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

Wrong about Middleborough (again)

I’d like to ease off on posting about casino gambling, but the media won’t let me. Today, the Boston Globe’s Andrea Estes manages to make two mistakes in one sentence in reporting on Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to require binding referendums in communities before a casino can be built.

Estes writes: “Middleborough voters have already voted in favor of a Mashpee Wampanoag casino for their town in July.”

No, and no.

First, there has never been a referendum in Middleborough on casino gambling. On July 28, a massive town meeting was called to consider the Mashpee Wampanoag proposal. More than 3,700 residents took part in what has been described as the largest town meeting in state history.

Yet that number is paltry compared to what would be expected in a townwide referendum, which is what Patrick wants. There are 14,652 registered voters in Middleborough. If turnout were just 50 percent — and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were much higher than that to vote on a casino proposal — then more than 7,000 voters would show up at the polls, approximately double the number who voted at town meeting.

It would also be fair to infer from Estes’ sentence that Middleborough wouldn’t even have to have a referendum, as it has already taken care of business. Wrong.

Second, the July 28 town meeting voted only to approve a deal the selectmen had negotiated with the tribe over amenities that would come to the town if a casino were built. In a separate, nonbinding question on whether people even want a casino in Middleborough, the answer was what Estes’ Globe colleague Sean Murphy, writing in CommonWealth Magazine, has reported was “overwhelming against a casino.”

Can we please start getting a few of these basic details right?

Friday morning update: There’s a trackback in a sidebar on page B8 this morning. Christine Wellgren, who covers Middleborough for the Globe and who does understand what happened on July 28, mentions the second town-meeting vote. I’m pretty sure this is the first time the Globe has mentioned the second vote since a Web update filed by Wellgren and another reporter shortly after the town meeting. By the next day, the second vote had somehow disappeared.

My standard disclosure.

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20 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I’d like to hear your take on why “the media” can’t get the basic facts right. It’s not just this case, it’s everywhere.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    In this particular case, my guess is that it’s a matter of compressing background information into as tiny a space as possible without ever having quite understood what happened in the first place. And thinking that it’s “close enough,” while worrying that a more accurate explanation would take up too much space.

  3. Anonymous

    Just another example of how the Globe fails every day. Keep the articles short, don’t use big words, and don’t confuse the reader with details.

  4. CFO Directors

    “It would also be fair to infer from Estes’ sentence that Middleborough wouldn’t even have to have a referendum, as it has already taken care of business. Wrong.”Acturally – Right. Article three – “Do you want a casino in Middlebor” could be considered a referendum on casino gambling – and we said NO.

  5. Anonymous

    Is it me, or are the details of the governor’s (apparently evolving) casino “plan” coming out in suspicious fashion? The biggest negative in the recent Globe poll was the “not in my backyard” factor. A few days later we learn of the local ballot requirement – seems pretty calculated to me. As for today’s piece – I continue to find the Globe’s coverage biased in favor of the plan. Yes, they have run a couple of articles outlining some of the downsides of gambling. But those hardly outweigh the bevy of bright and upbeat stories on gambling that have appeared in just about every section of the paper, not to mention the editorial they ran strongly endorsing the plan. The simplified, erroneous depiction of what happened at the Middleborough town meeting is intentional and is meant to nudge public opinion toward accepting casinos (“Hey, one town has already said ‘Yes!'”).I’d be very interested to know if an editor was responsible for the wording of that passage or if that’s how Estes wrote it.

  6. Anonymous

    . . . And, I think Estes misses the point. Yes, the local referendum requirement will complicate matters for any particular casino bid down the line – if and when the governor’s plan gains approval from the legislature. But it makes it easier for legislators to vote to approve.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    CFO: As tempted as I am to agree with you, a town meeting is not a referendum.

  8. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – a town meeting vote is a valid, legal and binding vote. As discussed before, it is the ultimate ratification authority in a municiaplity with open town meeting, not the ballot box.It is how town budgets are decided; town meeting has the authority to invalidate negotiations that selectmen have made with police and fire unions for contracts, as selectmen do not have authority to enter into binding agreements without town meeting approval. And so on.Casino opponents lost that vote. Had they won it, I wonder if they would be cavailling about how the ballot box would be better.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Peter: Let’s talk about definitions, OK? A town meeting is not a referendum. A referendum is not a town meeting. A town meeting vote is not “valid, legal and binding” if the Legislature passes, and Patrick signs, a bill requiring a referendum, as the Globe report indicates. This isn’t hard, but you and the Globe make this sound like nuclear physics.

