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

John Sununu’s complicated alliances

John Sununu

Boston Globe editorial-page editor Peter Canellos and I recently exchanged some emails over Globe op-ed columnist John Sununu’s lobbying work on behalf of Akin Gump. I ended up choosing not to write about Sununu because I was satisfied that Sununu’s non-disclosure in his columns, though potentially problematic, did not rise to the level of unethical behavior. It was also clear that I’d need to do a lot more research than I had time for in order to put some flesh on the bones.

Today Media Matters, a prominent liberal media-watch organization, weighs in. And I don’t regret my decision. Oliver Willis and Joe Strupp have really done their homework, only to find that the whole situation is fairly ambiguous. It looks like they got excited about the chance to write that the former New Hampshire senator was using the Globe to further his interests in such controversial practices as hydrofracking only to find that Sununu’s ties to Akin Gump are rather tangential.

One thing Willis and Strupp don’t mention is that Sununu has used his column to carry water for Mitt Romney on several occasions, including the run-up to the New Hampshire primary. This one, for instance, couldn’t be any more favorable if one of Romney’s kids had written it. Sununu did not endorse anyone, but his column dutifully noted that his father, former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, had endorsed Romney.

There is a larger question here. Why do news organizations use political partisans and lobbyists — and people who are both — to write opinion pieces for them? That, to me, is the real issue. I find nothing in Sununu’s columns that are insightful or fresh enough to make me think he earned a piece of the valuable real estate he commands. He’s there because of who he is, not because of what he has to say.

I don’t mind strong opinions. Frankly, I’d like to see more of them in the Globe. But if I want those opinions from a politician-turned-lobbyist, I can always turn on cable TV.

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  1. Michael Pahre

    Dan: seconded.

  2. Bill Callahan

    look into his corporate boards and how he shills for them.

  3. Ben Starr

    Is an op/ed page even of value for newspapers in today’s world? Seems like a waste of space with talking heads on TV, the net and the other media.

  4. Mike Coughlin

    @ Dan. I agree with you about Sunnunu and others like him. Do you remember back in the 90’s that John Ellis, nephew and first cousin of the Presidents Bush, wrote a weekly column on the Globe op-ed page? One time he really savaged Clinton in a piece during the Lewinsky scandal, essentially calling on him to resign. There was no disclosure of his relationship to the Bushes in the column, despite the fact that Clinton had defeated his uncle in the 92 election and his cousin was already emerging as a leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 2000. I noticed that right away and sent a letter to the Editor complaining. They published it the next day…only time I’ve been published in the Globe.

    The Globe and other news organizations should think about how they use those types and whetehr they are providing them with a platform to promote their own interests.

    Mike Coughlin

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Mike: I need to stick up for John Ellis. He was, in fact, a journalist, and he eventually was forced to pursue another career because the Bush side of his family presented him with too many conflicts. Here’s a profile I once wrote of him. But yeah, your larger point is well taken.

  5. L.K. Collins

    This issue is the typical [insert party name here], blathering that [insert other party name here] is getting the column inches and [insert party name here] offended.

    The newspaper industry has a long and glorious history of presenting the political viewpoints of the editors and publishers that control them.

    It says something about one’s commitment to the freedom of speech and freedom of the press when one complains about the opposition’s views being published.

    …And don’t hand out the crapola that the liberal view doesn’t get prime exposure. The NYT editorial page is as openly biased as any conservative rag in the nation.

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