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The Boston Globe calls on President Biden to end his campaign

Vice President Kamala Harris. Photo (cc) 2019 by Gage Skidmore.

The Boston Globe’s editorial board has just called for President Biden to end his re-election campaign. The paper took its time, which I think is appropriate. But given the president’s anemic response to his disastrous performance in last Thursday’s debate, it’s now clear that someone else would be better suited to the crucial task of saving our democracy from Donald Trump and the forces of the authoritarian right. The Globe writes:

Serious questions are now in play about his ability to complete the arduous work of being leader of the free world. Can he negotiate with a hostile Republican Congress, dangerous foreign powers, or even fractious rivals within his own Cabinet? The nation’s confidence has been shaken.

The Globe is also calling for an open convention. I understand the appeal. But the cleanest solution would be to hand off the presidency to Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden would have to resign in order to do that, and I realize that’s unfair. There’s no logical reason for him not to serve out the remainder of his term, but defeating Trump is of paramount importance. Harris is as popular, or unpopular, as any of the other Democrats being mentioned, and with her ascendance there would be no issues regarding campaign finances or ballot access.

The New York Times is reporting that Biden told an unnamed key ally that he is thinking about ending his campaign. The Times is getting furious pushback from the White House, but how could Biden not be having such conversations? Former President Barack Obama is also letting it be known that his full-throated support for Biden is mainly for public consumption.

Maybe Biden will put the doubts to rest in his interview with George Stephanopoulos. Maybe he’ll hold a two-hour news conference, as Jake Tapper has suggested, and turn back the clock. Right now, though, he appears to be on a trajectory that will end, inevitably, with his making a very different calculation.

These are dark days.

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Kudos to The Philly Inquirer for a brilliant piece of performance art

The Inquirer editorial is reminiscent of this famous Boston Globe parody

On Saturday afternoon, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an editorial headlined “To serve his country, Donald Trump should leave the race.” It was intended as a rebuke to The New York Times’ editorial board, which on Friday posted a piece using the same headline, the only difference being that it was aimed at President Biden rather than Trump.

The Inquirer’s editorial was brilliant and inspired. It’s attracted a lot of well-deserved attention, and I hope it results in an upsurge of subscriptions. It begins:

President Joe Biden’s debate performance was a disaster. His disjointed responses and dazed look sparked calls for him to drop out of the presidential race.

But lost in the hand wringing was Donald Trump’s usual bombastic litany of lies, hyperbole, bigotry, ignorance, and fear mongering. His performance demonstrated once again that he is a danger to democracy and unfit for office.

In fact, the debate about the debate is misplaced. The only person who should withdraw from the race is Trump.

It reminded me of The Boston Globe’s fake front page from April 2016, imagining what a Trump residency would be like if he somehow were elected president, which of course we all knew would never happen. The page, dated a year into the future, led with the prescient headline “Deportations to Begin.”

Ultimately, though, the Inquirer’s editorial, like the Globe’s fake front, is performance art. Pro-Biden social media exploded in outrage at the Times’ editorial as well as the insistence of many pundits that Biden should step aside following his disastrous debate performance Thursday night. Why, critics asked, isn’t the Times demanding that Trump drop out given that he’s a lying, felonious insurrectionist?

The answer, of course, is that the Times wants Biden to end his campaign because they’re terrified that Trump will beat him — as am I. It’s ludicrous to believe that there’s anything anyone could do to persuade Trump to drop out. He needs to be defeated — and, while we’re at it, to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and imprisoned if found guilty of crimes that warrant such punishment.

The Inquirer’s editorial is a great thought experiment, and I’m glad it’s grabbed so much attention. The Times’ editorial, on the other hand, is a serious plea for Democrats to do whatever it takes to keep Trump from being elected to a second term and ushering in an era of right-wing authoritarianism. Apologists for Biden’s frighteningly awful debate performance should stop pretending otherwise.

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The three national newspapers say that Biden should pull out or at least consider it

President Biden in May 2023

The editorial pages of the three national newspapers are calling on President Biden to end his re-election campaign or to strongly consider it. The most forthright of the three is the liberal New York Times, which argues that Biden’s disastrous debate performance on Thursday shows that he’s no longer the strongest candidate to stop the threat (free link) that Donald Trump poses to democracy should Trump win election this November:

As it stands, the president is engaged in a reckless gamble. There are Democratic leaders better equipped to present clear, compelling and energetic alternatives to a second Trump presidency. There is no reason for the party to risk the stability and security of the country by forcing voters to choose between Mr. Trump’s deficiencies and those of Mr. Biden. It’s too big a bet to simply hope Americans will overlook or discount Mr. Biden’s age and infirmity that they see with their own eyes.