  10. Anonymous

    wait, so the globe is wrong and right? … woof. … also, why would the Legislature pass a bill requiring a referendum in the face of town meeting approval for the binding portion of the plan? just curious? not that i care either way.

  11. Anonymous

    There are so many reasons why the Middleborough town meeting votes would not meet the referendum requirement in the governor’s plan we learned obout today.First, as DK points out, a referendum is not a town meeting and a town meeting is not a referendum. Secondly, as DK points out, the town meeting did not vote to approve a casino.Third, the town meeting took place before the governor’s plan was even announced. You can’t claim the town residents voted on a referendum that had not yet been proposed or passed by the legislature.

  12. Peter Porcupine

    That’s a big ‘if’ – and YOU need to look up the definition of ‘ex post facto’ law!

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Let me back up for a moment, because there’s a point of confusion here.If the Mashpee Wampanoags decide to apply for one of the three state licenses Patrick has proposed, then the referendum would have to take place.However, the tribe has the option of doing this outside the state system, in which case it would *not* need to go to referendum.But the Globe story is still wrong, because it refers to Middleborough in the context of the Patrick proposal.

  14. Peter Porcupine

    Dan – the Globe can ALWAYS be relied upon to be wrong!There is an element of Schadenfreude in all this, as liberals kvetch about the Globe’s inaccuracies; a sore temptation to say, Welcome to my world!I didn’t read the story the way you did, but your reading if perfectly valid. I read it to mean that the Middleboro casino vote had been taken, no matter how many non-binding votes followed. And a town meeting vote is actually as binding as a referendum, if not more so in a town meeting community.The one thing this entire business has taught me is to NEVER run for moderator!At this point, why should the tribe bother with the state? If the 25% cut isn’t good enough for them, that’s just more to dole out to surounding towns as mitigation when the Federal trust is approved.

  15. Anonymous

    dan, at this point i think a nuclear phycisist WOULD have trouble following the permutations. needs some kind of simple explainer chart … If X happens, Y happens. If X does not happen. Z happens. or somesuch. like a periodic table. and clearly you are the man for the job. POST IT!Also, Dan, your porcupine pal has a bit of a bug up his bonnet about the globe. newspapers in general make mistakes all the time when highly technical matters arise. the only media figure who is 100 percent infallible on all things, naturally, is rush limbaugh.

  16. someonewhoknows

    Here’s likely what happened re the Globe story.Patrick said at his presser that local communities would have veto power. The Globe runs the poll story showing NIMBY.The Patrick folks go to the Globe and leak a couple of minor details about a plan that is already out there to try and deaden the NIMBY poll story. And Estes bites.How’s that? Expect more and more….

  17. Anonymous

    Read the Globe today and the arm’s race for gaming has begun. This is good news. The only state without a plan is Vermont ( Dan, I am mor ethan than happy to gove you a ride up I89 if you like!). What anti-casino cult members dont understand is that expanded gaming will eventually collapse upon itself. As more casinos open, the allure fades, do you really think everyone in Vegas gets excited about running to the slots every night? Of course there will be a small cadre of old ladies that will infect the slots, but they are the same people at the corner store wasting your time as your try to buy a pack of gum ( can I sue the Lottery for lost wages waiting behing lottery addicts?). Gov Patrick, the compassinate govenator, has proposed 3 casinos, not enough! We need about 30 of them, then watch as they go the wau of dog tracks and keno counters.

  18. Anonymous

    Dan, I’m surprised you didn’t menttion Walgren STILL gets it at least half wrong. She describes the town meeting as “the pivotal meeting where voters overwhelmingly authorized a plan for a Mashpee Wampanoag casino resort on 500 rural acres but also, through a show of hands, supported a nonbinding, anticasino resolution.”

  19. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 9:37: I considered it, and concluded that she only got it a quarter wrong. Town meeting did authorize a plan (kind of, sort of). At least she didn’t write that town meeting approved a casino, because that it most assuredly did not.

  20. Anonymous

    Still, it’s an inaccurate simplification that advances the pro-casino agenda.

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