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

Scott Brown’s very bad — no, very good — day

Scott Brown

Monday started out looking like a very bad day for U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. But it turned out to be quite the opposite, as two media outlets backed away from reports that were embarrassing to Brown, and Brown himself smartly broke with the Republican Party over Medicare after seeming to have dithered. Let’s take them one at a time.

The handshake. On Sunday night, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) aired video that appeared to show Brown declining to shake hands with one of his Democratic rivals, Newton Mayor Setti Warren, at Newton’s Memorial Day parade earlier in the day. That’s how the report itself described it, and it appeared to be a small but classless moment for the senator. Brown’s supposed snub was the talk of local political blogs (including Media Nation) and Twitter feeds.

By midday, though, the Warren campaign was spreading the word that the mayor and the senator had already shaken hands before the video was shot. In an email to Media Nation late Monday afternoon, Channel 4 spokeswoman Ro Dooley-Webster acknowledged that “both campaigns confirm that Senator Brown and Mayor Warren greeted one another and shook hands earlier in the day.” Oops.

The incoherent quote. Late Sunday afternoon, the Boston Globe passed along an entertainingly incoherent Brown quote that he supposedly uttered in front of a business group:

“When I said last week that I was going to vote for the House GOP’s plan to abolish Medicare what I really meant was I was going to vote on it — and I have no idea yet which way I’m going to vote,” the Massachusetts Republican said in comments reported by Talking Points Memo.

Unfortunately for the Globe, that quote was a TPM parody of Brown’s position, not an actual quote. Though the faux quote does not appear in quotation marks, I can see where it would be a little confusing to a blogger in a hurry. On Monday afternoon, the Globe posted a correction and removed the Sunday post from its Political Intelligence blog. You can still read the cached version here.

According to the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam, the incident prompted Brown to write to Globe editor Marty Baron complaining about the use of “a manufactured quote” and saying the matter “could have been cleared up with a simple phone call to my office.” (Note: She tweaks Media Nation as well.)

The party pooper. Until Monday, Brown had been unclear on whether he would vote for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a voucher system that would be called — voilà! — Medicare. The Ryan plan has proved to be a poisonous issue for Republicans. In western New York, for instance, a Democrat may win a congressional seat for the first time in many years because of the issue.

Then, on Monday morning, in an op-ed piece for Politico (very interesting that Brown chose neither Boston daily), Brown declared he would vote against the Ryan plan because “as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support — and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays.”

Brown’s commentary includes the requisite amount of Obama-bashing and praise for Ryan. The bottom line for Massachusetts voters, though, is that they don’t have to worry that Brown will support dismantling a key part of the social safety net.

As Channel 4 political analyst Jon Keller observes, “Scott Brown understands the politics of survival in a staunchly Democratic state.”

It’s too soon to proclaim Brown the winner of his 2012 re-election bid, as Boston Mayor Tom Menino sort of did the other day. But state Democratic leaders know they’ve got their work cut out for them. The New York Times reports today that the party is stepping up its efforts to talk financial-reform crusader Elizabeth Warren into running.

Elizabeth Warren would be a formidable candidate, at least in theory, but it’s by no means certain that she’ll run. And it’s clear that top Democrats have real doubts about Setti Warren, Alan Khazei, Bob Massie and Marisa DeFranco, the Democrats who’ve gotten into the race already.

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  1. BP Myers

    Though I think “parody” is far too strong a word to describe what, in fact, appears to have been Brown’s position on the issue, I’ll allow it.

    But does anyone doubt that if the wind were blowing the other way, that Brown would absolutely vote for the Ryan plan?

  2. Mike Benedict

    As soon as Brown said he was against the Ryan plan, Richard Lugar immediately said he would vote for the it. Lugar, whom I know from my DC days, is an excellent senator and an even finer person, is under attack by the teabaggers and what clearly is happening here is the GOP does NOT want the Ryan plan to succeed, but is engaging in internal horsetrading to (try to) ensure that it retains two incumbent seats.

    Cynical? Yes. But that’s politics.

    Of course, the teabaggers are too dumb to figure it out, but this is how the majority remains the majority.

