Tag Archives: Martha Coakley

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.

The Brown-Warren race and the ghosts of a 2010 poll

With today’s Boston Globe poll reporting that Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren leads Sen. Scott Brown by five points, get ready for Brown’s defenders to dredge up an infamous Globe poll from two years ago — the one that showed Attorney General Martha Coakley leading Brown, a Republican, by 15 points.

Globe-bashers like Howie Carr love to point to that earlier poll as a sign of the paper’s liberal bias — and I’ll predict right now that that will be the subject of Carr’s next column in the Boston Herald.

In fact, Globe polls are not Globe polls — they are conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a respected, independent polling operation.

So what went wrong in 2010? My theory: Nothing. The story about that earlier poll is protected behind a paywall (I’m a subscriber, so I’ve reread the whole thing). But as you can see from this excerpt, the poll was conducted between Jan. 2 and 6, and the election to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy created by Ted Kennedy’s death was held on Jan. 19.

Thus it’s likely that the poll was accurate when it was conducted. People were just getting back to their normal routines coming out of the holidays. The race broke very late for Brown. By the time the story was published, on Jan. 10, the race was already trending away from Coakley, and within days, other polls were reflecting that.

What does that mean for Brown now?

First, the margin of error in the new poll, which shows Warren with a 43 percent to 38 percent lead, is 4.4 percent. In other words, if the election were held tomorrow, Brown could beat Warren by several points without calling the validity of the poll into question. The race is still essentially tied.

Second, this is not a low-turnout special election, and as the Globe story notes, Brown faces some harsh realities. By wide margins, people like Brown and like the job he’s doing — but they are increasingly leaning toward Warren because of the enormous enthusiasm among Massachusetts voters for President Obama. I suspect you would not be able to get Brown to utter the words “Mitt Romney” these days even if he were being waterboarded.

Third and most important: It’s still early. No, it’s not as early as it was during the pre-Labor Day period, when you could argue that most people weren’t paying attention. But it’s early enough for things to change dramatically if Warren stumbles badly. That’s why I think Brown is making a mistake by putting a torch to his nice-guy image with his continued attacks on Warren’s claim that she’s part-Native American.

David Bernstein of The Phoenix offers some further analysis of the Globe poll. And Nate “The Great” Silver of the New York Times takes a deep look at conservative claims of liberal bias in polling — and buries the assertion in an avalanche of well-marshaled data.

Illustration (cc) by DonkeyHotey and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Don’t sell Scott Brown short

Scott Brown

This commentary also appears at the Huffington Post.

Will Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts win re-election this November? Or will he be defeated by his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren? The answer, clearly, is “yes.”

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while. Frank Phillips’ story in today’s Boston Globe on Democrats who are panicking over the latest polls seems like as good a hook as any, so here we go.

From the moment Warren announced her candidacy, I’ve been struck by the fever-pitch feel that has permeated the race. Not among ordinary voters, of course; they won’t tune in until after Labor Day. But political junkies are fully engaged, as you know if you dip into the Twitter streams at #masen and #mapoli.

It seems to me that we’ve got a race between two very good candidates. I think Warren is the best the Democrats could have hoped for — not just better than the unknowns and wannabes who were running before she got into the race, but better than any member of the state’s Democratic establishment, with the possible exception of Gov. Deval Patrick.

Warren is articulate, she’s an economic populist, she combines insider experience with outsider credentials (how many people have managed to piss off both Republicans and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner?) and she’s almost as pretty as Brown.

Elizabeth Warren

Nor has she made any major missteps to this point. Brown supporters have tried to make hay of her endorsement of the Occupy movement, but that’s not going to play. The repeated references to her as “Professor” Warren are kind of pathetic. Anti-intellectualism does not have the sort of appeal in Massachusetts that it does in, say, Texas.

