Murphy on why he flipped

State Rep. Charles Murphy, D-Burlington, one of several House members identified by the Herald the other day as having flipped from pro- to anti-casino after being awarded leadership positions by House Speaker Sal DiMasi, provides some details over at Blue Mass. Group.

Murphy says casino opponents plied him with information. “Like most of my colleagues, I read it all,” he writes. The fiends!


Fading ombudsmen

It’s been nearly two years since Boston Globe ombudsman Richard Chacón left to take a job with Deval Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign. Chacón remains with Patrick, and the Globe remains without an ombudsman.

Though the Globe has not, to my knowledge, abolished the position, it seems unlikely that a new internal watchdog is going to be designated at a time when the news staff is shrinking and good journalists are walking away seemingly every week. After all, if you pay an ombudsman, you can’t pay someone else. Nor are the Globe’s financial problems unique.

Which is why I was intrigued by this piece in Advertising Age by Simon Dumenco headlined “Is the Newspaper Ombudsman More or Less Obsolete?” Dumenco writes in praise of New York Times public editor (i.e., ombudsman) Clark Hoyt, but adds: So what? We live at a time, Dumenco argues, when bloggers and the ubiquitous Jim Romensko do a far better job of holding the media to account than an ombudsman can. Besides, he says, ombudsman columns are boring.

“Maybe it’s not me, and maybe it’s not really even Hoyt,” Dumenco writes. “Maybe it’s the very idea of the public editor/ombudsman — a position whose time may have come and gone.”

My reaction: Not so fast. Dumenco’s probably right that the ombudsman movement is fading due to financial pressures. The Web site of the Organization of News Ombudsmen is so moribund that it links to Chacón’s predecessor, Christine Chinlund, who gave up that role in 2005. But though bloggers certainly do much to hold the media to account, something important will have been lost as well, and that is the loss of an authoritative, inside voice.

I could point to numerous examples, but let me suggest one recent piece by Hoyt, in which he blasted the Times for its report that some former anonymous aides to John McCain were worried nine years ago that he might have, maybe, well, you know, been having sex with an attractive lobbyist many years younger than he. Everyone on the planet was ripping the Times for that story. But it was Hoyt’s column that was the show-stopper — not because it was better than all the other commentary, but because it came from inside the paper.

Then, too, a good ombudsman bases his or her columns not just on commentary, as bloggers generally do, but on reporting. Yes, in Boston, the Phoenix has a long tradition of media critics who report pretty thoroughly on the Globe, the Herald and other media organizations. (My disclosure is in the right-hand rail.*) But though Globe staffers have never been required to cooperate with the ombudsman, they’re certainly encouraged to in a way that’s not necessarily the case with respect to the Phoenix or Boston magazine.

And as former Globe ombudsman and former Phoenix media columnist Mark Jurkowitz has told me, the ombudsman’s column is actually the tip of the iceberg — most of the job consists of politely handling reader complaints about everything from smudgy ink to the cancellation of a favorite comic strip. This is basic customer service, and no blogger is going to do that.

I’d like to see every serious, 24-hour news operation in Boston have an ombudsman. Why stop at the Globe? But, barring an unexpected return to financial health, it’s not likely to happen. It’s too bad.

*Whoops. No, it’s not. OK, I was the Phoenix’s media columnist from 1994 to 2005.

Bare-knuckles do-gooder

In today’s Boston Herald, Casey Ross shows how hard House Speaker Sal DiMasi went at casino-gambling supporters — to the point of awarding lucrative leadership positions to six legislators who had supported expanded gambling in the past. Four voted “no” last week, and the other two missed the vote.

Naturally, those who were interviewed by Ross deny there was any quid pro quo. But let’s say there was an understanding. It would be too cavalier to dismiss it with a “so what?” But this is the way the legislative game has been played for so long that I can only be amused at the outrage over DiMasi’s use of strong-arm tactics to stop something that would be of incalculable harm to the state.

The danger now is that some of these same legislators seem to think they’ll get their way in pushing through slot machines at the state’s race tracks. Let’s hope not. For now, though, I think DiMasi deserves credit for using his muscle for the greater good.

Jon Keller on the casino vote

WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller on Gov. Deval Patrick, House Speaker Sal DiMasi and the casino vote:

The governor and other casino advocates lobbied hard for their position, using the same bag of tricks available to the speaker, everything from one-on-one meetings between legislators and a governor who could, if he chose, make their lives miserable back in their districts, to the profane strong-arm tactics of organized labor, who openly threatened to try to unseat legislators who didn’t toe their line. Nothing wrong with any of the above, that’s how it’s done. DiMasi and company just did a better job of it than Patrick et al.

No kidding. The anti-casino forces won this fight fair and square.

Sex and the prosecution thereof

Given former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s reckless behavior, it was probably inevitable that he was going to get caught at some point. But the New York Times today reports that the federal investigation into his assignations with prostitutes was wildly disproportionate. David Johnston and Philip Shenon write:

The scale and intensity of the investigation of Mr. Spitzer, then the governor of New York, seemed on its face to be a departure for the Justice Department, which aggressively investigates allegations of wrongdoing by public officials, but almost never investigates people who pay prostitutes for sex.

You were surprised?

And while I’m at it, where does Charles Carl [Globe correction TK] McGee go to get his reputation back? McGee, a high-ranking Patrick administration official, was arrested in Florida recently and charged with having sex with a 15-year-old boy. Now prosecutors are saying, oh, never mind.

You can’t read this

Well, as you can see, I’m plowing through the Globe online right now. And I’m wondering, what were they thinking? This looked like a good design decision when I saw it in the print edition earlier this morning. But good grief — who thought it would look good on the Web? Sorry. I’m not reading it. I’m not sure I could if I wanted to.

Update: Now fixed, as Philocrites notes in the comments.

Misplaced criticism of DiMasi

A Globe editorial today is really unfair in the way it portrays House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s “lobbying tactics” in defeating Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino proposal. The editorial says of DiMasi:

He does not support the introduction of slot machines at the racetracks — a wise decision, because the model has more negatives and doesn’t generate the kind of jobs and revenues associated with destination casinos. Yet while lobbying House members to kill the casino bill, he promised at least three legislators that he would not block their attempts to bring a racetrack slots bill to the House floor. And this from the leader who predicted Tuesday that casinos would “cause human damage on a grand scale.”

How obtuse can you be? DiMasi allowed the casino bill to come to the floor, where it died a natural death, assisted by DiMasi and state Rep. Dan Bosley, D-North Adams, a recognized expert on the false promises and social ills of casino gambling.

Now certain legislators want a “racino” bill to come to the floor so they can go on record as voting for it, thus pleasing racetrack operators in their districts. That’s fine. As the editorial points out, DiMasi opposes slot machines at casinos, and we can be reasonably sure that a bill allowing them won’t pass.

What’s laughable about the editorial is the inconsistency. DiMasi gets criticized for using his influence to defeat a casino bill that he had allowed to come to the floor. And then he’s criticized for supposed hypocrisy over racinos because — you guessed it — he’s going to allow a bill to come to the floor.

Sounds to me like DiMasi is being perfectly consistent. House members get to vote on controversial legislation. And DiMasi, as speaker, gets to let his members know where he stands. It’s called democracy.