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

The ghost in Mitt Romney’s machine

Nina Easton

I’m always amazed when journalists find themselves unwilling to follow the simple ethical rules of our business. So this morning I find myself scratching my head over the news that Nina Easton, an ex-Boston Globe reporter who is still working as a journalist, helped former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney write his new book, “No Apology.”

Globe reporter Sasha Issenberg writes that Romney pays tribute to Easton’s contributions in the acknowledgments. And Easton, now Washington bureau chief for Fortune magazine and a commentator on Fox News, has this to say for herself:

Mitt asked me — as a friend and a book author myself — for some input on an early draft. I offered some writer’s advice on things like structure and how to better tease out themes in his writing. It wasn’t much.

No, not much. Just enough to disqualify her from commenting on the 2012 presidential campaign as long as Romney is a candidate. (And please don’t tell me that he’s not a candidate. Romney’s 2012 campaign began the day he dropped out of the ’08 race.) At least Easton left the Globe in 2006; it wouldn’t be good if her fingerprints were found on the paper’s massive 2007 Romney series.

Here, by the way, is Easton on Fox’s “Hannity” on May 28, 2009, talking about efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations to bail out General Motors:

How is it all possible, Sean? How is it possible is that the Bush administration punted on this. They punted by giving TARP funds, bailing out GM, and punting it to the next administration when, in fact, we should have gone through a Mitt-Romney-style plan, which was a government-managed bankruptcy, which would have left this company far more in the private sector.

Clearly the two presidents should have been wearing a wristband that said “WWMD?” — “What Would Mitt Do?”

Easton, of course, is hardly a pioneer. Perhaps the most memorable of such breaches took place in 1980, when columnist George Will helped Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan prep for his debate with then-president Jimmy Carter, and subsequently enthused over Reagan’s “thoroughbred performance” on “Nightline” without disclosing his role.

And, yes, Globe journalists have been known to lend a hand in various ways to Democratic politicians over the years.

But it’s a lousy practice, and I can’t understand why some journalists are so attracted to it. I mean, how did Easton ever get to the point at which she considered Romney a “friend” in the first place? This is someone she covers. Period.

More: I had not anticipated the demand for details I’ve received regarding the aid and comfort Democratic politicians have gotten from the Globe. I did have a specific incident in mind when I wrote that sentence, but it was a long time ago and I have my reasons for not wanting to get into it. Indeed, anything I could come up with would predate not just Marty Baron’s tenure as editor, but his predecessor, Matt Storin’s, as well.

For some insight into how the Globe and Democratic politicians once benefited mightily from each other’s favors, you might want to take a look at this piece I wrote some years ago (pay no attention to the date at the top of the page) about Jack Farrell’s wonderful book “Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century.”

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  1. Well, Dan, we know what you consider ethical journalism:

    1. You never actually read primary source documents. You read only the popular press, usually only on the side of your far left ideological prejudices.

    2. Your idea of vetting factual information is to condemn those who you agree with as “tools” of some faction or business that you find disagreeable, and to place a halo on every faction or business that your find agreeable. In other words, every political decision you make is prefabricated by your far left ideological prejudices.

    3. You have no training in anything besides literary criticism.

    You’re a complete incompetent, Dan. You’re too lazy to do real primary research. You’re committed to a loony left agenda, and your idea of research is to seek out that which confirms your prejudices. Even if you were to try to do real primary research, I don’t think you’ve got the skills or the discipline to succeed.

    You flunked, professor. So, I regard your bloviating as about as serious as I would that of a John Birch Society or Birther enthusiast. You’re just the flip side of the coin.

    The only real question left, Dan, is do you inflict this incompetence on your students in the classroom? My guess is: Yes.

    My guess as to how you got your job: You’re basically a party aparratchik. Humanities departments have been systematically blacklisting for 40 years. You’re PC agenda is, in fact, a job qualification. That smirking that you do, which you like to think is an expression of rebellion or critical thinking is actually: “I know how to game the system and you don’t.”

    At least, I know now how the popular press came to the conclusion that there is a “consensus” about global warming. There are a lot of Dan Kenneday’s out there spouting the party line as a term of their employment.

    You flunk, professor. You’re an incompetent.

