Peter Lucas on Kevin White: “He had style and class”

Kevin White in 1975

Former Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas, now with the Lowell Sun, throws a change-up in his tribute to the late Boston mayor Kevin White.

Lucas, most closely associated with great mayoral nicknames like “Kevin from Heaven” and “Kevin Deluxe, the Mayor of America,” dwells at some length on White’s unsuccessful 1970 campaign for governor against the Republican incumbent, Frank Sargent. Lucas’ take:

Beaten politicians are usually humiliated in defeat. Not Kevin White. He grew bigger. While Sargent was ousted four years later by Michael Dukakis, White went on to get elected mayor three more times. And as the city grew, he grew, becoming almost larger than life. He had style and class. He made Boston come alive for the 16 years he was mayor. He put Boston on the map.

Lucas also makes a brief allusion to the “White Will Run” debacle of 1983, when the mayor gave him an exclusive: Lucas could report that White would seek re-election as long as he didn’t attribute it to White. The Herald went with a huge front-page headline the next morning. Later in the day, White publicly announced he wouldn’t run.

Years ago, Lucas told a hilarious version of that story at a meeting of the Northeastern Journalism Alumni Association to which I had invited him to speak. I hope he’ll tell it again.

Photo (cc) by the City of Boston Archives and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.


My interview with Kevin White

Photos © 1978, 2012 by Barbara Kennedy

One afternoon in late 1978, my future wife, Barbara Tanski, and I were ushered into a dark, comfortable room in the Parkman House, a city-owned mansion on Beacon Hill. I was a senior at Northeastern University, and I was there to interview Mayor Kevin White for the Cauldron, the school yearbook. Barbara took the photos.

As you have no doubt heard, White died on Friday night at the age of 82. The must-read is Brian Mooney’s in-depth obituary for the Boston Globe. Also outstanding is this Hub Blog post by Jay Fitzgerald, who observes that White was the best of five consecutive good mayors.

In re-reading my Cauldron piece, I’m struck by how young White was. Just 49 years old at the time of our interview, he would walk away from public life at 53, and was rarely heard from again.

My story has a few cringeworthy moments, including some structural flaws I warn my students about. I’ve fixed a few typos. Other than that, here it is, exactly as it appeared in the 1979 Cauldron.


The Mayor talks about his city … where it is
today and where it’ll be tomorrow

Kevin H. White sat down on a couch, balanced himself on the edge and pondered the comeback his city has made during the past five years.

“I think that a city is no different than a single individual inside of it,” he said, pausing every few words for emphasis. “You can just be depressed for so long. And there are periods in which you get hysterical and upset.”

As the 49-year-old mayor munched on cheese and crackers in the historic Parkman House on Beacon Hill, waiting for supper, he tried to explain the sense of optimism he sees infesting Boston today.

“I think that, probably, when you add in all of Vietnam, all the problems of Watergate, throw in busing — those are abnormal problems ladened on the problems of crime and taxes and those things that are normal. Then it does get you down.

“I think city people are particularly resilient and vibrant, and they can take the normal problems,” White said. “It was the abnormal problems thrown on top of them that depressed them, that gave them a sense of malaise and despondency I think hung on the town as you came in in ’74.”


It was a hot, muggy day in late September 1974 when the Class of 1979 arrived at Northeastern. Many students were seeing the city for the first time and had no idea what to expect.

Continue reading “My interview with Kevin White”

Sen. Brown on why he oppose anti-piracy bill

Back in November, I was one of many people who signed an online petition to stop an attempt by the media industry to persuade Congress that it should pass anti-piracy laws that threatened First Amendment rights on the Internet. A little while ago U.S. Sen. Scott Brown sent an email to those who signed that petition. Here’s the full text:

Dear Dan,

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act (S. 968).  I am strongly opposed to this legislation.

As you know, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced S. 968 on May 12, 2011.  The PROTECT IP Act aims to provide law enforcement with tools to stop websites dedicated to online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods.  However, many Americans feared that S. 968 would stifle freedom of expression and harm the Internet.

The Internet has been a source of dynamic growth in our economy and is responsible for employing many people in Massachusetts.  I have very serious concerns about increased government interference in this area and the effect of the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261, House companion legislation) on the Internet.  On January 18, 2012, I announced my opposition to the PROTECT IP Act.  You will be pleased to know that with opposition to the bill mounting, on January 20, 2012, the Senate Majority Leader announced that the scheduled vote on the PROTECT IP Act has been indefinitely postponed.

