Let’s end the state’s casino gambling disaster right now

Steve Wynn. 2008 photo via Wikipedia.

There is nothing surprising about the serious charges of sexual abuse that have been reported about Steve Wynn by The Wall Street Journal. Wynn has denied the allegations. But this is what you get with casino culture. This is what you get with an activity that is accompanied by increases in crime, divorce, even suicide.

I’m glad that state gambling officials are looking into whether Wynn should continue to hold the license for the casino that’s being built in Everett. But Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature should go much, much further. The legalization of casino gambling pushed by Baker’s predecessor, Deval Patrick, was one of the worst decisions ever made in this state. It should be undone. The Everett property should be put to a better and higher use. Why not make it part of the region’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters? How about the facility that Apple wants to build?

Unfortunately, we know what’s going to happen. Maybe the license will be transferred to Sheldon Adelson or another casino executive. Maybe even that won’t happen — Wynn could “retire” from his company and life would go on as usual. It’s a shame. Ultimately the casino business will do for Greater Boston what it did for Atlantic City, laid low through the machinations of yet another sleazy casino operator, Donald Trump. And we’ll all be wondering what our state’s leaders were thinking.

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Looking at the Globe’s previous Republican endorsements

Despite The Boston Globe’s reputation as a Democratic paper, its editorial pages have endorsed Republican candidates for governor more often than you might think. Still, today’s editorial endorsing Charlie Baker over Martha Coakley is notable because it is only the second time in recent history that the paper has gone with a Republican over a more liberal Democrat.

Let’s look at the history of Republicans the Globe has endorsed starting in 1970.

  • 1970: The Globe did not endorse in the race between Gov. Frank Sargent, a Republican, and his Democratic opponent, Boston Mayor Kevin White. Winner: Sargent.
  • 1974: Sargent got the nod over a former state representative named Michael Dukakis. Sargent may have been the state’s most liberal governor until Deval Patrick; Dukakis campaigned as that year’s no-new-taxes candidate. Winner: Dukakis, who turned around and imposed a huge tax increase to cover the deficit left behind by the free-spending Sargent.
  • 1978: Dukakis lost the Democratic primary to a conservative, Ed King, whom he had removed as head of Massport. The Globe endorsed Republican Frank Hatch, a moderate who was the minority leader in the Massachusetts House. Winner: King.
  • 1990: The Globe endorsed moderate Republican Bill Weld, a former U.S. attorney, over conservative Democrat John Silber, the president of Boston University. Winner: Weld.
  • 1994: For the only time until now, the Globe chose the more conservative candidate — Weld, a moderate running for re-election, over then-state representative Mark Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat. Winner: Weld.
  • 2014: The Globe endorses Republican Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican, over state Attorney General Martha Coakley, a liberal. Winner: TBD.

Charlie Baker wins the Globe’s endorsement

Charlie Baker
Charlie Baker

As I and many other observers expected, The Boston Globe has endorsed Republican Charlie Baker for governor. Here’s the money graf:

Effective activist government isn’t built on good intentions. To provide consistently good results, especially for the state’s most vulnerable and troubled residents, agencies need to focus on outcomes, learn from their errors, and preserve and replicate approaches that succeed. Baker, a former health care executive, has made a career of doing just that. During this campaign, he has focused principally on making state government work better. The emphasis is warranted. And in that spirit, the Globe endorses Charlie Baker for governor.

The essential takeaway from the editorial seems to be that Gov. Deval Patrick’s competence has not matched his inspirational rhetoric, and that Martha Coakley offers a lot less inspiration with no promise of greater competence. Baker is no liberal, but he’s just liberal enough — especially on social issues — to get the nod.

How important is the Globe’s endorsement? It’s hard to say. I don’t think people look to newspaper endorsements to decide whom to support in high-profile races like governor or U.S. senator. Endorsements are more valuable when the candidates and offices are obscure, and voters are genuinely looking for guidance.

But the race has been moving Baker’s way during the past week or so. Even if you discount the Globe’s poll last Thursday showing Baker with a 9-point lead, the trend is clear, as this WBUR Radio graph shows.

Right after the primaries I predicted that Baker would win, and that it wouldn’t be particularly close. Let’s put it this way: The Globe’s endorsement of Baker may not be fatal to Coakley’s chances, but it certainly doesn’t help.

Photo (cc) by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Race, diversity and watermelon toothpaste

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Boston Herald editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen makes a minor error in her explanation of how the racist cartoon linking President Obama and watermelon toothpaste made its way into the paper.