  2. The Globe story this morning on Mitt’s book “No Apology” had me shaking my head. Mitt criticizing others for pandering to the Tea Party? Has there been a politician in recent memory that has flip-flopped on so many issues as Mitt? He’s gone from Moderate Republican to Far-Right Conservative seemingly overnight…

  3. Mike Benedict

    Maybe she wants to be the next Suzy Wetlaufer.

  4. Mike Benedict

    @Stephen: Just because “it’s always happy hour somewhere” doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to drink and blog.

    Then again, if you want to pound the Jack Daniels and then go play with loaded guns, be my guest. It might just be the smartest thing you’ll ever do.

  5. Michael Pahre

    You really should call her up to get her side of this.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Michael: Are you serious? She’s on the record, and I reported what she told the Globe. I’ve got her side. If she’d like to say more, she can post a comment. In all seriousness, I’d feel uncomfortable if Issenberg hadn’t quoted her. But he did. I don’t see what the issue is.

  6. Jim Chiavelli

    Professor, really, I must call you to account on young Mr. Thomas; there are just too many errors. When I taught J1, misspelling the subject’s name meant failure, for one thing. (Oh, we used to call spelling, and rationality, “gaming the system,” and how we would laugh at the Great Unwashed …)

    I understand there’s a bit of an edge for struggling students, out of sheer humanity, but sometimes one must be cruel to be kind. For one thing, continuing to encourage all this hot air is just contributing to global … what is it again?

    Don’t give up the smirk,

  7. BP Myers

    I’m just pleased that the whole real names thing has elevated the conversation. (:>)

  8. Neil Sagan

    What is not clear is the standard Dan describes and whether this is a piece on journalistic ethics or politics.

    It seems to me that a journalist moonlighting as an editor for a politician is good work when you can get it but that taking that work does not disqualify the person as a journalist on topics related to the interests of said journalist. HOWEVER it is up to the audience to judge the potential conflict of interests and they can do so only if it is mentioned repeatedly at every public appearance by the journalist …that he/she played a role in editing his book as a paid/unpaid contributor.

    About the politics, Mitt is free to manhandle rap artists on airplane, have his PR flacks misrepresent the story, swing from center to right to far right if he chooses, and we are free to make fun of him.

  9. Neil Sagan

    Stephen Thomas certainly has a style, a style of vengeance and punitive retribution. What happened between you two?

  10. Mike Stucka

    Stephen: Please reread Dan’s last two paragraphs. That’s not a loony left bloviating on behalf of the Democratic Party.

    In regards to Dan’s classroom ability: Dan’s one of the good ones.

    And I agree with Dan’s overall point in this post.

  11. … I thought Stephen had “left the building”…

  12. I don’t believe Easton’s conduct at all parallels the breach of journalism ethics by George Will that you cite, which involved prepping Reagan with documents stolen from Carter’s campaign and then boosting Reagan as an “impartial” observer. There are obvious conflicts of interest, such as Andrea Mitchell interviewing Alan Greenspan or Gail Huff covering Scott Brown. Likewise, it struck me as improper that Bob Ryan covered the NBA for the Globe at the same time he ghost-wrote Larry Bird’s tome. If Easton did not receive compensation from Romney as she claims, then, as she should have done on “Hannity,” discloses to viewers/readers that she and Romney are pals, she shouldn’t be banished to a leper colony. Washington journalists send their kids to the same private schools as the govt. officials they cover and attend the same parties as politicians. With the “revolving door” of ex-pols becoming news commentators and prominent journalists who served in the public sector (Moyers, Russert, Fallows, Hodding Carter, et al.), it’s just not realistic to get as exercised as you have here.

    Speaking of getting exercised, the real name posting as a means of curbing invective-laden postings: how’s that working out for you? Another reality–people don’t engage in political discourse over coffee anymore; they talk at each other while munching on fruit-flavored Ritalin.

  13. John Swift

    How many political lives does Mitt Romney get? Easton shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near news in which her “friend” is involved.

    I can’t wait for the next installment of “Professor of Journalism” versus “Professor of the Blues”.

  14. Steve Stein

    @Al – twice so far. Something tells me he’s going for the hat trick.

  15. BP Myers

    @Sheldon said: “Likewise, it struck me as improper that Bob Ryan covered the NBA for the Globe at the same time he ghost-wrote Larry Bird’s tome.”

    It’s sports. It doesn’t matter. I don’t see the equivalence.

    “There are obvious conflicts of interest, such as Andrea Mitchell interviewing Alan Greenspan or Gail Huff covering Scott Brown.”