Again, thank you for sharing your views with me.  As always, I value your input and appreciate hearing from you.  Should you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or visit my website at

Scott P. Brown
United States Senator

Good for Brown — both for his opposition to this draconian legislation, and for letting his constituents know where he stands.

Former Liberian dictator threatens to sue Boston Globe

Days before the Boston Globe published a withering editor’s note essentially retracting its Jan. 17 story about former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor’s alleged ties to the CIA, African news sources were reporting that Taylor was threatening to sue the Globe for libel.

Taylor escaped from a jail in Plymouth, Mass., in 1985, under circumstances suspicious enough to stoke rumors that U.S. authorities were involved. He is now facing charges in a war-crimes trial stemming from his brutal reign.

This past Monday, two days before the editor’s note appeared, the New Dawn, based in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, quoted Taylor’s lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, as saying that Taylor denied having worked as a spy for the U.S. government. The article includes this:

“I spoke with Mr. Taylor,” Mr. Griffiths said. “He was very adamant that he has never worked for any American (spy) agency. The Liberian Security Agencies have worked … His National Patriotic Party of Liberia (NPFL) … But he as an individual has never worked (for the US Intelligence Agency).

“I know Mr. Taylor is very angry and he is not taking this likely [sic],” Griffiths told the New Dawn.

The story was carried in All Africa, which aggregates African news from a variety of sources. It includes the text of a letter Griffiths said he sent to Globe editor Marty Baron and others at the newspaper demanding copies of the documents they relied on in putting together their report. But the Globe now tells us there are no documents.

The editor’s note couldn’t be much tougher. It begins: “A front-page story on Jan. 17 drew unsupported conclusions and significantly overstepped available evidence when it described former Liberia president Charles Taylor as having worked with US spy agencies as a ‘sought-after source.'”

It goes on to describe the Globe’s longstanding Freedom of Information Act request that U.S. officials turn over documents related to what if any relationship the government had with Taylor. But though the Jan. 17 story, by longtime Globe staff reporter Bryan Bender, appears to be based at least in part on the documents, the editor’s note says otherwise:

[The US Defense Intelligence Agency] offered no such confirmation; rather, it said only that it possessed 48 documents running to 153 pages that fall in the category of what the Globe asked for — records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence going back to 1982. The agency, however, refused to release the documents and gave no indication of what was in them.

The editor’s note concludes:

Taylor, now standing trial before a UN special court on charges of rape, murder and other offenses, denies he was ever a source for US intelligence. The Globe had no adequate basis for asserting otherwise and the story should not have run in this form.

There is still much that we don’t know. For instance, on Tuesday, Africa Review reported that Griffiths had “acknowledged that the Liberian Security agencies as well as his [Taylor’s] National Patriotic Party of Liberia worked or associated with US intelligence organs but not himself personally.” That’s hardly a blanket denial.

And at Foreign Policy’s Passport blog, Joshua Keating doesn’t seem all that upset about Taylor’s injured feelings. Calling the Globe’s note a “near retraction,” Keating nevertheless ends with this: “The fact that these ‘records relating to Taylor and to his relationship, if any, with American intelligence’ [quoting the Globe] exist but the CIA won’t release them is only going to increase the curiosity about what they contain. The correction is unlikely to stop the rumor mills in Monrovia, Washington, or The Hague.”

Bender is a good and careful reporter, and it seems pretty clear that there are other shoes yet to be dropped. The only thing we can say for certain at this point is that it’s all way too weird to come to any conclusions.

At State of the Union, Obama sics media on Romney

My latest for the Huffington Post:

The media are having no problem decoding the not-so-secret message from last night’s State of the Union address. More than anything, Barack Obama wants us to know that Mitt Romney is what the president’s new role model, Theodore Roosevelt, would have called a “malefactor of great wealth.”

You can read the whole thing here.

How to drain the cesspool of news-site comments

I’m speaking to Professor Nick Daniloff’s Journalism Ethics and Issues class at Northeastern University tomorrow. Since the topic may be of general interest, I thought I’d post the slides in advance.

Talking about self-publishing this Sunday

I’ll be speaking at the National Writers Union’s annual book party this Sunday, Jan. 22, which is being held from 2 to 5 p.m. in Central Square. Details here. My subject will be the new world of self-publishing, which I wrote about recently for Nieman Reports. Hope to see you there.