The Globe’s early endorsement of Markey isn’t quite as early as it seems

It’s generally understood that when newspaper editorial boards endorse candidates, they do so as late as possible in order to avoid the perception that their news coverage will be slanted in favor of the endorsee. So I was surprised to see The Boston Globe endorse U.S. Sen. Ed Markey over his Democratic primary challenger, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy, a full five weeks before the primary.

What gives? According to the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Bina Venkataraman, it’s later than it seems: mail-in voting will begin soon, so the Sept. 1 primary date is merely the last day that people can cast ballots. I’d honestly forgotten that, even though I’ve applied to vote by mail.

In fact, as David Bernstein recently pointed out at WGBH News, the two campaigns are engaged in furious get-out-the-vote efforts already. Huge numbers of Massachusetts voters are expected to take advantage of the mail-in option in order to avoid exposure to COVID-19 at the polls.

There’s still a dilemma, though. Because Markey and Kennedy will be campaigning right up until Sept. 1, the Globe’s news reporters will have to fend of complaints of bias for more than a month. The editorial pages at a quality paper like the Globe do not affect news coverage (for example), but try explaining that to the general public.

Should newspapers endorse candidates at all, or is that an outmoded custom? I’ve found that my students are dubious about the merits of news organizations’ telling people whom to vote for. But I think it can be a valuable exercise, especially in situations where an endorsement might really make a difference.

In this case, the Globe endorsement might matter. Markey and Kennedy hold similar progressive views, and readers will sit up and take notice that the Globe isn’t endorsing a Kennedy, as they might have been expected to do — although, as a longtime Globe reader, I can’t say I was all that surprised that they went with Markey.

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Markey edges Kennedy in first debate. But will youth and glamour win out in the end?

Photo by Meredith Nierman/WGBH News

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The tenor of the first encounter between Democratic senatorial candidates Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Joe Kennedy III was established right from the start.

Markey touted his policy initiatives on gun control, climate change and — somewhat unexpectedly — Alzheimer’s disease. Kennedy agreed with Markey on virtually everything, but asserted that more vigorous leadership was needed to stand up to President Donald Trump and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

“I have led and delivered for the people of Massachusetts,” Markey said, summing up his campaign during the closing moments of the hour-long debate, sponsored by WGBH News. Countered Kennedy: “We are at a moment of crisis for our country.” Legislating and voting the right way is “critical” but insufficient, he said, adding, “This is all about power.”

Other than the presidential campaign, few electoral contests are being watched more closely this year than the battle between Markey, the 73-year-old incumbent, and Kennedy, 39, a fourth-term congressman and a member of our most famous political family. (Note: I am unrelated.) It is a race nearly devoid of policy differences, and the winner of the Democratic primary on Sept. 1 is all but assured of election. Given that, will voters go with an experienced incumbent, or will they opt for youth and a touch of glamour?

I thought Markey had the better argument Tuesday night — and not just on experience. Despite his age, his energy was a match for Kennedy’s. Twice he brought up his co-sponsorship of the Green New Deal with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a young progressive star who has endorsed him. He touted successful legislation to reduce auto emissions and study gun violence. For good measure, he made sure to bring up his childhood as the son of a Malden milkman — not that citing one’s humble roots has ever had much effect when running against the patrician Kennedys.

Not everything went Markey’s way. Under questioning from moderators Jim Braude and Margery Eagan, he stumbled on his refusal to endorse the so-called People’s Pledge — a promise to keep outside money out of the race that he has supported in the past. Kennedy pounced, saying both candidates should agree to ban undisclosed “dark money.” Markey responded that he wanted to give progressive groups a chance to donate, and that their contributions would in fact be disclosed. It was hard to follow, but Markey came off as someone who was willing to shift on campaign-finance reform if he thought it would benefit him.

Kennedy also had the advantage in pressing Markey for voting “present” in 2013 on whether to authorize the use of military force after Syria unleashed chemical weapons against its own people. Again, the exchange must have been nearly unfathomable except to the few experts who may have been watching. But Markey’s insistence that he voted as he did as a way of pressing the Obama administration to provide more information came across as the sort of legislative arcana that can leave voters cold.

On the other hand, the fundamental premise of Kennedy’s case struck me as flawed. Does anyone really believe that the problem with Trump and McConnell is that the Democrats haven’t been fierce enough in holding them to account?

Markey has been overshadowed by his fellow Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren. But I covered Markey as a local newspaper reporter in the 1980s, and he seems utterly unchanged from the days when he was a national leader in the fight for a freeze on the development of nuclear weapons.

Fundamentally, Markey is the same person who was first elected to Congress in 1976 on the strength of a memorable ad. As a state representative, his desk had been moved out into the corridor on orders from Massachusetts House leaders, who were angered by his demands for judicial reform. “The bosses may tell me where to sit,” Markey said, looking at the camera. “No one tells me where to stand.”

There were a few subtle differences Tuesday night.

Both candidates favor Medicare for All, but Kennedy said he foresaw a continuing role for private insurance even if such a system becomes law. (He also invoked his uncle Ted’s 1971 proposal for single-payer universal insurance.)