  3. Mike Benedict

    One other thought: Why doesn’t Brown simply run as a Democrat?

  4. Al Fiantaca

    Brown, like most other Congressional Republicans in the heady days following their election victories in last November, jumped at the chance to voice support for the Ryan budget plan. It was a time to get tough and act tough. However, fierce opposition from seniors and others to the Medicare portion of the plan, and opposition to the Republicans’ general arrogance in the pursuit of their goals has painted a different picture. Support for the plans and Republicans as a whole has dropped significantly causing many in the leadership to walk away from the Ryan plan, and admit they overplayed their and in trying to roll back Medicare among other things. Now, is Brown showing his independence is suddenly expressing his decision not to vote for the plan? I don’t think so. Instead, I think he is just following his party leadership in walking away from Ryan and showcasing an opposition to something the electorate is overwhelmingly against. Independent, no, more accurately following. Ryan thought his celebrity would lead to a Senatorial seat with the retiring Herb Kohl, but a trail balloon of his intentions deflated overnight when it was quickly learned how toxic he really is, and how little support he actually has.

  5. peter Sullivan

    BP, defines Parody as follows.

    “a humorous or satirical imitation of a serious piece of literature or writing”

    As this seems pretty accurate to me, your allowing it is beside the point.

    It doesn’t seem disingenuous that a Globe blogger is searching an openly leftist web site for quotes from a Republican Senator?? And not even bothering to make sure he actually said it. Are they not even pretending anymore!!!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Peter: Talking Points Memo has a scrupulous reputation for accuracy, and was accurate in this instance as well. It’s hardly TPM’s fault that the Globe blogger didn’t understand what he was looking at.

  6. BP Myers

    @Peter: If you find anything remotely humorous or satirical about TPM’s description of Brown’s position, you’re seeing something I’m not.

    In fact, that the Globe reporter (and apparently, everyone but Scott Brown and those in his inner circle) thought it was a verbatim transcription of what Brown said, kind of speaks for itself.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @BP: I know this is after-the-fact, but the lack of quotation marks was a sure tip-off. I really don’t think I would have been taken in. You don’t like the word parody? OK, TPM was characterizing what Brown was saying.

      @Peter: The Globe’s mistake was in not realizing it wasn’t looking at a direct quote. Failing to call Brown’s office is not the issue. If bloggers, even Globe bloggers, had to re-report everything they comment on, there would be no blogs. It would be exactly like saying I couldn’t comment on the Channel 4 report about Brown and Warren without calling both campaigns. And there’s nothing wrong with relying on ideological sites as long as they have a reputation for accuracy. I’d have no problem with linking to stuff at National Review or the Weekly Standard, for instance.

  7. peter Sullivan

    No fault at all directed at TPM, I fault the Globe Blogger for not verifying the quote. Running your own Lefty website is a fully legal enterprise as you can surely attest.

  8. BP Myers

    @Dan: Speaking of humor, my “allowing” you to use the word was just that. No surprise the humor challenged among us didn’t see it that way.

    And upon further reflection, a discriminating reader might have been tipped off that the quote wasn’t accurate by Brown’s ostensible use of the phrase “abolish Medicare.” Though of course, that’s exactly what the Ryan plan would do, Scott Brown is too much a politician and not enough of a straight shooter to describe it that way.

    But he does drive a truck. I’ll give him that.

  9. peter Sullivan

    Dan, you make a good point. Blogging and reporting are not the same thing. The fact that the blog is attached to the Boston Globe raises an interesting point. If you are not sure it’s correct, place it in the blog, not in print? I think this drives us further away from objective journalism. Does anyone just report the news anymore? Imagine the Metro is the Most unbiased daily paper in Boston!!!! Sad indeed.

    And I disagree, if bloggers had to fact check everything they posted. there wouldn’t be “no blogs” there would be better blogs!!!

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Peter: It’s hardly restricted to blogland. “News Outlet X is reporting today that …” The idea that news organizations don’t run with each other’s stories without checking them out first is largely a myth.

