Warren needs a better answer on asbestos case

Coming out of Thursday night’s WBZ-TV (Channel 4) debate between Republican senator Scott Brown and his Democratic rival, Elizabeth Warren, I thought the issue that could have the most resonance was Brown’s accusation that Warren profited from a legal case that harmed victims of asbestos exposure. Warren didn’t handle the question well, and the matter was left hanging.

Boston Globe reporter Noah Bierman wrote about the case in May. It is convoluted, to say the least. In essence, though, Warren was paid $212,000 by Travelers Insurance to argue that the insurer should be immune from future asbestos lawsuits in return for setting up a $500 million trust fund to compensate victims. The liability belonged to Travelers because Johns-Manville, the company that actually manufactured the asbestos, had gone bankrupt.

Later, after Warren no longer had anything to do with the case, another court ruled that Travelers did not have to pay out the $500 million. So the victims got nothing. Warren told the Globe:

My heart goes out to the victims of this terrible, terrible disaster. It’s heart-wrenching that there are new victims every year…. I think they should be compensated. That’s it for me. That’s what this is all about.

She added that the principle she was fighting for — a provision in bankruptcy law that would allow the establishment of trust funds for victims in return for no further legal liability — was “a critical tool for making sure that people who’ve been hurt have a fair shot at compensation.”

Brown is scheduled to discuss the asbestos case with reporters later this morning. Warren needs a better answer.

Overall, I thought Warren came across well — focused, substantive and calm, if a bit repetitive. Brown was snide and personal. Moderator Jon Keller began by inviting Brown to comment on Warren’s character, and Brown chose to go all-in on Warren’s claim that she’s part Native American. Senator, there are people who will do that for you — and have been doing that for you.

Here is my Northeastern colleague Alan Schroeder, writing for the Huffington Post:

The opening debate between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown … at times felt like the classroom dynamic between an earnest, soft-spoken high school English teacher and the defiant jock who plants himself in the back row and makes sour faces until the bell rings. Although the teacher never quite subdued her student, neither did he manage to get the better of her.

And how good a moderator is my friend Keller? Other than keeping the conversation moving, you barely knew he was there. In other words, a first-rate job.

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Getting pumped for the Brown-Warren debate

Like all political junkies, I’m looking forward to tonight’s U.S. Senate debate between Republican incumbent Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. (Assuming it comes off.)

The first debate is often the most important in terms of drawing the biggest audience and establishing a story line. So I’m glad that this one will be moderated by political analyst Jon Keller of WBZ-TV (Channel 4). Keller, a fair-minded centrist who doesn’t mind delivering an occasional zing, is good at keeping things moving while not cutting people off. Among the things I won’t miss: a panel of journalists and a timer.

Recent polls have been all over the place, showing Warren unexpectedly taking the lead or Brown maintaining his months-long advantage. All are within the margin for error, so the race is essentially tied. That could change starting tonight.

If you’re live-tweeting (as I’ll be) or just following along on Twitter, search for #wbzdebate. The action begins at 7 p.m.

Photo (cc) by John Atherton via Wikimedia Commons and published here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Jon Keller is still at large

When CBS unveiled a new WBZ website a couple of days ago, political analyst Jon Keller’s blog seemed to disappear — just a few days before a wild state election.

Fortunately, Keller is using his old blog until the new site can be fixed. You won’t find it linked from WBZTV.com — or, as it has now been dubbed, BostonCBSLocal.com. But you will find it here.

Update: WBZ is working out the kinks, and Keller is now asking his readers to join him here.

An undercovered gubernatorial debate

Old friend Mark Leccese has an interesting blog post at Boston.com about the first televised gubernatorial debate, hosted Tuesday evening by another old friend, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller.

Leccese — God bless him — took in all of the local television coverage to determine how much attention the debate got. And he concludes that the debate was all but ignored, with the exception of NECN and, of course, WBZ.

The city’s two dailies, Leccese adds, gave it plenty of coverage.

Leccese wonders whether the lack of coverage was due to television executives’ wanting “to play down the story of the debate because it was on a rival station” — or if, instead, “local TV newscasts don’t find debates among the four people from whom the voters will choose the most powerful person in state government particularly newsworthy.”

My suspicion is that it’s a little bit of both.

If you missed the debate, you can still watch it online here. It’s also being broadcast in Spanish.

I caught about two-thirds of it in my car, and then watched the last 20 minutes. With the exception of a weird question about President Obama’s aunt, dropped in toward the end, I thought Keller turned in his usual fine job. He got out of the way and let Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker really mix it up, while still giving Green-Rainbow Party candidate Jill Stein and independent Tim Cahill a chance to make their case.

The debate was a ratings hit, too, writes the Herald’s Jessica Heslam — it came in third during the 7 p.m. time slot, not far behind the Red Sox and “Chronicle.”

Who won? I thought Patrick came off as by far the most personable of the four, and Baker scored some points on substance. As Michael Levenson reported in the Globe on Thursday, Patrick was wrong in claiming that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care was bailed out with “state aid” when Baker was its chief executive, an overreach that could come back to haunt the governor.