Both spoke about actions they would take to reverse decades of economic discrimination against African-Americans, which, they said, affects access to housing and public transportation. But only Markey brought up the idea of reparations for slavery, which he called “the original sin in our society.”

Both favored bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan. But Kennedy was willing to do so more quickly and with fewer conditions than Markey, who invoked the horrors that Afghan women have suffered under the Taliban.

So where do we go from here? According to a September poll conducted by The Boston Globe and Suffolk University, Markey trailed Kennedy by a margin of 42% to 28% — a wide gap that may have mainly been a reflection of the superior name recognition that any Kennedy enjoys.

With the race now heating up, Markey has a chance to reintroduce himself to voters and close that gap. The biggest challenge he faces is time. If he’s re-elected, he’ll be 80 before his next term ends. Ultimately, there’s not much he can do if voters decide to thank him for a job well done — and then move on to the next generation.

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The Globe, the Times and RFK’s papers

Robert Kennedy

There’s been a pretty interesting development in the battle over Robert Kennedy’s papers. The New York Times reports that members of Kennedy’s family are unhappy with the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, and may move the papers to George Washington University.

The story also says the family decided on March 1 to release 63 boxes of papers, some of them “dealing with Cuba, Vietnam and civil rights, [that] are classified as secret or top secret.”

These would appear to be the “54 crates of records” that the Boston Globe revealed last January were being withheld from all but a few favored historians. At that time, Robert Kennedy’s son Max placed his foot firmly in his mouth, telling the Globe’s Bryan Bender that he’s all for openness except in those cases when he’s not.

“I do believe that historians and journalists must do their homework, and observe the correct procedures for seeking permission to consult the papers, and explain their projects,” Max Kennedy was quoted as saying. Max’s boffo performance led me to bestow a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award upon him recently.

In the Times story, there is no mention of Max. Instead, another of Robert Kennedy’s sons, former congressman Joe Kennedy, emerges as the family spokesman, and he comes off as considerably more diplomatic than his younger brother.

A search of the Globe and Times archives shows that the family’s March 1 decision to release the papers was not reported prior to today’s Times story. That suggests a deliberate strategy of working hand in hand with Adam Clymer, the retired Times reporter who gets the lead byline today. Clymer, you may recall, is the author of “Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography,” a respected though admiring treatment of the late senator published in 2000.

All in all, fodder for a follow-up by Bender.

Library of Congress photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Push comes to shove

Since yesterday, we have received a thorough airing of the shoving (tripping?) incident involving John McCormack, a reporter with the conservative Weekly Standard, and Democratic operative Michael Meehan, who’s working for Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley. As we should. Even allowing for exaggeration, Coakley’s reaction was oddly passive. (Boston Globe coverage here; Boston Herald coverage here.)

But there are also a few stories floating around that we haven’t heard much about, and that political reporters might want to look into today:

  • Supporters of Republican candidate Scott Brown are mocking Coakley’s claim that Brown groupies have been “stalking” her. But independent candidate Joe Kennedy has posted a message on his Facebook page alleging the same thing, saying that he’s gone so far as to report threats of violence to local police. Obviously the Brown campaign is not involved. But what exactly is going on?
  • Brown has been caught telling a blatant untruth with regard to his claim that he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-party movement. Talking Points Memo has posted pictures and videos. (Correction: Talking Points now says the Brown campaign has provided evidence that Brown did not say he was “unfamiliar” with the tea-partiers.)
  • Despite claims by Brown supporters that the Coakley campaign has engaged in anti-Brown push-polling, I have yet to see a single account by a person with a name. On the other hand, there are numerous credible accounts of people receiving vicious anti-Coakley calls; here are a few. Again, I doubt very much the Brown campaign is actually involved. But why has there been no coverage of this sleazy tactic? And why has Brown said so little?

One of Brown’s attempts to hide from his record is getting a thorough airing: his claim that he had nothing to do with his own bill that would have allowed hospital workers to refuse to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Yvonne Abraham and Joan Vennochi let him have it with both barrels in today’s Globe.

Update: In the comments, Scutch points to this story from the Watertown Daily Times in upstate New York. Apparently the aforementioned John McCormack creeped out congressional candidate Dierdre Scozzafava sufficiently that her husband notified police.

The Senate race and the media

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the national attention being paid to the Massachusetts Senate race has more to do with a simplistic media narrative — and one outlying poll — than it does with Republican candidate Scott Brown’s actual chances of winning.

Quick thoughts on the Senate debate

Three quick thoughts on last night’s Senate debate:

• It was by far the best and most energetic performance I’ve seen from the major-party candidates, Martha Coakley and Scott Brown. They really had a chance to mix it up, and though we learned nothing new, it was interesting nevertheless. Apparently Brown has decided he’ll live or die with his sneering references to “constitutional rights.”

• Joe Kennedy struck me as fringier than he has in previous appearances — especially the WBZ debate, where he was quite good. This time, he came off as Ron Paul with an even worse haircut.