But some Democrats seem surprised, at the very least, that Brown didn’t topple like a rotten tree at the first sign that he’d have a serious opponent. Those sentiments vastly underestimate Brown’s strengths. In fact, I can think of two only first-class political talents to emerge in Massachusetts in the post-Michael Dukakis era: Patrick and Brown. (If Mitt Romney didn’t have a zillion dollars, I’m not sure he could win a seat on the Belmont Board of Selectmen.)

Democrats ignore the reality that no one is really angry at Brown other than liberal activists. He was elected just a little more than two years ago, and the glow from his startling victory over state Attorney General Martha Coakley has not fully faded. Massachusetts voters have traditionally liked having a Republican in a statewide position, and with the governor’s office now in Democratic hands, Brown has that working for him as well. My sense is that a lot of voters are still rather pleased with themselves for their role in Brown’s win, and it’s going to take more than Warren’s just showing up to get them to change their minds.

Nor should anyone discount Brown’s political instincts, which are superb. Brown has been a master of not taking strong stands on divisive issues, leaving himself free to bend when it’s necessary for his survival as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state. It took a while, but he eventually came around to voting for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He was among the very few Republicans who voted in favor of financial regulation, although he also loses points for his role in weakening those regulations.

The outlier in Brown’s record is his staunch support for the Blunt amendment, which would undo President Obama’s compromise on birth-control coverage at colleges, hospitals and other secular employers owned by religious institutions. Although Brown’s stand doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the polls so far, I think those who argue his rising poll numbers reflect public support for Blunt are wrong. Again, people just aren’t paying attention yet.

Why did Brown do it? Who knows? Maybe he’s acting on principle. Maybe the Senate leadership believes it has let Brown stray from the reservation too often and demanded his fealty on this one. In the long run, Brown’s support for Blunt will probably hurt him at the margins, but it’s not likely to determine the outcome of the race.

So what will determine the outcome? My guess is turnout. If this weren’t a presidential-election year, Brown would probably be a shoo-in for re-election. But with Obama on the ballot, a lot of people in Massachusetts are going to come out on Election Day looking to vote a straight Democratic ticket. The likelihood that Romney will be Obama’s Republican opponent only makes matters worse for Brown. Romney is not popular here except among the state’s tiny band of Republicans.

Predictions are futile. But I would imagine that whoever wins, it’s going to be extremely close. My advice: Don’t sell Brown short. And chill out. It’s only March.

Photo of Scott Brown by Dan Kennedy. Photo of Elizabeth Warren by the U.S. Treasury Department via Wikimedia Commons.

Intimidation, free speech and Barstool Sports

Martha Coakley

(Note: This item has been corrected. See below.) If Attorney General Martha Coakley thinks David Portnoy broke the law, then she should charge him. If not, then she should leave him alone. What she shouldn’t do is send state troopers to his house to intimidate him into removing nude photos of Tom Brady’s 2-year-old son from his sleazy website, Barstool Sports.

A number of legal experts, including Coakley herself, have concluded that Portnoy did not violate child-pornography laws because there was no “lascivious intent,” according to the Boston Globe. Indeed, Portnoy’s crude commentary about the size of the boy’s genitals may actually have helped him, since he demonstrated that he is a moron rather than a pervert.

But Coakley, having come to the conclusion that Portnoy broke no law, had no business dispatching police officers to his home to tell him what content was appropriate and inappropriate for his website. Portnoy said the officers were polite, but as First Amendment lawyer Jonathan Albano tells the Globe, “There’s an inherent element of coercion when civilians are faced with police in uniforms.” I’m glad Portnoy finally removed the photos, but the principle is that law-enforcement officials shouldn’t tell people that it would be a good idea if they stopped engaging in legally permissible conduct.

That’s not to say Portnoy didn’t show incredibly poor judgment. The Boston Herald reports that — yes — Howard Stern is among those taking Portnoy to task, telling him during an appearance on his radio show, “I have three daughters and I gotta tell you, Dave, I would never post a picture of a child and comment on their genitals, and I’m known for outrageous commentary.”