    One of those things occurred. One of them didn’t. The one that did occur was wrong.

    “she shouldn’t be banished to a leper colony.”

    Not being able to cover Romney because she has admitted he is her friend is the equivalent of being “banished to a leper colony?”

    You overreach, my friend.

  16. Steve Stein

    Isn’t John Ellis and the 2000 presidential election the model for relationships and candidates now?

  17. @BP:

    The Ryan situation is an obvious conflict–he was getting paid to ghost write the book. Bird was his bread & butter, which could make him “protective” of Bird. There is also the conflict with the Globe–does Ryan save the “good stuff” for the book, or put it in his column for which he is being paid by the Globe.

    Don’t get me wrong–Easton was wrong not to disclose her connection with Romney on Hannity’s show. I’m just saying that being Romney’s friend shouldn’t bar her from covering politics overall. Washington DC is inbred; there’d be no one left to report on anything.

    Don’t forget that during l’Affaire Lewinsky, Nightline each evening would report on Starr’s latest leak, chat with Gingrich and a Democrat, before turning the proceedings over to a discussion with the “objective” David Gergen and George S.

  18. BP Myers

    @sheldon: Agree with everything you say. I don’t know what we do about sportswriters as “journalists” though. Recall that it wasn’t sportswriters, but investigative reporters who broke the BALCO and most of the steroids stuff. Sportswriters (and most openly admit it, now) looked the other way.

    Perhaps we need to carve out a special niche for “sportswriters” and acknowledge they are not “journalists” in the truest sense of the word.

  19. Mike Benedict

    @BP: Not entirely correct. Mark Fainaru-Wada was a national sportswriter before diverging into investigative reporting.

    Further, consider the 1972 Olympics and the remarkable work of sports anchor Jim McKay after the terrorist attack in Munich. Or Al Michaels after the San Fransisco earthquake during the World Series.

    But yes, time and again, papers allow their reporters to ghostwrite or coauthor work with their subjects, then write about those same subjects later (Tony Maz, I’m looking at you).

  20. BP Myers

    @Mike: I think your first paragraph actually makes my point.

    And I wouldn’t take anything away from Michaels’ or McKay’s exemplary work during those crises (which both of them were thrust into), but I also recall when those stories moved beyond the realm of sports, “news” broadcasters were brought onto the scene to supplant them as the prime sources, though they continued their excellent work in supporting roles.

    Again, I don’t know what any of it means. But it’s hard to deny that sportswriters have historically not been held to the same standards as “news” journalists.

  21. Mike Benedict

    @BP: I guess what I’m trying to say is that any suggestion that “sports journalists” cannot handle other beats seems incorrect.

    But I would certainly agree sportswriters aren’t held to the same (high) standards. Neither are gossip writers, metro columnists, food writers, travel writers, or anyone from the NY Post.

  22. BP Myers

    @Mike: Not sure who made such a suggestion, but it wasn’t me!

    In terms of your litany of others who aren’t held to the same standards, it’s certainly food for thought.

    I can’t imagine a food writer who was chummy with a chef and who wrote biased articles would last long (in fact, aren’t food writers and chefs historically fast enemies?)

    Gossip writers who get it wrong don’t last long either.

    And our long experience with disappearing metro writers would indicate that they are indeed held to the same high journalistic standards as other reporters, doesn’t it?

    And not that it changes things, but travel seems almost entirely outsourced these days, at least in newspapers.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Gossip writers who get it wrong don’t last long either.

      @BP: Oh, I wouldn’t be too sure.

  23. BP Myers

    @Dan: I still miss Norma.

    But I’ll concede gossip writers.

  24. Mike Benedict

    @BP: My problem with metro columnists is their tendency to find outrage under every rock, stone and pebble, and extrapolate that outrage, regardless of whether it’s deserved — or even accurate. Bob Greene, late of the Chicago Tribune, comes to mind. Clearly, these offenders have no interest in the saying, “In God we trust. All others must bring data.” It tortures the learned.

    On the food side, the problem is the *potential* for abusing readers’ trust sometimes becomes reality. Someone at Boston Magazine — was it Jane Black? — got in hot water (get it?) a few years back over some ethical thing, but to the best of my knowledge Boston Magazine circled the wagons and no one lost their job.

    By and large, I think the media are quick to point fingers anywhere but inside their own corridors. That doesn’t make them evil, of course; just human.

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