The Times does say that it will endorse Biden if he persists with his candidacy: “If the race comes down to a choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, the sitting president would be this board’s unequivocal pick.”

The Washington Post, more centrist than the Times but just as anti-Trump, begins its editorial (free link):

If President Biden had weekend plans, he should cancel them in favor of some soul-searching. His calamitous debate performance on Thursday raises legitimate questions about whether he’s up for another four years in the world’s toughest job. It’s incumbent on this incumbent to determine, in conversation with family and aides, whether continuing to seek reelection is in the best interests of the country.

Unlike the Times and the Post, the right-wing editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is more concerned that an enfeebled Biden might actually win (free link) and prove that he’s not up to a second term:

Well, that was painful — for the United States. President Biden’s halting, stumbling debate performance Thursday night showed all too clearly that he isn’t up to serving four more years in office. For the good of the country, more even than their party, Democrats have some hard thinking to do about whether they need to replace him at the top of their ticket.

Closer to home, The Boston Globe has not weighed in. But three of its columnists have. Adrian Walker, Scot Lehigh and Brian McGrory all write that the time has come for Biden to step aside in favor of a Democrat who might stand a better chance of beating Trump. Walker has the line of the day in describing the president’s excruciating debate performance: “Biden was not merely bad. He was bad in a way people running for president are never bad.”

Biden could have pulled out a year or two ago but chose not to. The argument in favor of his staying in the race is that the chaos that would be unleashed by throwing the nomination to an open Democratic convention would be a greater risk than keeping him at the head of the ticket. Now it seems likely that the greater risk is to stick with Biden, a good and decent man and a successful president who just may not be up to the task of stopping the authoritarian menace that looms this fall.

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Guilty x 34

Some notable front pages reporting Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 counts of falsifying business records in order to cover up payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels — payments aimed at keeping their sexual encounter out of the headlines just before the 2016 election.

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Will Josh Kraft run for mayor? CommonWealth Beacon asked him in December.

Josh Kraft in 2021. Photo by the Mass. Governor’s press archives via CommonWealth Beacon.

For the past week, The Boston Globe has been filled with speculation over the possibility that philanthropist Josh Kraft will challenge Boston Mayor Michelle Wu next year. It started with a May 22 story by Globe reporter Niki Griswold, who reported that the 57-year-old son of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who until recently did not actually live in Boston, had purchased a condo in the North End. Ever since, it seems like there are one or two pieces in the Globe every day about a possible Kraft candidacy, including columns today by Adrian Walker and Shirley Leung.

So this morning I want to point out that CommonWealth Beacon, a nonprofit news organization that covers politics and public policy in Massachusetts, had the story back in December, including a noncommittal quote from Kraft and the news that he’d bought a North End condo. CommonWealth’s Dec. 1 story, a four-byline round-up, begins:

Boston’s political rumor mill has churned for months about whether Josh Kraft, son of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head of the organization’s philanthropic arm, is eyeing a campaign for mayor of Boston.

Such a move would put him on a collision course with Michelle Wu, who has all but formally announced a run for a second four-year term.

Kraft said he had been approached about running for mayor, though he did not name names. “People have talked to me about a lot of things,” he said while leaving a recent State House event. “That being one of them.”

CommonWealth also published a follow-up by reporter Gin Dumcius on Dec. 15 about a joint appearance by Wu and Kraft.

CommonWealth Beacon, as readers of this blog probably know, grew out of CommonWealth Magazine, which began life in 1996 as a quarterly print publication and later ditched print in favor of digital-only. Last fall, CommonWealth rebranded and announced an expansion. I’m a member of its volunteer editorial advisory board, so please consider this item and the next two in light of my involvement.

Fried or broiled?

If you are lamenting the end of GBH-TV’s Friday night television program “Talking Politics,” let me suggest that you check out CommonWealth Beacon’s weekly podcast, “The Codcast,” a half-hour deep dive into goings-on at the Statehouse, in health care, energy policy, transportation and other topics, hosted by a rotating cast of CommonWealth reporters.

Of course, “The Codcast” is not the only place you can go for intelligent discussion of such matters; there are various options the city’s two news-focused public radio stations, GBH and WBUR, as well as on commercial television. But this would be a good time to check out what they’re doing at CommonWealth Beacon as well.

By the way, back when “Talking Politics” first went on the air, GBH also offered it as a podcast. According to my Apple Podcasts queue, though, that stopped two years ago. Since GBH says it’s committed to bringing back the three local television shows it canceled last week as digital programs (the other two are “Greater Boston” and “Basic Black”), why not start by revving up the “Talking Politics” podcast once again? What about it, Dan Lothian?