There would have been no free-speech issue if, instead of state troopers, Portnoy had opened his door and found Tom Brady and a couple of Patriots linemen standing on his front porch. It would have been a lot more satisfying, too.

Correction: It has come to my attention that I misunderstood the timeline. At the time that state troopers visited Portnoy’s house, Coakley’s office was still investigating, and had not yet decided whether to bring criminal charges against him. The troopers did ask that Portnoy remove the photos, and he voluntarily did so. It was only after that that Coakley decided no crime had been committed.

Photo (cc) 2009 by Dan Kennedy. Some rights reserved.

The last word (I hope) on the Googletron and me

Last week Google restored my AdSense account without explanation, though I had already learned through a back channel that an employee discovered I’d been hacked. A couple of days later I received the following e-mail from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office:

Dear Mr. Kennedy:

Thank you for contacting the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley. The Office is not able to handle every matter that is brought to its attention; however, we do take note of every complaint received, and watch for a pattern of complaints related to a particular company, individual, or industry.

Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the Attorney General’s Office.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Vitalini
Public Inquiry & Assistance Center

Here is my response:

Dear Mr. Vitalini:

Thank you for your letter of January 25 regarding my complaint about Google for cutting off my AdSense account and confiscating the money I had earned. I agree with you that my issue was a small one, but I hope you will find it useful in establishing the “pattern of complaints” that you are looking for. I would note that I gave you information about other, similar situations in my original letter.

Since I last wrote to you, Google has restored my AdSense account and returned my money. I have received no official explanation as to what happened, but have learned through a back channel that a Google employee determined my account had been hacked. Though I’m grateful, I know that the only reason my account was restored was because I am fairly well known in the blogging community. In my case, someone who reads my blog contacted a personal friend who works for Google. That is not something that is going to work for most people.

The central problem, I believe, is that Google has automated the process of detecting problems with AdSense accounts and shutting them down — and then offers no recourse to a human being. I think regulators nationwide should insist that Google offer some way for aggrieved customers to complain to a person rather than to a computer, and to receive a clear explanation as to what went wrong and why.

Sincerely,

Dan Kennedy

I hope I’m done with this. And I still plan to replace the overhead with local advertisements, which will allow me either to eliminate or play down my Google ads.

Earlier coverage.

Fighting back against the Googletron

I just got back from the post office, where I sent this letter — and the five attachments to which I’ve linked — to Attorney General Martha Coakley. I have no illusions that my little consumer complaint warrants much in the way of time and resources. Rather, I’m hoping that she or someone in her office will understand the fun and publicity that would come their way by taking on mighty Google. I’ll keep you posted on what happens.

By the way, if you click on Attachments #1 or #2, you’ll see an unfamiliar e-mail address for me. Don’t bother sending me anything there. I used it only for AdSense, and I’m probably going to shut it down.

January 20, 2011

Attorney General Martha Coakley
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108 -1518

Dear Ms. Coakley:

I write to you today about a matter of consumer fraud so small that your first instinct may be not to pursue it. Yet it involves one of our largest and most important companies, Google — which, as you know, has a substantial operation in Massachusetts. And what Google has done to me is just the tip of the iceberg. I have learned that I am one of many people whom Google has essentially defrauded under its AdSense program.

For me it began in September 2010, when I signed up with Google to have advertising automatically posted on my blog, Media Nation (www.dankennedy.net). The earnings were slow but steady. When I checked my account several weeks ago, I saw that I had earned about $120 to $130, and that I would receive a check after January 31.

Then, on January 16, I received an e-mail from Google informing me that “we’ve determined that your AdSense account poses a risk of generating invalid activity.” My account was shut down (which is why I can’t tell you exactly how much money I’m owed), and I was informed that the money I had earned would be refunded to the companies whose ads had appeared on Media Nation (see Attachment #1). I filed an appeal, and on January 20 was informed that it had been rejected (see Attachment #2).

