Tag Archives: Ted Kennedy

Meningitis story nudges its way into Senate race

Ted Kennedy

The controversy over compounding pharmacies is now crossing into the U.S. Senate race between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. Hard to say where this might lead, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

First up: Noah Bierman and Frank Phillips report in the Boston Globe that Brown backed an effort by the compounding-pharmacy industry to stop the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration from imposing new regulations. Brown also received $10,000 in donations from a fundraising event organized by the owner of the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, ground zero in the meningitis outbreak.

That sounds pretty bad. But Brown’s explanation — that he and the industry wanted a rule requiring drugs to be delivered directly to doctors rather than patients — seems reasonable.

“As you know, they sometimes fall into the wrong hands,” Brown told the Globe. “I was advocating getting it to the doctors, which I don’t think loosens regulations.”

Next up is the Boston Herald, whose reporter Erin Smith writes today that, in 2007, Sen. Ted Kennedy pushed for exactly the kind of tough regulations and DEA oversight that might have prevented the meningitis cases.

Again, it’s hard to know how that might be relevant to the Brown-Warren race. But the Herald story describes an industry flat-out opposed to any federal involvement.

“They have a huge amount of lobbyists. They give money to politicians. We didn’t have that,” Arthur Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers, told the Herald. “Sen. Ted Kennedy had a lot of influence, but obviously the bill didn’t get enough support.”

If nothing else, the Herald story casts the industry’s more recent efforts, supported by Brown, in a less benign light. And given that Brown holds Kennedy’s old seat, it could make for an irresistible compare-and-contrast.

I doubt we’ve heard the last of this.

Photo (cc) by Brian Finifter and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Brown’s reasons for rejecting debate make no sense

Tom Brokaw

This commentary is also online at the Huffington Post.

What we were talking about, in case U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s diversionary tactics led you astray, was a televised debate, held before a neutral audience, to be moderated by Tom Brokaw. Everything else is baloney.

As you no doubt already know, Brown made two demands that had to be met before he would agree to a debate with his Democratic rival, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren.

The first was that Vicki Kennedy, president of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, which would sponsor the debate, refrain from endorsing a candidate for “the duration of the Senate race.”

The second was that the debate be carried only by local media outlets and not by “out-of-state cable networks with a reputation for political advocacy” — clear reference to the liberal outlet MSNBC, which had been mentioned as a possibility.

Both demands were ridiculous because they were irrelevant. But when Vicki Kennedy rejected the first of those demands, that was enough for Brown to say no.

(At this point I suppose I should include a non-disclosure: I’m not related to those Kennedys.)

Brown might have been able to make a reasonable case for asking Vicki Kennedy not to endorse until after the debate. But demanding that she refrain for “the duration” was just silly. If the media consortium that includes the Boston Globe schedules a debate, will Brown insist that the Globe not endorse? And what will Brown say if the Boston Herald, as is its wont, puts together its own debate? Surely he won’t ask the paper to withhold its all-but-certain Brown endorsement.

As for MSNBC, the debate organizers could prevent the channel from carrying it live. Afterwards, though, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and company would be free to show clips and comment on them whether they had carried the full debate or not. The fair-use provision of the copyright law guarantees that — not to mention the First Amendment.

And why did I say the debate would be held before a neutral audience? Because you can be sure the Brown and Warren campaigns would insist on equal numbers of partisans in the audience. So the Kennedy Institute’s sponsorship isn’t an issue, either.

I know some observers have questioned Brokaw’s alleged liberal bias. But since that hasn’t been raised by the Brown campaign, we have to assume he had no problem with Brokaw as moderator. When Brokaw moderated a debate between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, he seemed mainly interested in making sure neither candidate exceeded his allotted time. Liberal or not, Brokaw has earned his status as a fair-minded journalist who can be trusted not to throw the debate to either candidate.

It’s also hard to figure why Brown suddenly has a problem with Vicki Kennedy or the Kennedy Institute, given that he took part in a debate with Martha Coakley two years ago that was co-sponsored by the institute without setting any preconditions. As Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis points out, it was only a year ago that Brown couldn’t say enough good things about the late Ted Kennedy’s widow.

Globe columnist Scot Lehigh thinks Brown’s demands were “reasonable,” and he gives the senator credit for sticking to them. Yet Lehigh doesn’t tell us what Brown could possibly gain by failing to take part.

