By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Patrick and the press

I’ve been holding my fire on Gov. Deval Patrick’s personal spending spree (with our money) because I’m not sure exactly what to think. I thought the story about his helicopter rides to official events was genuinely stupid, but my ears perked up over his state-funded Cadillac. Since then, we’ve learned that he spent a fortune redecorating his office, and — most egregious, IMHO — has approved a $72,000-a-year chief of staff for his wife, a downtown lawyer.

And it’s not as though all this is obscuring the great news Patrick is making on other fronts. Indeed, as this was unfolding last week, he was quietly floating two ideas to raise taxes. This from a guy who said during his gubernatorial campaign that he had “no plans” for a tax increase. Well, not then, anyway.

I’m still not sure how big a deal any of this is. Faux-populist stories like these are a dime a dozen, and if Patrick’s tastes are more expensive than those of his predecessors, such is life. But his news conference yesterday is another matter. Patrick demonstrated such a just-doesn’t-get-it streak — and not for the first time — that it makes you wonder whether he has the basic political instincts needed to be an effective governor.

Essentially, Patrick apologized, even going so far to say he’d “screwed up”; announced that he would return some of the money; and then undid all the good he might have done by blaming it on the media. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.) By all means, take a look at Jon Keller’s report on WBZ-TV (Channel 4). I also recommend Adrian Walker’s column in today’s Globe, which includes this:

I’m on record as not giving a hoot what the governor gets driven around in. I still think people place too much emphasis on symbols over substance. At the end of the day, a leased Cadillac is a ridiculous barometer to measure Patrick by.

What is troubling, though, is Patrick’s inability to think any problem of his has anything to do with him. If everyone could just be as high-minded, as substantive as he is, everything would be fine.

Over at Patrick headquarters, a.k.a. Blue Mass Group, Charley Blandy wags his finger at the media:

All of the local media geniuses who have smelled blood on the caddy stuff need to get a clue, and start focusing on things that matter. This is page B3 stuff at best. Media outlets aren’t struggling just because of their business model; they’re struggling because they’ve abdicated their vitality and relevance, and become just as focused on gossipy crap like the DeVille, or whether Scott Brown has a potty-mouth, or whatever. [Blandy’s emphasis.]

Blandy also denounces “the obvious racial subtext to all of this: Deval as Pimp.” Well, you know what? I’m not going to say there’s no racial subtext. There always is when you’re talking about an African-American in a position of power. But let’s not get carried away here.

Patrick needs to understand that, yes, he ran a mistake-free campaign for governor, but he also had plenty of luck, beating two extremely weak candidates in the Democratic primary and running virtually unopposed in the general election. For all his smarts and knowledge, he’s still got a lot to learn about politics.

Are the media pushing all this too hard? Probably. Yesterday, though, Patrick had a chance to put this string of stories behind him. He only partly succeeded — at best.

Elsewhere: The Massachusetts Liberal is more impressed with Patrick’s apology than I am. Jay Fitzgerald: “Individually, the various stories don’t push my outrage buttons. Collectively, well, they add up.” And the Herald’s Inside Track has a hilarious account of a dust-up between two reporters for WHDH-TV (Channel 7), Andy Hiller and Sean Hennessey, as they were jockeying for position at Patrick’s news conference.

More: Emily Rooney comes to Patrick’s defense.

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  1. jvwalt

    As far as I can remember, it has always been the “small” items like Deval’s Caddy that make news and spark outrage. Black or white, public or private sector, doesn’t matter. The Pentagon can misspend billions of dollars, but what everybody remembers is the $6,000 toilet seat or the $800 hammer (or whatever the actual numbers were). Dennis Kozlowski takes millions out of Tyco, but everybody remembers the umbrella stand and the ice-sculpture David peeing champagne. Those items are miniscule compared to the total amounts involved, but they are tangible, recognizable. They resonate in a way that a huge dollar figure does not. Deval Patrick has given us a whole series of such items to latch onto — and these things don’t fade away easily. If Patrick and his team are so clueless about such a fundamental reality of public perception, it does not bode well for his future as Governor.

  2. sco

    My biggest problem with the way the media has handled this, Dan, is that they have provided no context. What was the condition of the governor’s office? On Greater Boston, they said that it was literally falling apart. Should he have replaced the furniture with unfinished pine from Ikea? What staff to governors’ spouses have in other states? Who performed this role for other Ann Romney, Jan Cellucci, Susan Weld, Kitty Dukakis? I don’t know, the papers and TV news don’t tell me.Not only have they consistantly gotten the model of the Cadilac wrong, which is a small thing, but tells me that they are not interested in accuracy, but only interested in sensationalism.I will say this: during the campaign, Patrick proved that he could not direct the media conversation. If he wants to get anything accomplished he needs to learn how to do this, and learn also that the media responds very poorly to being scolded.