Perhaps the key was that Cahill, the state treasurer, proved to be a more effective debater than the substantive but sound-bite-challenged Stein. Since the conventional wisdom is that Cahill takes away votes from Baker and Stein from Patrick, perhaps Patrick (who really overdid it in sucking up to Cahill) was the winner by default.

Photo from wbztv.com.

Do social media have anti-social consequences?

Has the rise of blogging, Twitter and other forms of social media contributed to ideological polarization and the decline of a shared culture? It’s an old debate.

Tonight at 11 p.m., Jon Keller of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and I will talk about it following the release of a new report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism titled “New Media, Old Media.”

Patrick Kennedy won’t seek re-election

Here is the advertisement that will be broadcast in Rhode Island on Sunday evening in which U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy announces he won’t seek re-election this fall (via Chris Cillizza).

Ian Donnis of WRNI Radio in Providence has more — including a list of possible Democratic contenders who want to take on Republican candidate John Loughlin. Jon Keller writes that it makes good sense for Kennedy to walk away given his personal problems and the difficulty he would have had getting re-elected.

Finally, last month, former Providence mayor Buddy Cianci told the Providence Journal that he might run for Kennedy’s seat, a federal corruption conviction apparently being no impediment (via @derjue). The spirit of James Michael Curley lives.

Talking about anonymous blog comments

I’ll be on WBZ-TV (Channel 4) during the 11 p.m. news, talking with Jon Keller about the trouble with anonymous blog comments, and why Media Nation now requires real names.

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.

Live-blogging the Mass. Senate debate

I’m heading in to Boston in a bit to cover the first televised Massachusetts Senate debate, which will be moderated by political analyst Jon Keller. I’ll be posting a few observations here during the debate.

6:48 p.m. The media are set up in a second-floor conference room. There’s a flat-panel TV at one end of the room, which presumably will come on in a few minutes.

6:55 p.m. Moderator Jon Keller pops up five minutes early, then stops. The debate will be shown at 7 p.m. at wbz.com and wbztv.com.

7 p.m. The music is coming on.

7:03 p.m. Here we go. The debate is being broadcast on C-SPAN as well.

7:09 p.m. Good first question from a viewer — Massachusetts health-care reform has cost more than expected. What lessons can we learn? The Republican candidate, state Sen. Scott Brown, sort of deflects the question and says he would vote against the federal health-care-reform bill.

The Democrat, Attorney General Martha Coakley, explains why she’ll vote yes. “I think the plan will be good for Massachusetts.” The independent, Joe Kennedy, criticizes the Massachusetts system as being the most expensive in the country. “We should have addressed costs first,” Kennedy says.

Brown: “My role … is to look out for the interests of this state.” Coakley: “”They’re complementary plans. They don’t compete with each other.”

Kennedy: One of the premises of the Massachusetts plan was to control costs, and it hasn’t worked. “We’re going to end up bankrupting the country,” he says.

7:10 p.m. A weird question from a female viewer, who compares abortion coverage to Viagra coverage. Are those really analogous?

Brown claims Coakley has flip-flipped on her promise to vote against health-care reform if it restricts abortion rights. (She now says she’ll vote for the bill.) Coakley calls it “a compromise process,” but doesn’t really address abortion rights.

7:14 p.m. In response to a question on cash-for-clunkers, Kennedy says taxpayers spent $24,000 for every $8,000 that went  into buying cars — then says he has no idea if those numbers are correct. Thanks for sharing, Joe. (Note: Media Nation commenter @Harrybosch finds that Kennedy got it right.)

7:20 p.m. We seem to be on to Keller’s questions rather than those submitted by viewers. Good. In response to a question about taxes, Brown says, “I’m in favor of lowering taxes and creating jobs … and putting more money in people’s pockets.”

Coakley responds by saying most tax cuts in recent years have gone to the top 1 percent to 2 percent of earners — “between the haves and the have-mores.” Kennedy comes out in favor of the income-tax cut that was on the state ballot last year, and says Brown opposed it.

Brown: Coakley is in favor of $2.1 trillion in taxes. Coakley: Brown is talking about investments necessary to come out of an economic recession. Kennedy: “The problem here is spending.”

7:25 p.m. Keller asks Coakley what would be sufficient provocation for war. Coakley essentially responds it would have to be an attack on the U.S., Western Europe or Israel. Kennedy sort of says the same thing. Brown says America is good.

7:28 p.m. Brown goes on to note that he supports President Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, unlike Coakley, who, in turn, says, “I just don’t think we can be successful.” Kennedy adds putting our troops in “harm’s way ought to be done with the utmost thoughtfulness.” Kennedy says the original mission in Afghanistan has been “completed,” and the current mission is “undefined.”

Brown: We need to prevent the Taliban from working with Al Qaeda and to stop nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Brown adds Obama needs the “tools and resources” to carry out his mission.

Kennedy says we can defend Pakistan without having a full-scale occupation of Afghanistan.