As my Northeastern colleague Alan Schroeder, an expert on political debates, puts it, “They’re making such an ­effort to portray Brown as someone with bipartisan credentials who can work with Democrats, and yet here’s this relatively mild example of cooperating with a Democrat, and they’re balking at it.”

Boston Phoenix political columnist David Bernstein wonders if Brown is trying to curry favor with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which has had its own issues with Vicki Kennedy.

Who knows what Brown and his advisers are thinking? Their political astuteness is generally beyond question. Maybe this will prove to be a smart move. Right now, though, it looks like a rare misstep, especially curious given that Brown initially made the Warren campaign look flat-footed with his rapid acceptance of several debate invitations.

My own bias is in favor of as many debates as possible, regardless of the venue. For instance, I don’t understand why Warren won’t say yes to WBZ Radio (AM 1030) talk-show host Dan Rea, who is conservative but is as fair as they come.

The candidates really don’t have anything better to do. How would we prefer they spend their time? Making television ads? Attending fundraisers? Of course not. They should spend as much time as possible side by side, talking about the issues. It’s not always the most edifying experience, but it’s better than any conceivable alternatives.

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

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.

Rachel Maddow breaks liberal hearts

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that MSNBC talk-show host Rachel Maddow, whose network recently took out a full-page ad so that she could tell U.S. Sen. Scott Brown that she’s not running for his seat, would actually be the best candidate the Democrats could put up in 2012.

It’s not that Maddow is so wonderful, although she’s pretty good. Rather, it’s that the death of Ted Kennedy exposed the hollowed-out core of a party that dominates state government, but that has failed to develop any new talent in a generation. The one exception: Gov. Deval Patrick. And he’ll be lucky to get re-elected.

Tom Oliphant reviews Kennedy memoir

Tom Oliphant

Tom Oliphant

Retired Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant’s closeness to the late senator Ted Kennedy may have deprived him of the ability to consider Kennedy dispassionately or skeptically. But he did have insights into Kennedy’s character and thinking that were rare for a journalist to attain.

So I highly recommend Oliphant’s review of Kennedy’s posthumous memoir, “True Compass,” which appears in a new quarterly journal called Democracy. According to Oliphant, Kennedy’s personal tone, his serious consideration of Catholic social-justice ideas and his remorse over his personal failings come through in ways that were rarely heard outside the circle of his family and close friends. Oliphant writes:

Introspection was never a Kennedy strength or habit, but “True Compass” has surprised and astonished those who knew him well. That includes me, a baby reporter in the late 1960s gleefully sucked into the vortex of Kennedy’s involvement in all the burning issues of his time. I dealt with him for 40 years in a happy evolution from quasi-student to willing accomplice on scores of causes (some hopeless, many successful) to something more personal; my real bias is that I never stopped being stunned by his work ethic, his relentlessness and diligence, not to mention his kindness.

Above all, Oliphant invokes a time when Kennedy was part of a better Senate — less ideological, less money-driven than today’s circus. Sadly, it makes you realize that if it seems Kennedy’s likely successor, Martha Coakley, may be unable to fill his shoes, neither could a young Ted Kennedy himself, given how the institution has diminished in stature and seriousness.

Photo (cc) by the BBC World Service and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

A desultory race for a storied seat

Coakley speaks with reporters following her victory rally Tuesday night at the Sheraton Boston. Click on image for more photos.

Coakley speaks with reporters following her victory rally Tuesday night at the Sheraton Boston. Click on image for more photos.

In my latest for the Guardian (whose technical difficulties prevented this from being posted earlier), I write that the only surprising aspect of the U.S. Senate race to succeed the late Ted Kennedy was how little interest the voters demonstrated.

That’s not likely to change with state Attorney General Martha Coakley now slated to face off against state Sen. Scott Brown in the final election.

Do the expedient thing

I am genuinely puzzled by a statement from U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano’s Senate campaign, reported in the Boston Globe. Capuano’s campaign treasurer, Bruce Percelay, was asked to comment on the fundraising advantage state Attorney General Martha Coakley has built. The Globe’s Matt Viser writes:

“Our hats go off to our competitors who were able to raise that much money,” said Bruce A. Percelay, treasurer for the Capuano campaign. He added that Coakley’s campaign had “a significant jump on us” because she declared earlier, while Capuano “made a conscious decision not to begin any fund-raising until Joe Kennedy made his decision.”

