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

An undercovered gubernatorial debate

Old friend Mark Leccese has an interesting blog post at about the first televised gubernatorial debate, hosted Tuesday evening by another old friend, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller.

Leccese — God bless him — took in all of the local television coverage to determine how much attention the debate got. And he concludes that the debate was all but ignored, with the exception of NECN and, of course, WBZ.

The city’s two dailies, Leccese adds, gave it plenty of coverage.

Leccese wonders whether the lack of coverage was due to television executives’ wanting “to play down the story of the debate because it was on a rival station” — or if, instead, “local TV newscasts don’t find debates among the four people from whom the voters will choose the most powerful person in state government particularly newsworthy.”

My suspicion is that it’s a little bit of both.

If you missed the debate, you can still watch it online here. It’s also being broadcast in Spanish.

I caught about two-thirds of it in my car, and then watched the last 20 minutes. With the exception of a weird question about President Obama’s aunt, dropped in toward the end, I thought Keller turned in his usual fine job. He got out of the way and let Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker really mix it up, while still giving Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein and independent Tim Cahill a chance to make their case.

The debate was a ratings hit, too, writes the Herald’s Jessica Heslam — it came in third during the 7 p.m. time slot, not far behind the Red Sox and “Chronicle.”

Who won? I thought Patrick came off as by far the most personable of the four, and Baker scored some points on substance. As Michael Levenson reported in the Globe on Thursday, Patrick was wrong in claiming that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was bailed out with “state aid” when Baker was its chief executive, an overreach that could come back to haunt the governor.

Perhaps the key was that Cahill, the state treasurer, proved to be a more effective debater than the substantive but sound-bite-challenged Stein. Since the conventional wisdom is that Cahill takes away votes from Baker and Stein from Patrick, perhaps Patrick (who really overdid it in sucking up to Cahill) was the winner by default.

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  1. Dave Cable-Murphy

    Why would the local stations want to report on anything as dull as a gubernatorial debate? I mean there’s REAL news out there. Wednesday night, all three major local stations devoted their top slots at 6:00 to the story of a woman who suffered a minor electrical shock when her Wakefield home was struck by lighting. She was unhurt. They even had live shots from the home, which suffered no damage. I long ago gave up on local news, but this really took the cake. There is no journalism being practiced in the city’s tv newsrooms (with the exception of NECN) – it’s all one big freak show.

  2. Hey Dan, Leccese is off on his analysis. Fox25 had highlights from the debate on its 10 p.m. newscast, about three stories in, if I recall. They then cut to Joe Battenfeld who covered the GateHouse Media/Wicked Local Politics/NewTV debate between 4th CD Dems Rep. Barney Frank and challenger Rachel Brown, which I moderated.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tony: As you recall? Mark documented everything pretty carefully. The fact that Fox 25’s political reporter covered a congressional debate rather than a gubernatorial debate kind of proves Mark’s point, no?

  3. I’m sorry, “as I recall” was in reference to where the gubernatorial clips were played during the 10 p.m. newscast. I think it was three stories in, but I don’t remember exactly. It could have been the fourth segment into the newscast. However, they did play clips from WBZ’s gubernatorial debate and then cut to Joe covering the 4th CD Dem debate. So, Leccese’s analysis, as I stated, is off.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tony: My picking up on your saying “as I recall” was meant to underscore that you’re relying on your memory, whereas Leccese was apparently taking notes. He says it was the sixth story. You say it was the third, but then you add that you can’t be sure. Leccese also quotes Battenfeld, Fox 25’s political editor, as referring to the debate as a “snoozefest,” which anyone who saw it knows it wasn’t. Finally, Battenfeld chose — or Fox 25 chose for him — to cover a debate between Barney Frank and his primary challenger, a LaRouchie who has less chance of winning than Jill Stein does of becoming governor. By every measure, Fox 25’s coverage of the gubernatorial debate supports Leccese’s argument.

  4. “As I recall” … again, I was in and out of my living room, living my life, and not planted in front of the television.

    You wrote: “Leccese … concludes that the debate was all but ignored, with the exception of NECN and, of course, WBZ.”

    That’s just not true. Fox25 talked about the debate and showed clips from it. I would not call that “all but ignored.” They then cut to Battenfeld at our debate which, BTW, was written about in the national political press.

    If anything, it would seem to me that on this particular evening, Fox25 gave viewers more political news than those stations that only offered footage from the gubernatorial debate (especially if you live in the 4th CD. I don’t, but whatever …). While Rachel Brown may have less of a chance of winning than Jill Stein, that is an irrelevant point when there will be a slew of gubernatorial debates between now and November. Brown is on the ballot and got her debate. In addition, the Frank campaign seems to be taking her seriously. It isn’t something to take potshots at – it’s what the news is supposed to be doing, regardless of whether someone can “win” or not.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tony: Except that you used “as I recall” to assert that you were right and Mark — who was planted in front of the television, taking notes — was wrong.

  5. @Tony: I agree with you that coverage of the Frank/Brown debate was important, and I agree that Fox25 does good political coverage.

    My points were:

    1) Not counting teases, the gubernatorial debate story was the **11th** story in Fox at 10’s A block. (As I have no life, I was planted in front of the TV with a notebook, taking notes, and I counted.) In the world of news judgment, I consider that “all but ignored.”

    2) Fox25 has an excellent journalist in Political Editor Joe Battenfeld, but the station decided to have him cover a debate for one of 10 Massachusetts Congressional seats rather than the a debate among the candidates for the most powerful elected office in state government. As I wrote, I believe this is either poor new judgment or Fox25 intentionally downplaying the gubernatorial debate because it was on a rival station — or both.

    3) As of today, there are only three gubernatorial debates scheduled to be televised statewide, so the BZ was an important news event and should have been given more prominent coverage.

  6. Dan wrote: “@Tony: Except that you used “as I recall” to assert that you were right and Mark — who was planted in front of the television, taking notes — was wrong.”

    No, that’s not what I was saying and not what I wrote. You would think I would know what I was saying and what I wrote. Again, “if I recall” was about WHAT PLACEMENT it was as far as news segments.

    Second, “Fox 25 had highlights from the debate on its 10 p.m. newscast” … is NOT “all but ignored” which is what YOU wrote. They play clips from the debate. If you didn’t think it was good enough, so be it. But it wasn’t “all but ignored.” Whether you or Mark like it or not, it was better than nothing, since many TV stations didn’t have anything on, as noted by Mark.

    While there may only be three televised debates, there have been a bunch of debates already and will be more. WRKO had the three guys on. Dan Rea at WBZ has them on Tuesday night. There was a Cape Wind debate. There was the Green Saturday debate that neither Patrick nor Baker appeared at but were invited to. If that isn’t good enough, media outlets can pressure them to have more.

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