“For two weeks I have remained silent,” she writes at the start of her column, which appears today on the Herald’s op-ed page. In fact, Cohen took the hit right after publication, telling media blogger Jim Romenesko that she was “guilty as charged” for not anticipating the outrage that Jerry Holbert’s cartoon would provoke.

Which is to say that Cohen deserves credit for taking responsibility right from the beginning, and for writing a heartfelt apology today — explaining that she saw the cartoon and approved it unthinkingly. “It’s my job as an editor to see around corners, to look at all the possible meanings and nuances of words and of images.” she writes. “It’s my job and two weeks ago I failed at it miserably.” (Here’s what we said about the controversy on “Beat the Press” on Oct. 3.)

She absolves Holbert of harboring any racist views. She reminds her readers of the division between the news and editorial operations. And in this case, she says, her usual practice of having an editor from the news side take a look was not followed.

I’ll take Holbert and Cohen at their word that there was no racist intent. But Holbert drew a racist cartoon and Cohen published it. The Herald recently announced that it has asked the NAACP to get involved, and that’s a good step. But I continue to believe that the larger issue is a lack of diversity in the newsroom. I’m not saying that an African-American editor should have seen the cartoon before it was published. Rather, I’m suggesting that when people of color are part of the day-to-day conversations that take place in any workplace, these things are a lot less likely to happen.

And surely someone should have had the foresight to turn off comments on Cohen’s column. That way we would have been spared the anonymous troll who calls Gov. Deval Patrick “one of the most obnoxious race pimps ever.” Again, it’s a matter of what kinds of conversations are unfolding among journalists on a regular basis.

In any event, kudos to Cohen for a straightforward, no-excuses apology, and to the Herald’s management for coming to grips with a serious lapse in a serious manner. Let’s hope it leads to action.

Will Globe and Herald go to war over sex registry story?

Deval Patrick
Gov. Deval Patrick. Photo (cc) 2008 by Alison Klein of WEBN News and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

This story may take another day or two to ripen. But Gov. Deval Patrick’s firing of two members of the Sex Offender Registry Board has all the ingredients of a major donnybrook between The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

Globe reporter Michael Levenson writes that Patrick fired the two officials in part because of their insistence that his brother-in-law register as a sex offender. The brother-in-law, Bernard Sigh, was convicted of raping his wife (Patrick’s sister) in 1993 and served a short prison sentence. The couple later reconciled, but the Herald made it an issue during Patrick’s first run for governor in 2006. Levenson writes:

Blaming the Herald and the Republican Party for the revelation, Patrick said the disclosure that his brother-in-law had been convicted of raping his wife, Patrick’s sister, more than a decade earlier in California “nearly destroyed their lives.”

In the Herald, Erin Smith and Matt Stout offer a similar account, including Patrick’s lambasting of their paper. A Herald editorial criticizes Patrick mainly for the week-long delay in explaining the reason for the two officials’ firing: “Eight years and multiple bureaucratic scandals in, how has this administration not figured out that honesty — from the outset — is the best policy?”

Finally, if you’d like to read a thorough account by a neutral reporter, I recommend Gin Dumcius of State House News Service. [Update: I don’t mean to imply that the Globe and Herald accounts today are not neutral; they both seem pretty straight. I simply mean that the two papers are rivals, and the Herald’s 2006 reporting may become an issue.]

So will this spark another chapter in the Hundred Years’ War between the Globe and the Herald? I think it mainly comes down to how vigorously Herald editors want to defend their paper’s 2006 reporting. As they say, stay tuned.

Police-records bill on its way to governor’s desk

It looks like we have our first WGBH News Muzzle Awards winner of 2015. Last night the Massachusetts Legislature passed Senate Bill 2334, which, as I wrote here yesterday, would block access to certain police records now open to the public.

The ostensible purpose is to protect victims of domestic violence, but as First Amendment lawyer Jeffrey Pyle tells David Scharfenberg of The Boston Globe, “Problems with the criminal justice system are rarely, if ever, solved by decreasing transparency.”

The bill had not come to a vote before Scharfenberg’s deadline, but Globe reporter Michael Levenson tweets that it’s now on its way to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk — and that he’s likely to sign it.

By the way, Scharfenberg calls the bill “a little-noticed measure.” But the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association flagged it months ago, and I brought it up on WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press.” If this had gotten more attention early on, we might not find ourselves where we are today.

A proud day for Gov. Patrick and for Massachusetts

I’ve got my issues with Gov. Deval Patrick. Over the years I’ve given him two Muzzle Awards, for pandering to the decency police and for an excessive devotion to governmental secrecy. And don’t get me started on casino gambling.