“If it temporarily puts us a little behind the starting line, then it was a small price to pay for doing the right thing,” Percelay said.

Yes, we all know that Capuano waited until Kennedy decided not to run for his uncle’s seat. No news there. What puzzles me is that the Capuano campaign wants everyone to know that.

Does the congressman want us to think he really does believe the Kennedys have a hereditary right to the seat? Does he honestly expect us to think Coakley disrespected the sainted memory of Ted Kennedy by jumping into the race while various and sundry Kennedys were pondering whether to run?

The outpouring of public affection for Ted Kennedy was genuine. In general, though, I think voters would like to see the Kennedys take their place in line like everyone else. You may have noticed that public reaction to Gov. Deval Patrick’s appointment of Kennedy coatholder Paul Kirk as interim senator wasn’t exactly enthusiastic.

Regardless of Coakley’s merits as a potential senator, I think her decision to jump in and not wait for the Kennedys can only help. As for Capuano, I would like to hear him explain directly why he apparently believes that Joe Kennedy would make a better senator than he would.

Patrick should announce his interim choice

Not that Gov. Deval Patrick is looking to Media Nation for advice. But if there’s one way to break the impasse over an interim senator to replace the late Ted Kennedy until the Jan. 19 special election, it’s this: Patrick should announce his choice now.

It seems pretty clear that the state Legislature in 2004 did the right thing in taking away the governor’s right to name a successor and the wrong thing in not allowing for an interim. Once you get past the partisan squabbling over who’s the bigger hypocrite, the only real issue is whether Patrick might appoint someone who’d then have a leg up in the special election.

Kennedy, in his letter to Patrick, released shortly before his death, asked that the interim be someone who would promise not to run. Patrick has said that would be his goal. All that’s missing is a name. As I and others have said, former governor Michael Dukakis would be a fine choice, but I’m sure he’s not the only possibility.

With the health-care debate reaching a critical moment in Washington, Massachusetts deserves to have full representation.

Anyone want to bet against Martha Coakley?

Martha Coakley

Martha Coakley

State Attorney General Martha Coakley is in a commanding position to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy now that former congressman Joe Kennedy has announced he won’t run.

I doubt many people are surprised by Kennedy’s decision. Last week, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller and Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh both gave Kennedy a taste of what he could expect from the sensible center had he chosen to jump in. Needless to say, conservative talk radio would have savaged him.

Who would want to bet against Coakley? Not me. While several congressmen ponder whether they should give it a try, Coakley is already off and running. She’s won statewide, and the times would suggest that voters may be looking for something a little different. As a woman and as someone who’s not part of the Capitol Hill gang, Coakley can position herself as an outsider.

As for the Republicans, so far the party has been unable find someone willing to be a human sacrifice. Former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, who at least would have been well-funded, has decided against running.

Call this a gut sense rather than a prediction, but barring a major unexpected development — like Victoria Reggie Kennedy getting in — this race may be over before it even begins.

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

Ted Kennedy and the Mormon temple (II)

Paging Kevin Bacon! There’s a heretofore unreported connection between the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and the Mormon temple in Belmont: communications consultant Scott Ferson, president and CEO of the Liberty Square Group.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Ferson was press secretary and Massachusetts issues director for Kennedy from 1990 to 1995. Later, as senior vice president of McDermott/O’Neill, he provided assistance to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its efforts to build a massive temple in Belmont, a matter of some local controversy.

Ferson, in a comment he posted on Blue Mass. Group about an unrelated matter involving Republican gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos and Lieutenant Gov. Tim Murray, writes:

[T]he Mormon church was a client of mine, and … I joined Mitt Romney as he gave a tour of the Boston Temple in Belmont to my former boss, Ted Kennedy. Coincidence? Are there really any coincidences in this city?

It remains unclear precisely what Kennedy might have done to help local Mormons, who were finally allowed to build a spire with the Angel Moroni on top after winning a case before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. But it is a fact that Kennedy was close to Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who claims Kennedy took credit for the Mormons’ success.

I should point out that Ferson is (was?) also involved in the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s efforts to build a gigantic gambling casino in Middleborough — efforts that, fortunately, have bogged down in scandal and controversy, through no fault of Ferson’s.

(Thanks to an alert Media Nation reader for passing this along.)