hasn’t ruled out accepting a job in a Baker administration, the Boston Globe reports. Well, maybe Baker will throw some sort of bone to Loscocco if he’s elected governor. But I think Baker would want to be very careful about letting a backstabbing weasel like Loscocco get too far inside the tent.

Where was Jill Stein?

I don’t understand why WTKK hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan would moderate a gubernatorial debate that featured only three of the four candidates. If it was their call, they were wrong. If it was management’s call, they should have refused to have anything to do with it.

If ‘TKK’s aim was to have a debate between the two major-party candidates, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker, I would have fewer objections — though still some. September is too soon to start excluding anyone.

But there was no logical reason to include independent candidate Tim Cahill, who has no chance of winning, and exclude Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein, who also has no chance.

Not only was it unfair to Stein, it was unfair to Baker. Every time Cahill is given oxygen, he hurts Baker with the conservative base Baker needs to secure if he is to defeat Patrick this November. At the same time, nearly all of Stein’s support comes from people who might otherwise be persuaded to vote for Patrick.

She also happens to be as thoughtful and substantive as any of them, but I suppose that’s beside the point.

Free the candidates from the media consortium

Jill Stein

The media consortium that is sponsoring two gubernatorial debates may exclude Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein because she hasn’t raised enough money, according to the Boston Globe, which is a member of the consortium, and the Boston Herald, which isn’t.

That raises a question: What are debates for?

Let’s start with the obvious. Only one of two things can plausibly occur on Election Day this November. Either Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick will be re-elected or his Republican opponent, Charlie Baker, will beat him. Neither Stein nor independent candidate Tim Cahill is going to win.

Given that, it’s ludicrous to believe that Cahill should be invited because he’s met the fundraising threshold while Stein should stay home. We should hear from both of them — or neither.

My own preference is that everyone be invited, at least when it’s early in the campaign. Give the longshots a chance to make their pitch and force the major-party candidates to react to their ideas. As we get closer to the wire, I think it’s legitimate to use polling in order to exclude candidates with no chance. I’d like to see Baker and Patrick debate one on one, but not yet.

Last Tuesday’s non-consortium debate, expertly moderated by WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst and friend of Media Nation Jon Keller, showed it’s possible to let Baker and Patrick go at it while still giving Stein and Cahill a chance to have their say.

The biggest problem, I think, is the very existence of the consortium, which comprises the Globe, WCVB-TV (Channel 5), WHDH-TV (Channel 7), NECN, WGBH (Channel 2 and 89.7 FM) and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

The consortium was formed in 1994 to pressure U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy to debate his Republican rival, Mitt Romney. The gambit worked — and the fumble-mouthed Kennedy’s unexpectedly strong performances were a key to his re-election that year.

These days, though, there is never a shortage of debates. So, rather than a consortium, why not have media and civic organizations put together debates as they please, as Keller and WBZ did? You could have some debates featuring all four and others with just the two major-party candidates. You could even have a Cahill-Stein debate, which would be pretty interesting.

Let each group that wants to sponsor a debate set its own rules. The candidates can decide whether they want to participate, and the public can decide whether it wants to pay attention. But by all means, lets put an end to the media consortium and its attempts to control the political conversation.

Photo from JillStein.org.

An undercovered gubernatorial debate

Old friend Mark Leccese has an interesting blog post at Boston.com about the first televised gubernatorial debate, hosted Tuesday evening by another old friend, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller.

Leccese — God bless him — took in all of the local television coverage to determine how much attention the debate got. And he concludes that the debate was all but ignored, with the exception of NECN and, of course, WBZ.

The city’s two dailies, Leccese adds, gave it plenty of coverage.

Leccese wonders whether the lack of coverage was due to television executives’ wanting “to play down the story of the debate because it was on a rival station” — or if, instead, “local TV newscasts don’t find debates among the four people from whom the voters will choose the most powerful person in state government particularly newsworthy.”

My suspicion is that it’s a little bit of both.

If you missed the debate, you can still watch it online here. It’s also being broadcast in Spanish.

I caught about two-thirds of it in my car, and then watched the last 20 minutes. With the exception of a weird question about President Obama’s aunt, dropped in toward the end, I thought Keller turned in his usual fine job. He got out of the way and let Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker really mix it up, while still giving Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein and independent Tim Cahill a chance to make their case.