Today, though, I’m proud that he’s my governor.

Presenting the 17th Annual New England Muzzle Awards

Muzzles logo
Click on image to read the Muzzle Awards.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz (again) might consider running the other way when we try to present them with our coveted statuettes for dishonoring the First Amendment.

The 17th Annual New England Muzzle Awards are now online at WGBHNews.org and The Providence Phoenix. They should be up soon at The Portland Phoenix as well. This is the second year that WGBH has served as home base following 15 years at the late, great Boston Phoenix.

As always, the Muzzles are accompanied by an article on Campus Muzzles by my friend and sometime collaborator Harvey Silverglate. There are a couple of new touches this year as well: the WGBH design is responsive, which means it looks just as great on your tablet or phone as it does on your laptop; and WGBH reporter Adam Reilly, WGBHNews.org editor Peter Kadzis and I talk about the Muzzles on “The Scrum” podcast, which of course you should subscribe to immediately.

Peter, by the way, is a former editor of the Phoenix newspapers, and has now edited all 17 editions of the Muzzles.

Finally, great work by WGBH Web producers Abbie Ruzicka and Brendan Lynch, who hung in through technical glitches and my whining to make this year’s edition look fantastic.

The Boston Globe doubles down on political coverage

Capital section front

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The message last night was straightforward: The Boston Globe was launching a new weekly political section, Capital, in print and online.

It was the messaging, though, that really mattered. About a hundred invited guests mingled in the lobby of the historic Paramount Theatre, elegantly restored by Emerson College, helping themselves to free food and an open bar. Owner/publisher John Henry joined the minglers, working the room like one of the politicians his reporters might write about.

And if you didn’t quite get the messaging, chief executive officer Michael Sheehan and editor Brian McGrory were there helpfully to explain.

“You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success,” Sheehan said while introducing a panel discussion. Added McGrory in his closing remarks: “We are investing in our political coverage at a time when virtually every other paper is retreating.”

If you’re a news junkie, a political junkie or both, enjoy it. The newspaper implosion that has defined the past decade may have slowed, but it hasn’t stopped.

Some 16,200 full-time newspaper jobs disappeared between 2003 and 2012, according to the American Society of News Editors. Just this week, about 20 employees — one-fourth of editorial staff members — were let go by the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, recently sold by Henry to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Aaron Kushner, whose print-centric approach was hailed as the salvation of the newspaper business just a year ago, is now dismantling the Orange County Register and its affiliated Southern California properties as quickly as he built them up.

The only major papers bucking this trend are Henry’s Globe and Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, both of which are adding staff and expanding their portfolios. (The New York Times remains relatively healthy, but in recent years the ruling Sulzberger family has tended to define success by keeping cuts to a minimum.)

So what is Capital? Simply put, it’s a Friday-only section comprising features, think pieces, polling, commentary and lots of graphics. The debut consists of 12 pages, including three full-page ads — two of them advocacy messages of the sort that might not have made their way into the paper otherwise — and a smaller bank ad on the front of the section.

The lead story, by Jim O’Sullivan and Matt Viser, looks at the implications of a presidential race that is not likely to have a Massachusetts candidate for the first time since 2000. A poll (and Capital is slated to have lots of polls) suggests that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is making some headway, trailing Democratic contender Martha Coakley by a few points and leading Coakley’s rival Steve Grossman by a similar margin.

Among the more intriguing pieces of content is a “social networks dashboard,” put together by SocialSphere of Cambridge, which tracks conversations and the “biggest influencers” on Twitter. The print version has the highlights; online, it goes into more depth. It could use some tweaking, though. For instance, it’s fine to know that Gov. Deval Patrick is +463, but I’d like to see an explanation of what that means.

And if the Globe is looking for suggestions, I’d like to see a more outward-looking orientation, at least in the online version. There are no few links to outside content. How about a curated reading list of the best political coverage appearing elsewhere? (Online, Capital does offer some outside links in an automated feature based on Twitter called “The Talk,” which combines mostly Globe content with a little bit of offsite stuff. I’m also told that a daily newsletter to be written by political reporter Joshua Miller will include non-Globe links.)

One challenge the Globe faces is to come up with compelling content that isn’t tied to the daily news cycle. Today, for instance, the paper’s two most important political stories appear not in Capital but, rather, on the front page: more questions about Scott Brown’s dubious dealings with a Florida firearms company and insider shenanigans involving Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration and the city’s largest construction company. Of necessity, Capital will have to focus on analysis and smart step-back pieces.