  3. Rick in Duxbury

    Having forgotten his Clinton past, Deval appears poised to repeat it. The condescending, arrogant attitude is what bugs people. If you don’t want to live by the same holier-than-thou rhetoric that got you elected, admit as much. California’s Jerry Brown looks pretty good in retrospect.

  4. Eric

    The media frame here is so clearly “he’s still got a lot to learn about politics.” Rather that comment on it, you repeat it. Well done.Poor little black man, perhaps we enlightened white folk can help him get over his fixation with the Cadillacs and learn the tough lessons of Our Enlightened Politics. And exactly what part of “If everyone could just be as high-minded, as substantive as he is, everything would be fine” is inaccurate? Especially in light of the current nonsense?

  5. Anonymous

    What a boon for Cadillac. Known in car enthusiast circles as a bit of clunky nostalgia for the good old days of American luxury that doesn’t quite measure up when compared with (more expensive) luxury brands like Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, etc., I think Cadillac wins the week. He’s the guv, he should have a nice ride. I think it was a devastatingly slow news week. I don’t usually jump on the “it was a media-driven story” bandwagon, but if I was Patrick, instead of saying “I screwed up,” I’d be saying “go screw.” I just don’t share the outrage. Sort of like the sports world, where Fox25’s Butch Stearns has been vein-bulgingly raging against Manny Ramirez showing up after everyone else to camp (c’mon Butch! It’s one of the rites of spring!), and–gasp!–John Henry buying Big Papi a new truck. At least it wasn’t a Cadillac!

  6. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, coming from a numbers background, the most outrageous thing about the Cadillac fiasco is the lease cost. What I see quoted in the papers is a car with a value of $47,000 and a monthly lease of around $1,160. Now remember in a lease, you’re supposedly financing the difference between the price of the car and the value of the car at the time you turn the car back to the dealer. Now whip out your trusty financial calculator and see what happens when you calculate a payment to buy the car outright at $47,000, no money down, over 4 years at 5%. You get a payment of $1,082, or less than the price of the lease itself! This is even more scary: I sure hope whichever staffer got hosed that bad by the dealer has no involvement in serious financial matters!

  7. Anonymous

    This is all such a bunch of decontextualized B.S.

  8. Stella

    Governing, generalship, all leadership is 80-90% perception. Always has been, always will be.

  9. Tim Allik

    For better or worse, symbols do matter. The money we are talking about here is peanuts. But the concern I have is that Deval Administration seems tone-deaf when it comes to public perception and the resulting media coverage. Before he was elected, there was quite a bit of buzz about Patrick’s multi-million dollar second home in the Berkshires. Granted, the governor and his wife have been extremely successful with their finances. But when there is recurrent talk of Massachusetts revenue shortfalls and tax hikes — voters are not inclined to praise extravagance in any form, personal, symbolic or otherwise.

  10. Anonymous

    Less than a month to go until “Saint Patrick’s” day. Howie, consider the possibilities!

  11. Adam

    Eric: you know that Adrian Walker is black, right?

  12. Anonymous

    Don’t governors generally live in well-decorated mansions, work in handsomely appointed offices, and move around in fancy limos? What the hell.

  13. Anonymous

    Must have been a slow news week for the Boston “news” media to have manufactured such an irrelevant issue.Next, they’ll be reminiscing over John Ashcroft’s US$8000 drapes to hide a metal statue’s boob that was shown over his shoulder when he was bloviating in the foyer of the US Justice Department building.–raj

  14. Anonymous

    This is insane. Channel seven is carrying the Anna Nicole tragicomedy press conference live, when Dennis Johnson has just died! That’s real news! Sorry for the o/t post!

  15. Anonymous

    “And it’s not as though all this is obscuring the great news Patrick is making on other fronts. Indeed, as this was unfolding last week, he was quietly floating two ideas to raise taxes’ Great news? Time to get another Job, i think the tax man is going to swing that ax

  16. Anonymous

    YouTube is morphing into many different forms, some of which even adults can enjoy. This high quality video a brief intro into what is now part of Boston’s local media network.A great way to view what is going on- charity events we don’t have time to see or get to and meet people like Sen. Brooke and Bill Brett.

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