The debate was a ratings hit, too, writes the Herald’s Jessica Heslam — it came in third during the 7 p.m. time slot, not far behind the Red Sox and “Chronicle.”

Who won? I thought Patrick came off as by far the most personable of the four, and Baker scored some points on substance. As Michael Levenson reported in the Globe on Thursday, Patrick was wrong in claiming that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was bailed out with “state aid” when Baker was its chief executive, an overreach that could come back to haunt the governor.

Perhaps the key was that Cahill, the state treasurer, proved to be a more effective debater than the substantive but sound-bite-challenged Stein. Since the conventional wisdom is that Cahill takes away votes from Baker and Stein from Patrick, perhaps Patrick (who really overdid it in sucking up to Cahill) was the winner by default.

Photo from wbztv.com.

The company that Charlie Baker keeps

The Hudakmobile

Scot Lehigh has a splendid column in today’s Boston Globe on Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker’s recent close encounter with William Hudak, a political extremist who has flirted with the birther movement.

Lehigh writes that “there are pretty clear signs that Hudak has wandered well north of the border that separates a hyperbolic political hopeful from a poisonous, insidious kook.” Hudak, a Boxford lawyer, is running for Congress against Democratic incumbent John Tierney this fall.

Anyone who has followed the Hudak saga over the past several months will be familiar with the inept shuffle he gives Lehigh as he tries to deny he ever believed President Obama was not born in the United States. More to the point, though, Lehigh criticizes Baker, a purported moderate, for attending a Hudak fundraiser, writing:

Yes, Baker’s camp disavows Hudak’s views. Yet a candidate is also known by the company he keeps. And it speaks poorly of Baker that he’s willing to countenance Hudak to court his supporters.

As Lehigh acknowledges, the story of Baker’s appearance was broken earlier this month by David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix. Lehigh also credits Media Nation for assembling some of Hudak’s most toxic materials.

You may recall that this all started with Hudak’s claiming the day after U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley that Brown had endorsed his candidacy. After I posted evidence of Hudak’s extremism, the Brown people made it clear that there had never been an endorsement — and even though Brown is generally thought to be more conservative than Baker, the senator has wisely kept his distance from Hudak ever since.

Three for Monday

I’m up to my neck in other work, so three quick observations for a Monday morning:

1. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight series on the state’s patronage-riddled Probation Department should be the last nail in the coffin for state treasurer Tim Cahill’s independent gubernatorial campaign. The clueless Cahill doesn’t help matters today. While Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker squabble over how best to disinfect the agency, Cahill — a key player in the patronage game — criticizes Baker’s campaign for trying “to politicize issues for their own benefit without having a full understanding of the matters at hand.”

2. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter reports that news organizations are cutting back on covering presidential trips, citing an “exorbitant” cost in 2009 of $18 million. Frankly, I don’t think the shrinkage is a big deal. How many reporters need to follow the president around the world? But given that Katie Couric’s $15 million salary comes to almost the entire annual cost, it’s hard to take this lament seriously.

3. Make sure you read Charles Pierce’s excellent profile of Terry Francona, the greatest baseball manager in the known universe. It appeared Sunday in the Boston Globe Magazine.

Could the anti-incumbent fever be breaking?

It depends on how seriously you regard polls taken six months before the November election. But there’s some intriguing news on several fronts today:

  • Gov. Deval Patrick’s standing in his re-election battle has jumped 10 points in a month, according to Rasmussen. He now leads Republican Charlie Baker by a margin of 45 percent to 31 percent, with independent Tim Cahill bringing up the rear at 14 percent. It appears that the Republican Party’s relentlessly negative anti-Cahill ads have damaged Cahill without doing much for Baker.
  • Public Policy Polling reports that President Obama’s approval/disapproval rating is now 50 percent/46 percent, his best standing since last October.
  • Even Harry Reid is looking less like a goner than he has in many months.

Who knows what will happen over the next few months? These things generally come down to the economy, and the recovery has been slow and unsteady. At the very least, though, it seems that the throw-them-all-out story line has been called into question.