During the panel discussion, political editor Cynthia Needham said that a frequent topic of conversation in the newsroom is whether the Globe’s political coverage should appeal to “insiders” or to readers “who dip in every once in a while.” For Capital to work week after week, the answer needs to be both — and then some.

But seriously — how refreshing is it to be able to write about the Globe’s latest expansion instead of the cuts and layoffs that pervade the rest of the newspaper business? We’ll remember these times. Let’s hope they last.

Booze, pills and the economics of casinos

Caesar
Caesar

The chaos that has broken out over the split between Suffolk Downs and Caesars Entertainment is good news for casino opponents. At the very least, it increases the likelihood that East Boston residents will vote no on Nov. 5. At most, we may be able to look forward to delays and lawsuits for years to come.

I was particularly struck by the accusation — reported by Mark Arsenault in The Boston Globe — that Caesars separated one wealthy gambler from his money by keeping him liquored up and plying him with painkillers. I know nothing about the details of that accusation. But it actually fits well with the business model for casinos.

I’ve flagged this before, and it’s worth flagging again: according to Michael Jonas of CommonWealth Magazine, casinos could not survive if it weren’t for the problem gamblers who provide a disproportionate share of the revenues. Jonas explains it this way:

Just how much of the revenue casinos bring in is from the losses of those with gambling problems? One of the most thorough studies of this issue was done in 2004 in Ontario, where researchers had a sample of residents maintain diaries logging their gambling expenditures. The study, prepared for the government-supported Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, estimated that 35 percent of Ontario casino revenues were derived from moderate to severe problem gamblers. Such gamblers accounted for 30 percent of revenue from casino table games and a whopping 62 percent of revenue from slot machines.

I remain appalled that Gov. Deval Patrick and the Legislature legalized casinos and slots, which are associated with higher rates of crime, divorce and suicide. But I’m optimistic that these social parasites can be stopped one at a time.

Below is a statement from No Eastie Casino:

EAST BOSTON, Mass. — Oct. 19, 2013 — For more than a year, No Eastie Casino has pushed the City of Boston and Suffolk Downs to share more information about Suffolk Downs’ proposed Caesars Entertainment Resort. After ignoring repeated calls for greater transparency and concerns about Caesars’ solvency raised by East Boston residents, on Friday Suffolk Downs dropped the operations partner it chose in 2011 to run a casino in East Boston, Caesars Entertainment, only after state investigators informed them that Suffolk Downs likely would not pass the background check if Caesars stayed on. The Boston Globe reported that a number of concerns were brought to Suffolk Downs’ attention, including Caesars’ alleged business ties to organized crime.

But East Boston casino opponents say the stunning news late Friday demonstrates that residents cannot trust Suffolk Downs when it comes to whom they choose to bring into the neighborhood, said No Eastie Casino co-chair Celeste Myers.

“As recently as two months ago, Suffolk Downs owner Joe O’Donnell stated that Caesars was ‘as professional as they come,'” Myers said, pointing out Suffolk Downs’ frequent assertion that it shares Caesars’ values. “Clearly, they did not do due diligence in vetting Caesars — a company with which they have had a relationship since 2011 — and only ended the relationship when forced to do so.”

She added that Suffolk Downs has now picked two corporations, Caesars and Vornado Realty Trust, that have been unable or unwilling to pass background checks. In March, Vornado put its 19 percent stake in the casino plan into a blind trust after the majority of its executive team refused the state’s mandatory background checks. To our knowledge, Vornado has not divested completely from the casino partnership and voters remain in the dark about who will pick up its nearly one-fifth share in the project.

Caesars’ sudden departure also raises serious questions about the value of the City’s and Suffolk Downs’ host community agreement and shows that the promises in the mitigation agreement were made to be broken. Many key elements of the mitigation agreement-including key components of the jobs and small business plans-were tied to Caesars’ employee practices and Total Rewards programs. (Download our 16-page mitigation analysis here.)

No Eastie Casino leaders on Saturday formally called on Suffolk Downs to withdraw its casino application, in light of the information that emerged late Friday, and to share full details about their casino plans — including what they knew about Caesars and when they knew it — with the community at large.

“Now, more than ever, our neighbors and voters are seeing the glaring problems in the Suffolk Downs casino plans and the flaws in transparency that have plagued this fight from the start,” Myers said. “We hope Suffolk Downs and the City of Boston do the right thing and withdraw their support of this project. Until they do, our campaign will continue to reach out to and educate voters until we are victorious on Nov. 5.”