Mark Feeney has a nice tribute to Robert Healy in today’s Boston Globe. But Healy, the paper’s former executive editor, who died on Saturday at 84, was a lot more important to the Globe than Feeney lets on. In fact, Healy, with considerable help from future House Speaker Tip O’Neill, had much to do with the Globe’s rise as New England’s dominant media institution.
O’Neill’s actions in the 1960s, goaded by Healy, revealed that Robert “Beanie” Choate, owner of the Boston Herald Traveler, had improper dealings with the FCC that allowed him to circumvent the ban against owning a daily newspaper and a television station in the same market. The Herald was stripped of its license to operate Channel 5 in 1972, leading to the death of two separate incarnations of the Herald. (Today’s Herald is essentially a start-up that dates back to the early 1980s.)
The story was revealed in John Aloysius Farrell’s biography of O’Neill, “Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century,” which I had the great pleasure of writing about for the Boston Phoenix in February 2001. The story of how O’Neill and Healy made common cause is a rollicking tale involving the Kennedys, a corrupt deal that resulted in John Kennedy winning an undeserved Pulitzer Prize for “Profiles in Courage” and O’Neill’s fear that if his role in helping the Globe were discovered, the Republican Herald would crucify him.
Farrell has a great quote from Ben Bradlee, retired executive editor of the Washington Post, who said of Healy: “This little angelic-faced Healy. He looked like a choirboy. Nobody would think what he was up to. He and I shared stuff. I loved the fact Choate was in trouble.”
Healy himself said of O’Neill: “He did right by the Globe and all right in the Globe through the years.”
Not exactly a tribute to the journalistic ethics of the era. But a great story nevertheless.