• Two cheers for moderator David Gergen, who did an excellent job except for a longish segment in which he kept insisting that the candidates support cuts in middle-class benefits. What does the Gergen agenda have to do with the Senate race? Coakley finally put him in his place by reminding everyone of the tens of billions of dollars spent on Wall Street bailouts.

John Carroll’s got a nice take on the debate. And MassLive.com notes that “Massachusetts” is misspelled in a new Coakley ad attacking Brown (via David Bernstein).

Is there any evidence of anti-Brown push-polling?

I find myself wondering whether I should have passed on claims that someone is involved in push-polling targeted at Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown. In the case of those anti-Martha Coakley calls, I have specific examples from people I know. The anti-Brown calls amount to no more than a rumor.

If you have received a push-poll call aimed at damaging Brown, please post some details. If you want to be taken seriously, use your real name.

Anti-Coakley (and anti-Brown) push-polling reported

Friend of Media Nation John Doherty posts this in the comments:

here in Boston suburbs, I just got “push polled” on the election.

Oddly, they identified the candidates by party first “Republican Scott Brown” *, etc. and then asked if I supported either one (no mention of the faux Kennedy libertarian).

When I said Coakley (in fact, I already voted absentee in case of bad weather), they asked if it would change my vote if I knew Coakley supported “tax payer funding of abortions”.

Call came in around 8:40 Sunday night from DC number: 202 461-3440.

Reverse lookup tells me it’s a landline in Westchester, DC and is unpublished.

* odd because GOP label is pretty toxic here.

This is so mind-blowingly stupid that I have agree with John that it’s “odd.” My guess is it’s some right-wing organization working not just independently of Brown, but against his interests. Apparently they haven’t heard that Massachusetts isn’t Alabama.

I tried calling the number and got a busy signal.

Instant update: A poster at Universal Hub says the calls are connected to Americans in Contact PAC, a right-wing group.

Still more: Just saw a link on Twitter about push-polling linking Brown to “hate groups.” This is really getting ugly.

Polling the Senate race

Good luck making sense out of polls about the Massachusetts Senate race.

Following Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s even-bigger-than-expected victory in the Dec. 8 primary, most political observers had assumed she would cruise in the final. That assumption has been looking questionable since last week, when a Rasmussen poll showed Coakley with just a nine-point margin over her Republican challenger, Scott Brown.

Then, last night, Public Policy Polling released the results of a survey showing Brown actually leading Coakley by a margin of 48 percent to 47 percent. Let the tea party begin!

A few hours later, the Boston Globe published a story about its own poll, in which Coakley is maintaining a comfortable 15-point lead.

So what’s going on here? Who knows?

Frankly, I would start by throwing out the Public Policy Polling survey — it’s a robocall. (“If Scott Brown, press 1. If Martha Coakley, press 2.”) Would you hang on the line? I wouldn’t.

I’ll also point out that the Globe’s poll was conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a highly respected operation. I’m no polling expert, but I do know that Rasmussen gets mixed reviews.

Also, as best as I can tell from diving into the fine print, it looks like the Globe/UNH poll was the only one of the three in which respondents were specifically asked about the third candidate in the race, libertarian independent Joe Kennedy, who receives a not-insignificant 5 percent. Indeed, given the vagaries of polling, that alone could explain the difference between Rasmussen’s nine-point margin and the Globe’s 15-point spread.

What’s making everyone hypercautious is that we have absolutely no idea who’s going to turn out in the Jan. 19 special election. And what if there’s a blizzard?

My guess, though, is that Coakley’s right where you’d expect her to be with a little more than a week to go.

Analyzing the Senate debate — and iMovie ’09


Following last night’s Massachusetts Senate debate on wbztv.com and wbz.com, I sat down with the moderator, political analyst Jon Keller, to get his thoughts on the debate and on the fine art of keeping such events on track.

My purpose, which Keller was generous enough to indulge, was to get some good news footage for my first experiment with iMovie ’09.

The basics are ridiculously easy. Inserting B-roll via iMovie’s cutaway command almost feels like cheating — you just drag and drop, and the software takes care of the rest. I had gotten to be relatively facile with iMovie 6, but B-roll on ’09 is much simpler and faster.

After separating the audio from the video, I was also able to start with Keller talking during the opening screen. But because iMovie ’09 lacks the precision timing of iMovie 6, I had to guess where to cut the video. It’s sheer luck that the audio and video are in reasonably good sync at the beginning of the piece.

Another annoyance: there doesn’t seem to be any way to add titles to B-roll photos and video. I tried to drop them in where they would make the most sense and where people’s identities would be obvious from the context. But that’s not always going to be good enough. Unless there’s a way to do it that I haven’t discovered, it’s a step down from iMovie 6.

The new iMovie really shines when it comes to uploading to YouTube — it handles the process automatically. No more futzing around with settings to see what looks best.

Overall, iMovie ’09 is a quantum leap over the wretched iMovie ’08, and I’m looking forward to working with it with my students next semester. I still like iMovie 6. But since it’s no longer available, I’m glad Apple has finally beaten its successor into reasonably good shape.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Keller’s characteristically sharp analysis.