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

The Globe’s stunning omission

I’m stunned that the Globe failed to report that Middleborough voters, shortly after approving the agreement with the Wampanoags, turned around and rejected the casino itself. Despite publishing two stories (here and here) featuring four bylines, the paper somehow couldn’t find an inch to include that crucial fact. The Globe managed to do better in its online coverage yesterday. And as I’ve already noted, the Herald gets it right in its own Sunday story.

So, for that matter, does The Standard-Times of New Bedford, whose deep reporting on yesterday’s proceedings shows that this fight is a long way from being over. First, consider this, from Steve Decosta’s story:

After casting their votes on the agreement and before the final tally was announced, the body, on a hand vote, ironically rejected a nonbinding question to approve casino gambling in town. Only about half the voters remained on the high school athletic field for that tally.

“I don’t think that’s a true indication of how people feel, because so many people had left,” said Marsha Brunelle, selectmen chairwoman.

Asked if that outcome tainted the vote on the agreement, Mr. Marshall [Glenn Marshall, the Wampanoag chief] said: “It’s the end of a hot day, people get tired, people leave. The true number is the one that got counted.”

But casino opponents would not minimize their victory.

“That’s the root question,” said Jacqueline Tolosko, president of the anti-casino group Casinofacts. “We’re really encouraged. The town just said it doesn’t want a casino. How can that not have weight?”

Think about the cluelessness of Brunelle’s comments. Only 25 percent of the town’s registered voters took part in approving the agreement with the Wampanoags. As has been meticulously and widely documented, turnout was held down because of the midsummer heat and humidity, which kept elderly residents and people with health problems away. People who had to work or who couldn’t find child care were kept away, too.

As for people leaving, well, town officials all but told people to leave by staging a disgraceful signing ceremony with the Wampanoags as soon as the agreement was approved, but before the casino itself was put to a vote. [Well, no. See correction, below.] That action in itself ought to be the subject of a legal challenge on the grounds that it was a ruse aimed at making people think the meeting was over.

Even so, the vote to reject the casino was a legal (if non-binding) vote on a warrant article properly put before town meeting. Officials have no right to pretend that vote never took place. Again, think about Jacqueline Tolosko’s remarks: “The town just said it doesn’t want a casino. How can that not have weight?”

The second Standard-Times story, by Steve Urbon, expands on Sabutai’s report about improper influence on the part of casino proponents. Look at this:

Another opponent, Richard Young, pointed to Bill Marzelli and his dozens of orange-shirted casino backers and complained that while they were allowed to wear the T-shirts and white hats that read, “Vote YES for Middleborough’s future,” the police confiscated his side’s yellow leaflets, which explained a few opposition talking points. “I’m not allowed to give you anything to read,” he said.

Do I need to point out that the town’s two police unions have endorsed the casino? This strikes me as sufficient in and of itself to throw out the results of yesterday’s vote. No wonder police didn’t want the media watching.

Let me expand on something I wrote earlier. No doubt some people voted “yes” on the agreement because they would genuinely like to see a casino come to Middleborough. But there were others — plenty of others, I suspect — who voted “yes” because they were told, repeatedly, that the casino was coming whether they wanted it or not, and that they might as well negotiate the best terms that they could.

Last week, New England Cable News’ “NewsNight” program devoted a half-hour to the Middleborough debate. In the first segment, Ted Eayrs, a town assessor and former selectman, debated Greg Stevens, a casino opponent. In the second, I debated town planner Ruth Geoffroy, who favors the casino.

If you watch both segments, you will see that Eayrs (an opponent until recently) and Geoffroy each talked repeatedly about the supposed inevitability of the casino as a reason for approving the agreement. Let me share something else with you that you will not see in these segments: As we were leaving NECN, Eayrs told me that though he favored the agreement as the best way of protecting the town’s interests, he hopes the state will step in and stop the casino from ever being built.

Well, gee, that’s exactly how Middleborough residents voted yesterday, isn’t it? “Yes” on the agreement, “no” on the casino itself.

Gov. Deval Patrick will have a major say in what happens next. Without his wholehearted approval, a casino will not be coming to Middleborough. The governor needs to consider the fact that voters yesterday said “no” to the casino. Patrick should say no, too.

Update: This is really incredible. The Globe runs a slideshow of supporters and opponents of the casino — and the first two are of supporters wearing orange shirts! The message is cut off, but the first guy is also wearing a white cap that says “Yes to Middleborough’s Future.” Remember, the opponents’ leaflets were seized by police.

Update II: NECN gets it right. This report is particularly good on how opponents were marginalized and shunted aside. It also mentions the “no” vote on the casino itself.

Correction: According to this story, in the Cape Cod Times, the vote on the casino itself was held while the ballots on the casino agreement were being counted. WBUR Radio reports it the same way. That’s a significant difference, and I regret the error.


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13 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Long meetings, literally sweating out the competition, and official intimidation (read: Police CONFISCATING First Amendment-protected material from meeting goers). Folks, I grew up in a Mass. small town, but this traditional town meeting form of government has got to go. This isn’t the 17th century … any official business not properly done by a town’s governing body needs to be done at the ballot box.