  10. Aaron Read

    Oh for god’s sake will everyone PLEASE stop trying to make the NY26th race into a referendum on Medicare? It’s not. It really, really is not. The national media love to say it is, but notice that the local media don’t say that because IT’S NOT ABOUT MEDICARE.

    It’s about how Corwin is a terrible candidate compared to Hochul. She’s only been in politics since 2008, compared to Hochul’s 1994. Corwin made an ideologically-pure but tone-deaf statement about supporting Ryan’s Medicare plan without trying to stylize it for the district and it blew up in her face (duh) and Hochul has ridden it hard.

    It’s also about Jack Davis (former Republican turned Democrat turned Republican turned Tea Party) siphoning away a few votes just because it says “tea party” next to his name. Nobody else is fooled by him. But given Corwin’s missteps, a few votes might be all that’s needed.

    If anything, the election’s more about taxes, which are the perennial issue in upstate NY. Corwin has steadfastly toed the Republican line about cutting taxes for everyone…explicitly including the rich. Usually that’s a popular stance, but lately has been much less so as Hochul has staked out the “tax the rich, not anyone else” position…a VERY popular sentiment which exploits the upstate/downstate tension, too.

    In the end, of course, Hochul will almost certainly lose, simply because when people step into that voting booth, it’ll have a big old “D” next to her name…and the 26th is a REPUBLICAN district, period.

  11. L.K. Collins

    Sounds like Massachusetts in reverse.

    Difference is it applies to ALL of Massachusetts whereas on NY, there is actually some political competition.

  12. M.J.Stevenson

    understands the politics of survival
    So much of what Brown says then, will be couched in “survival” language rather than what he actually believes?

    What was meant as a complement by Keller, isn’t much of one.

  13. BP Myers

    @Aaron: I think I’ve got it. Any time a Republican loses an election, it’s not about the issues, it’s because they’re a weak candidate right? Setting aside they were nominated in Republican nominating conventions, they’re “terrible” or inexperienced. It’s not that they espouse Republican positions, it’s because they’re “weak.”


    PS: 55% of precincts reporting in NY26 as I type this, and the woman with the big old “D” next to her name leads 48% to 43%.

    So much for it being a Republican district. Period.

  14. C.E. Stead

    @Aaron – thanks for local perspective. In reading you over time on DK’s blog, you are far from a GOP aplogist, so the snark at you is unearned, IMO.

    DK – to date, your blog is the only place I’ve seen any reference to the WBZ story reported on the noon broadcast, which I happened to see live. The anchor made a big deal out of it, it was not a passing reference. Has a similar statement to the spokesman statement been made on the noon broadcast? Or anywhere else on WBZ, rather than Media Nation?

    BTW – about the lack of quote marks – Warren is extending his left hand in the video, not a usual handshake gesture, so perhaps the lack of quotes isn’t the tip-off you think.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @CE: The reference to the lack of quotation marks was a different story. Nothing to do with the parade.

  15. C.E. Stead

    Dan – I was thinking in terms of ‘noticeability’, that’s all.

  16. Heather Greene

    You are a pretty regular reader, but just in case, they did a pretty interesting profile of Elizabeth Warren’s own Joe “You Lie” Wilson, Patrick McHenry.

  17. BP Myers

    @C.E. Stead wrote: @Aaron – thanks for local perspective. In reading you over time on DK’s blog, you are far from a GOP aplogist, so the snark at you is unearned, IMO.

    I prefer my local perspectives to have some truth behind it. For example, Dave Weigel reports the following on Slate.Com:

    The RNC’s post-election spin pointed out that most voters — 51 percent, based on that Siena poll — said the most important issue was either jobs (20 percent), the deficit (19 percent), or taxes (12 percent).

    So taxes were not the most important issue in this campaign. Weigel also reports that had the Tea Party candidate not been there, Hochul most likely still would have won. Anyway, the Tea Party itself is a Republican construct. Not my fault they’ve lost control of the monster they’ve created.

    And having myself been on the receiving end of Aaron’s admittedly sharp wit, though I’m sure he appreciates your support, I’m certain he can take it.

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