7:30 p.m. We’re in another break. My quick impression is that we’re having an intelligent, substantive debate among three politicians with widely differing philosophies. At least in terms of being able to deliver a credible performance, Kennedy has proven he belongs with Coakley and Brown.

7:34 p.m. The candidates are talking about children, who, as we know, are the future. Snarkiness aside, it’s an important issue, and I’m sorry to report I haven’t heard anything worth passing along.

7:37 p.m. Kennedy is really causing Brown some problems, saying that Brown supported former governor Mitt Romney in approving $1 billion in tax increases. Not quite sure what Kennedy means, though when it swings back to him, he talks about penalties that people have to pay if they don’t have health insurance.

7:40 p.m. Keller asks a question from @dankennedy_nu (hey, that’s me) as to whether a senator should reflect the views of his or her constituents or exercise independent judgment. I don’t think I’m being unfair by observing that Brown responds by saying he’ll do both, and that Coakley ignores the question. Kennedy says he’ll listen to his constituents, but he doesn’t really answer the question, either.

Brown: “Martha isn’t running against Bush and Cheney, she’s running against me.”

7:44 p.m. Neither Coakley nor Brown has an iota of charisma. If the polls are to believed, Coakley doesn’t need it, and Brown does. Kennedy actually comes across as a bit more engaging. Kennedy keeps challenging Brown on whether he truly supports spending cuts — just deadly. He’s stealing Brown’s lunch right off his plate. He even challenges Brown to put his voting record online.

7:47 p.m. Oh, this is good — Keller asks what the candidates do when they’re approached by panhandlers. I like Coakley’s answer: no. She says she’d rather they take advantage of the safety net.

Kennedy: “When individuals approach me, I offer to buy them a sandwich.” And he walks with them to make sure they do it.

Brown: I’ve given money, coffee and sandwiches. Gov. Deval Patrick has cut the non-profits that Coakley refers to. They’re hurting because of higher taxes and not enough jobs.

7:49 p.m. Coakley goes after the Boston Herald for a story she says was wrong and that it retracted. I confess I don’t know what she’s referring to. If a Media Nation reader has something on that, please post it in the comments. (Ask and ye shall receive. Commenter @Rich tracks it down.)

7:52 p.m. This is very impressionistic, and maybe it’s just me. But I think Kennedy is coming across a lot better than Brown in terms of stating a clear anti-government, anti-tax, anti-spending philosophy.

7:58 p.m. Keller closes by asking what caused 9/11. I love Kennedy’s answer: The 19 hijackers caused 9/11. (Given the way this live-blog is going, I guess I should remind everyone that Kennedy and I are not related.) Brown takes a shot at Coakley for supporting putting terrorists on trial in New York. Coakley doesn’t say much.

“We should not be providing taxpayer dollars to providing attorneys to represent these people in New York,” Brown says. Has he thought through the implications of what he’s saying? He also claims the money will be spent on those trials instead of the troops, an absurd allegation. Coakley calls him on it.

Coakley: “Protecting civil rights and holding people accountable” is what the Constitution requires.

8:36 p.m. Sorry for the abrupt cutoff. As soon as the debate was over, we all ran downstairs to interview the candidates. Probably the most notable quote was Brown’s saying of Coakley, “Martha’s a very nice lady, and I have great respect for her. But she’s wrong about policy.”

When Coakley was asked about the “nice lady” remark, she deflected any hint that she found it sexist, saying, “I don’t mind. I am a nice lady…. I try to be nice to my colleagues, and I don’t take any umbrage at it.”

Most of the press departed before Kennedy could have his close-up, but Boston Globe reporter Eric Moskowitz and I stuck around. I asked Kennedy if he were concerned that he might be hurting Brown’s chances of making a run at Coakley, given that both of them say they oppose taxes and spending.

“People have to vote their conscience,” he replied. “You have to look at people’s records when there’s nothing else.” He said state spending rose at twice the rate of inflation when Romney was governor, and that Brown never challenged him on that.

“If he hasn’t done it before,” Kennedy said, “I can’t believe he’s going to do it now.”

Anyone want to bet against Martha Coakley?

Martha Coakley
Martha Coakley

State Attorney General Martha Coakley is in a commanding position to succeed the late Sen. Ted Kennedy now that former congressman Joe Kennedy has announced he won’t run.

I doubt many people are surprised by Kennedy’s decision. Last week, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) political analyst Jon Keller and Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh both gave Kennedy a taste of what he could expect from the sensible center had he chosen to jump in. Needless to say, conservative talk radio would have savaged him.

Who would want to bet against Coakley? Not me. While several congressmen ponder whether they should give it a try, Coakley is already off and running. She’s won statewide, and the times would suggest that voters may be looking for something a little different. As a woman and as someone who’s not part of the Capitol Hill gang, Coakley can position herself as an outsider.

As for the Republicans, so far the party has been unable find someone willing to be a human sacrifice. Former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, who at least would have been well-funded, has decided against running.

Call this a gut sense rather than a prediction, but barring a major unexpected development — like Victoria Reggie Kennedy getting in — this race may be over before it even begins.

Photo (cc) by weinbergagain and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.