CommonWealth seeks editor

As I noted recently, CommonWealth Beacon’s well-respected editor, Bruce Mohl, is retiring soon. Here is a detailed job posting. As you’ll see, the position is well-paid, and in my opinion it stands out as one of the most attractive jobs in the country for experienced mid-career journalists with a deep interest in state policy.

Naturally, speculation will center around local candidates, but I could also see this appealing to top people at, say, The Texas Tribune or The Colorado Sun. Note: I have no formal role in the job search other than providing some thoughts and advice.

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The Globe’s subscription growth stalls: Digital is up a little, print is down by more

The Boston Globe’s digital subscription growth continues, but at a slower pace, while print keeps on sliding. Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal has been looking at numbers from the Alliance for Audited Media and reports that the Globe has added 22,000 digital subscribers over the past three years while losing 24,000 print customers. Paid digital circulation is now at about 257,000, well below CEO Linda Henry’s “North Star” goal of 400,000, although she has not set a timeline for reaching that number.

Weekday print circulation is now below 54,000, according to a chart accompanying Seiffert’s story. Although he didn’t include a number for Sunday print, it was about 116,000 as of last October.

Henry told Seiffert that the Globe is making investments that she expects will lead to future growth:

Our subscribers can see this investment with our expanded daily news videos, our new weather center, better games, new podcasts, deeper geographic expansion, and more. We do not expect growth to follow a linear pattern — we have a long-term strategy for continuing to serve our community as a strong and sustainable organization.

Of those initiatives, moving into new regions strikes me as the one with the most promise in terms of driving subscriptions. The Globe has had success with its Rhode Island and New Hampshire coverage. And though those areas were easy pickings (especially Rhode Island), there are certainly other parts of New England where residents might welcome a regional edition of the Globe.

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The Dallas Morning News hires a public editor. More news outlets should follow.

Stephen Buckley

There have been rumblings for a while that it was time for news organizations to bring back the position of ombudsperson, also known as the public editor — an in-house journalist who would look at issues in coverage and render a judgment.

At one time the job was fairly common at many larger news organizations, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Boston Globe. But as the business model for journalism deteriorated, the position was increasingly seen as a luxury.

On Tuesday, The Dallas Morning News took a step in the right direction, hiring a public editor who will be independent of the newsroom and report directly to the publisher: Stephen Buckley, a journalism professor at Duke University, who is a longtime journalist and has worked for The Washington Post, the Tampa Bay Times and the Poynter Institute. His first column will be published on May 12. According to a press release:

Through active reader engagement and a regular column, Buckley will use an independent lens to help provide readers with understanding and clarity and hold the News accountable for adhering to its high standards. Buckley will be an observer and advocate while informing readers how the News reported controversial topics and issues as they arise.

In an interview with Tom Jones, who writes Poynter’s daily newsletter, Buckley called his hiring “a really bold, counterintuitive move. And the motivation is exactly right, which is: the most important issue for our industry is reestablishing trust with the public.” Oddly, Buckley also said, “I don’t represent the newsroom and I don’t represent the readers.” The public editor’s position has sometimes been described as that of a reader representative. But if Buckley wishes to emphasize his independence, that’s not a bad thing.

A year ago I called for the Globe to restore its long-abolished ombudsman position after the paper published a flawed investigation of MBTA executives who worked from distant locales. It turned out that the story wrong was about some of those executives, and it led to the departure of veteran investigative reporter Andrea Estes. The Globe has never explained what went wrong or why Estes, a respected journalist, was fired. Estes is now doing good work as a reporter for the nonprofit Plymouth Independent.

More recently, Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr wrote that it was time for news organizations to bring back the public editor, taking note specifically of the oft-voiced criticism that The New York Times’ political coverage is too often marred by both-sides-ism — a criticism I’ve been making for many years. For a long time, the Times employed excellent public editors, culminating in Margaret Sullivan, its penultimate and best in-house critic. But the position was abolished after Sullivan’s successor, Liz Spayd, clashed with the newsroom over a few questionable judgments she offered.

NPR still has a public editor, Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, and she demonstrates why the position is valuable. She was a guest on last week’s public radio program “On the Media,” offering some thoughtful insights into the recent controversy over former senior business editor Uri Berliner, who resigned from NPR after writing an error-filled essay about what he regards as the network’s liberal bias.

For many news organizations that are still facing financial challenges, bringing back a paid in-house critic may seem like a bad idea. Large newspapers like The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times are losing money and cutting staff. But The New York Times and the Globe are profitable and growing. At a moment when trust in the media is at a historic low, hiring a public editor can represent a small but significant step to restoring that trust.

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Why rigorous opinion journalism continues to be a crucial part of local news

A good opinion section builds community. It’s an argument that my “What Works in Community News” partner, Ellen Clegg, makes over and over. As editorial page editor of The Boston Globe, she eliminated the last vestiges of nationally syndicated columnists and pushed the pages toward mostly local content. That has continued under her successors at the Globe, including the current opinion editor, James Dao.

