Monthly Archives: June 2013

Maine’s governor to press: Drop dead!

By Christopher B. Daly

The Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, has decided not to speak to three of the largest media outlets in his

Tight-lipped governor.

Tight-lipped governor.

state — which means, of course, that he is refusing to speak to all of their readers (who are also voters). Fair enough. That’s his call. He is a partisan (by definition), and he believes the papers are out to get him, so he’s going to try to win the argument by not engaging.

Hmmm… let’s see how that works out.

My guess that is that the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal (Augusta), and the Morning Sentinel (Waterville) will all be in business long after LePage has been retired by the readers/voters.

 

Thanks to the AP’s David Sharp for staying on top of this. Here’s the Press Herald’s own account.

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Bulger trial coverage

By Christopher B. Daly

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

The long-awaited trial of gangster/murderer Whitey Bulger is in full swing in a federal courthouse in Boston (named for the longtime congressman from the district of South Boston, the late Joe Moakley).

Some of the journalists and news institutions covering the trial are doing excellent work. Here’s a guide:

The Boston Globe, the biggest news organization in New England, is all-in. Here’s a link to their special expanded coverage for “Globe Insiders” (which just means non-freeloaders — i.e., those who have a digital subscription, as we all should).

WBUR, the longtime news leader among NPR stations in the region, has a smart-looking special section as well, led by veteran reporter David Boeri.

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Both sites are rich with background, photos, timelines, who’s-who’s, and (my favorite) maps.

Also meritorious: the reporting of the ubiquitous Adam Reilly, who reports for the city’s other major NPR station, WGBH.

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And, if that’s not enough, you can always follow the Twitter feeds (#bulger), which are emerging as a pretty good workaround for the continuing silliness of banning TV cameras from federal trial courts.

Oh, and for deep background, read the Whitey biography written by my friend and BU colleague Dick Lehr.

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Mass. Senate race: another private equity guy gives it a try

By Christopher B. Daly

In Massachusetts, we are having a special Senate race to fill the seat vacated by veteran Democrat John Kerry when he became president Obama’s Secretary of State. The race features two finalists, each of whom has a classic profile for his party:

Ed Markey, a Democrat who is a career politician, versus Gabriel Gomez, a Republican who was a Navy SEAL and was a millionaire executive of a private equity fund until he resigned in February to run for Senate.

Last night, the two candidates faced off in the final debate of the campaign, ably moderated by my B.U. colleague and veteran television news anchor, R.D. Sahl. Voting is next Tuesday.

In the debate, it appeared as though Markey was trying to do to Gomez what Ted Kennedy famously did to Mitt Romney in the 1994 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts. The career-pol Democrat accused the private-equity guy of buying up companies, firing their workers, and profiting the difference. It worked, and Ted Kennedy returned to Washington.

This time, Gomez has steadfastly declined to talk about his major post-military career. He has spent more than a decade at Advent International, making deals. It’s a bit odd that Gomez, who is also a Harvard Business School grad, does not want to talk about business.  Instead, he spends most of his time talking about his service to country (he was an aircraft carrier pilot as well as a SEAL, which is a major big deal) and about how Washington is broken because of partisanship.

Fair enough, but what about his career?

As a public service, here are some articles about Gomez as a businessman — from CNN Money, from Daily Kos, and the Boston Globe. I think the best coverage of this issue has come from Dan Primack, who (unlike political reporters) actually covers business in his work at CNN Monday/Fortune. Here’s his latest. Everyone in Massachusetts should get up to speed on this issue before next Tuesday. Thanks, Dan Primack.

 

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Who will buy the Boston Globe?

By Christopher B. Daly 

imgresThe Boston Globe carries a story today about the impending sale of the newspaper by its owner of the past two decades — the NYTimes Co. Bids are due by June 27. As a regular reader, I hope, of course, that the new owners will be very, very rich people with very, very high standards of journalistic integrity. I hope they will be innovators who have a clue about how to make a business out of quality journalism. I also hope they really care about Boston and New England. I hope they have the nerve to stand up to people like Whitey Bulger (and Billy Bulger, for that matter) and an appreciation for why this is a special place. (Yes, every place is special, but I am looking for someone who gets the particular special-ness of this particular place; in other words, no Sam Zells, please.) I hope they have wit, and style, and grace.

Know anyone?

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NSA Leak: Why not the Times?

By Christopher B. Daly

Since the disclosure of the NSA leaks story, a fair amount of media commentary has focused on the thinking of the self-identified leaker, Edward Snowden, who got access to secrets by working for a government contractor. Many have compared him to Daniel Ellsberg, who got access to secrets by working for a government contractor, then divulged the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the New York Times. 