I have no idea why Google did this. As you can see, no information is provided in either of the two e-mails I received from the company. What I have learned is that this high-handed behavior is characteristic of the way Google runs its AdSense program. See, for instance, Aaron Greenspan’s article in the Huffington Post (Attachment #3) and Dylan Winter’s column in Duckworks Magazine (Attachment #4). I have also read about similar complaints on various Internet message boards. I wrote about my own situation for Media Nation earlier this week (see Attachment #5).

I hope you will agree with me that this is outrageous behavior on Google’s part. My strong suspicion is that no human has even looked at my account — that this was all determined by Google’s software sniffing around my site and finding a traffic pattern that seemed to suggest a problem, even though it was perfectly innocuous.

The amount of money may be small, but it is time someone in government stood up to Google executives and told them they cannot confiscate the earnings of people with whom they do business and without even giving them a reason.

Sincerely,

Dan Kennedy

How the media covered Scott Brown’s rise

Meet the press: Scott Brown speaks with reporter following Senate debate in December at WBZ-TV.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism and Boston University have published a study on how the media covered the race to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a race that culminated in Republican Scott Brown’s surprising victory over Democrat Martha Coakley.

Among the authors of the report, “Hiding in Plain Sight, From Kennedy to Brown,” was my old friend Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the project, with whom I worked at both the Boston Phoenix and “Beat the Press.”

The findings of the study — which mainly focuses on the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, and to a lesser extent on the Associated Press and the New York Times — are not surprising. Essentially we learn that the media devoted precious little attention to Brown during the primary and general-election campaigns until Jan. 5, when Rasmussen released a poll showing that Brown was within striking distance.

From that point on, according to the report (verified by anyone who was paying attention at the time), the media went into overdrive, covering the campaign relentlessly but devoting far more resources to the horse race and strategy stories than to the issues. You will also not be surprised to learn that the Globe was more favorable to Coakley and the Herald to Brown.

“In the end, a campaign that first seemed to lack drama and star power was the most important and intensely covered political story in the country,” the report says. “And while they were certainly not alone, the press never saw it coming.”

I have a few quibbles with what was looked at. The authors, for example, criticize the Globe and the Herald for rarely getting outside of the Boston area, arguing that they might have picked up the Brown surge earlier if they had pushed themselves outside their geographic comfort zone. A fair point, but it’s too bad the folks who did the study couldn’t find a way to incorporate coverage from other news outlets around the state.

Then, too, talk radio, which formed a near-monolithic cheering section for Brown (and jeering section for Coakley), doesn’t even get a mention. Granted, newspaper stories can be closely analyzed in ways that talk radio can’t. But right-wing talk may have been the single most important factor in Brown’s rise.

Still, “Hidden in Plain Sight” is a revealing and valuable look at how Boston’s two daily newspapers covered the state’s biggest political story in many years, and is well worth reading in full.

Lessons for Obama and the Democrats

Attorney General Martha Coakley’s deficiencies as a Senate candidate don’t really explain the magnitude of what swept over her and the Democratic Party on Tuesday. Yes, Republican victor Scott Brown ran a vastly superior campaign, but that doesn’t explain it either.

Instead, what we saw was an outpouring of populist anger. And after a year of futile attempts to reach out to Republicans with compromised bills to stimulate the economy and reform health care, President Obama finds himself on the wrong side of that anger. The lesson he and Democrats need to learn is to embrace the anger rather than trying to defuse it. Otherwise, he’ll end up like Bill Clinton in 1994.

Or so I argue in the Guardian.

Photo (cc) by Mark Sardella and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The scene on the ground

Sign-holders outside Danvers High School

We voted at Danvers High School a few minutes after 9 a.m. The town consolidated all eight precincts there a year or so ago, yet it wasn’t all that crowded — sign-holders and poll workers outnumbered voters. We might have caught an odd lull because, as we were leaving, there was a line of cars waiting to get in.