  2. Rick from Dorchester

    Dan, Why are you so obsessed with this story?

  3. Pink Granite

    Dan -Thanks so much for the detailed information and exhaustive links!Clearly, only the tip of the iceberg has been being generally reported.- Lee

  4. Boston Venerable Bede

    Dan–This is your best reporting. There is a lot of concerted energy to have destination gambling come to the Commonwealth. I did not know about the second vote–it does matter. I cannot understand why the vote needed to occur so quickly in this town. Why does a process that takes years have to be completed in less than a week? There is a broader story here that has not been covered.

  5. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Decisions are made by those who show up.

  6. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – this has long been a rule at town meeting. No more handing out flyers about warrant articles (although just before elections, the candidates and their material are thick as flies!)I have to wonder – how dedicated are these people to town meeting if they don’t know the basic rules? Had they ATTENDED before? Or were they just getting around to bothering?Usually, town meeting has a turnout of about 15% – often less. Many towns have gone to a zero quorum for that reason. And the weeping and wailing about people not getting babysitters – that applies to EVERY town meeting. What makes this one different? Haven’t the decisions being made at town meeting all along have JUST as much impact on a town’s charachter?

  7. Anonymous

    “it does matter” A non-binding vote matters? Good to know.Why aren’t you focusing on the FIRST vote, Dan, that was a better test, which your likeminded camp LOST.Are we having a hard time admitting defeat again? IS it why we are having sudden Sunday blogboost?And did we note somewhere that Seniors did have shuttles to take them to the meeting despite reports -scratch that- ..front page spreads to the contrary?Lastly, 94 year old people are NOT Middleboro’s future. Let’s be real here who is really touched by this and who would have been 60 or 70 years ago or had they not moved away.If anyone wants a quaint little town, I have two words for ya North Adams.Dan I am curious to know whether the good reporter you are picked up the phone to call their police chief to find out their problems now, their needs and their view of what’s to come. And if not, why haven’t you called or had one of your students call?N.

  8. Anonymous

    Dan,As a resident of Plympton, I’m pleased to hear a mind I admire hails from nearby.My neighbors and I are against the casino. I was there with a No Casino sign in the Free Speech Zone in Middleboro on Saturday.The press coverage fascinates me.As for the public radio stations, well, if you’re not going to do coverage thoroughly, you ought not do it at all. (My old public radio station in Northern New York, did local news very nicely.) The hamfisted headline coverage by WGBH and WBUR mostly reinforced the notion that the casino was a done deal, and that folks should negotiate their mitigations and fast. Their reporting at times was downright damaging to the debate.The newspapers have covered it well, for the most part.The thing, however, that disturbs me most, is that I see the local and regional newsrooms are taking on faith the legitimacy of the Wampanoag representation. Glenn Marshall needs to be seriously questioned on his governance, as there are questions about his ethics and possible conflicts of interest, as well as the involvement of extra-tribal forces within the tribal council. Scott Ferson needs to answer questions on the specifics of his contract and relationship with the tribe. Scott Ferson is a Democratic PR man who has worked for the Patrick/Murray campaign. The possibility of backdoor dealings should not be ignored. Has Dick Cheney, as well as the history of Beacon Hill politics, taught us nothing?It’s a tough thing for a reporter working in affluent and white southeastern Mass to dare ask questions regarding the morals and motivations of the Wampanoag tribe, given our shameful past. But the questions need to be asked, if only because there is another aspect of our history with our native populations, and it’s one of appropriating native cultural identities for our own craven commercial interests.One newspaper has covered this: the Cape Cod Times. Check out the report posted 7/28.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Agreed. So what about the T-shirts and caps? That’s the point of my rant about the fliers.

  10. Lis Riba

    FYI, this morning on WBUR (about 8:40 am), Martha Bebinger (sp?) gave only the shorthand story that “Middleborough residents approved a casino, so what next?” without clarifying that they okayed this plan even though a majority voted against a casino in general.Just FYI.And good job at trying to keep the reporting honest.

  11. karl lindfors

    hi dan,long time no see …the facts are that no one except the folks opposing the casino cared about question 3. they are the ones who wrote it and fought for it. it didn’t matter to anyone else. i hung out to vote/watch only so i didn’t have to stand and wait for a bus. my take on question 3 was that it provided those little ‘participation’ trophies handed out at youngsters awards banquets to give weight to the concept that ‘we’re all winners’. it’s a poor joke on children and a pathetic excuse when used by adults.hoping you and yours are well,karl

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Hi, Karl: Thanks for checking in. Frankly, pro-casino folks who didn’t bother to vote on Article 3 deserve to have it come back and haunt them. Hope all is well with you and your family, too.

  13. Anonymous

    First of all, if you are going to abandon your media critic hat to become an irrational, straw-grasping casino opponent, then you should make that clear at the outset.I, too, am a casino opponent, but look up the legal status of a “non-binding” resolution. It has no legal standing, and wishful thinking will not make it otherwise. Given the questionable circumstances under which the vote was taken I’d say it has little or no moral standing either.Face it, Middleborough voted in favor of the casino, and now they’re going to get it. Vox populi.

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