Some wonder why Snowden chose to cooperate with Glenn Greenwald (who is a lawyer/activist/blogger/freelancer) rather than a traditional media heavyweight such as the New York Times. Some of the concern is misplaced, I believe, since Snowden also shared his NSA leak with the estimable Barton Gellman of the Washington Post.

As far as the Times goes, the newspaper’s own Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, aired out the question in her most recent posting.

I think it is worth recalling some of the history of the Pentagon Papers case (which you can read at greater length in chapter 11 of my book, Covering America.) By his own CA cover finalaccount, Ellsberg had a political goal — ending the U.S. war in Vietnam. To that end, he first tried to leak the classified documents to members of Congress, on the theory that they could use their congressional immunity to read the papers aloud on the floor of the House or Senate. Because of their immunity, they could not be prosecuted for anything said as part of the proceedings of Congress and their remarks would be on the public record.

When the office-holders balked, Ellsberg turned his thoughts to the media. There I think it is indicative that he did not approach the Times as an institution. Indeed, the Times — in 1971 — was not well known for challenging the federal government. Instead, Ellsberg was targeting an individual journalist whom he thought he could trust: Neil Sheehan.

Ellsberg and Sheehan had a bit of history. They had met when Ellsberg was serving in the Marines in Vietnam and Sheehan was working for United Press in its Saigon bureau. Ellsberg had a sense that Sheehan was a skeptic about the war. Later, Sheehanimgres-1 joined the Times, and he was working as a reporter in the Times Washington bureau in 1971. Under the terms of employment for Times reporters, he was supposed to keep his political views to himself. On March 28, 1971, Sheehan wrote a lengthy multi-book review for the Times Sunday Book Review in which took seriously the idea that there should be war-crimes trials for the U.S. policy-makers who kept us in Vietnam. When Ellsberg read that review, he knew he had found the right journalist.

Three months later, Sheehan wrote the first front-page article in the series that became known as the Pentagon Papers.

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NYTimes videos revisit recent past

By Christopher B. Daly 

Without much fanfare, the New York Times has been engaging in an interesting experiment that revisiting old news stories to address the ageless qusetion: “Oh, yeah . . . whatever happened to that?”

Rev. Al, back in the day.

Rev. Al, back in the day.

The service is a partnership between the Times video section and a private non-profit called “RetroReport.” (It’s not that easy to find on the Times site, but here is the link to the page that lists all seven such reports done to date.) According to the partner’s website, RetroReport’s mission is to produce video follow-ups to big stories from a decade or more ago that dropped off the radar of the news business. Recent examples include revisiting the Tawana Brawley case, the Biosphere 2 experiment, and the Y2K hubbub. The folks at RetroReport seem to be a mix of young documentarians and some heavy-hitting alumni of top-shelf operations like 60 Minutes, the Ken Burns films, and PBS.

This is a potentially great idea that brings the Times into the realm of creating the second draft of history as well as the first. In a sense, the Times has entered the field

Biosphere 2. Remember?

Biosphere 2. Remember?

of historical revisionism, giving its audience the chance to re-evaluate stories that once seemed to have one point or significance only to find that new evidence or new concerns have cast the recent past in a different light.

One theme that emerges from these early versions: a lot of stories are wrong the first time around.

Another theme: Despite the predictions, the sky rarely falls.

History keeps happening.

 

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Justice Powell’s SCOTUS errors

By Christopher B. Daly

Fascinating story in today’s NYTimes about the hidden history of gay clerks in the U.S. Supreme Court. No surprise: there were gay clerks in the high court’s chambers, drafting opinions, and spending a lot of time with the justices for years before any of them were out of the closet.

Ho-hum. This cannot come as that big a shock to anyone, although the details are certainly interesting.

What I found so interesting was how oblivious some of the justices were (or appeared to have been) until just how recently. A focus of the article is Justice Lewis Powell, who joined the 5-4 majority in a 1986 decision that upheld a Georgia law making sodomy a crime.

The Times observes:

Within just a few years, the climate for gay rights began to change. Justice Powell himself, in 1990, expressed reservations about his vote in the Hardwick case. “I think I probably made a mistake in that one,” he said at New York University’s law school.

Sure enough, the holding in Hardwick was reversed 180 degrees in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. So, in that instance, it took just 17 years for the Supreme Court to reverse itself on a 5-4 ruling that was wrong.

Justice Lewis Powell: wrong on sodomy, wrong on sources.

Justice Lewis Powell: wrong on sodomy, wrong on sources.

That is precisely the result I am holding out for in my recent posts about the 1972 Branzburg case and the idea of a federal “shield law” for journalists. In Branzburg, one of the five justices who made up the wrong-headed majority was none other than. . . Lewis Powell.

The take-away: the Supreme Court makes mistakes and sometimes corrects them later.

 

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