Now Gretchen A. Peck of Editor & Publisher has checked in with three top journalists who are working for their papers’ opinion sections — Julieta Chiquillo, deputy editorial page editor at The Dallas Morning News; Peter St. Onge, editorial page editor at three North Carolina papers, The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer of Raleigh and The Herald-Sun of Durham, as well as opinion editor at McClatchy; and Lorraine Forte, opinion editor at the Chicago Sun-Times.

They all make similar points: local opinion journalism based on rigorous reporting is a crucial part of a local or regional newspaper’s mission. “I think it’s part of what gives the newspaper a personality and creates a sense of community,” Forte told Peck. “Otherwise, you’re just a collection of news stories.”

Indeed, the Sun-Times restored political endorsements about 10 years ago after briefly abolishing them. Many chain-owned dailies have gotten rid of endorsements because they’re a lot of work and because the owners don’t want to alienate any of their readers. There’s an additional problem as well: the new generation of nonprofit local news outlets can’t endorse without losing their tax-exempt status. Yet in many cases readers are looking for guidance — perhaps not on the big races, but certainly on more obscure offices like city council, school committee or select board.

Several years ago, Joshua Darr and his colleagues studied what happened when a Gannett daily, the Desert Sun in Palm Springs, California, eliminated national opinion content and replace it with local opinion for one month. Darr, who’s now at Syracuse University, and his colleagues found a small but measurable decline in partisan polarization after that month, as Ellen wrote at the time. Darr later talked about his findings on our podcast.

As someone who worked full-time in opinion journalism for many years at The Boston Phoenix, The Guardian and GBH News, I strongly believe that fair-minded point-of-view writing needs to be part of any news organization’s mission — and that it’s at least as important at the local level as it is on national issues.

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An odd omission

An editorial in The Boston Globe about hospitals, internet cookies and online privacy notes that several non-hospital businesses have gotten tangled up in lawsuits — among them The Philadelphia Inquirer, which “faces a federal lawsuit filed by two subscribers to its website for its use of Meta Pixel tracking software.” Yet no mention is made of a lawsuit against The Boston Globe, which in 2023 reached a $5 million settlement for sending user video data to Facebook. As far as I can tell, the two cases are identical, or close to it. (The Globe denied any wrongdoing.)

Many of us Globe subscribers received small checks earlier this year as a result of the settlement. Globe editorial page editor James Dao declined to comment on the omission when I contacted him today. This is hardly a big deal, and the Inquirer angle wasn’t especially relevant to the editorial’s larger point, which involves state law. But it strikes me that if the Globe was going to mention the Inquirer then it should have mentioned its own situation as well.

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Two notable women in New England media are moving on

Christine Stuart (via CT News Junkie)

A couple of notable women in New England media are moving on.

• Christine Stuart, who had run CT News Junkie since 2006, has accepted a job in state government as deputy director of communications with Connecticut’s Department of Social Services. Stuart acquired News Junkie not long after its founding and has kept it running as a for-profit source of news about politics and public policy ever since, even while supporting herself in several other news jobs over the years, including a stint as a television reporter.

Stuart was the very first person I interviewed for my 2013 book, “The Wired City.” I spent a day following her around the Statehouse in Hartford in 2009 and have stayed in intermittent touch with her over the years. She’s a dogged reporter, even unsnarling a weird connection between a Connecticut newspaper publisher and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson not long after the latter bought the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2015.

“I never thought I would be writing this, but the time has come for me to leave the news industry,” she writes in her farewell message. “I am incredibly proud of my 23-year career, which started as an intern at The Hartford Courant and will end at CTNewsJunkie.com.”

News Junkie will continue under the direction of Stuart’s business partner and former husband, Doug Hardy. The site is one of two state-politics projects in Connecticut, the other being the nonprofit Connecticut Mirror. Best wishes to Christine and Doug.

Jess Bidgood, who’d been a senior reporter in The Boston Globe’s Washington bureau since 2018, is moving on to The New York Times, where she’ll be managing correspondent of the Times’ On Politics newsletter. Bidgood had previously worked at the Time’ Boston bureau, and before that at WGBH (now GBH News) and WBUR.

In an internal Globe message shared with me by a trusted source, Globe Washington bureau chief Jackie Kucinich said of Bidgood: “To say she is a force of nature is an understatement. There were times during the relatively short time we worked together when I swear there was more than one of her.”

Bidgood wrote on Twitter/X that “it’s bittersweet to leave the @BostonGlobe,” adding, “I am hugely proud of the work we do in the Globe’s DC bureau, and grateful for the Globe’s commitment to us.”

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