Virginia Buckingham settles in at the Herald. Plus, Edward Saidís death and life; and Michael Goldman plots his comeback.
BY DAN KENNEDY
STARTING A NEW job is stressful enough. So imagine what it must have been like for Virginia Buckingham last January. Even before the former Republican political operative could report for work as the Boston Heraldís deputy editorial-page editor, about 40 of her soon-to-be colleagues signed a letter calling her partisan background an "embarrassment."
Buckingham laughs about it now, but it must have hurt deeply. "I understood the concern to some extent. I wish it wasnít put in writing and made formal in that way, because I didnít think it was necessary," says Buckingham, who worked for Republican governors Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci. She was also executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan International Airport, at the worst of all possible times ó on September 11, 2001.
As for how she got through her initiation at One Herald Square, she says, "I think I just worked hard, kept my head down, and did my job." She must have done something right. Herald staff reporter Tom Mashberg, a shop steward for the Newspaper Guild, said by e-mail, "She has made a very good impression on the staff ó she is personable, hardworking and professional. She has never shown the least bit of resentment over our petition." Political columnist Wayne Woodlief, who did not sign the petition, adds, "I think sheís doing a hell of a good job."
Still, the questions havenít completely gone away. Another Herald source, who asked not to be identified, says Buckinghamís status as a Republican activist makes for some uncomfortable situations ó such as when Senator John Kerry meets with the paperís editorial board (Buckingham helped manage Weldís unsuccessful 1996 campaign against Kerry), or when the editorial page praises Cellucci, now the US ambassador to Canada (Buckingham remains close to Cellucci, and attended the July wedding of his daughter Anne).
Ginny Buckinghamís move to the Herald was unexpected. Once one of the most powerful women in the state, she signed on for the anonymity of writing unbylined editorials ó a task with which she had virtually no experience ó for the cityís number-two paper.
Yet Buckingham says she had wanted to write long before going into politics. Then, too, she wasnít exactly a hot commodity after 9/11, regardless of how unfair it may be to blame her for the security lapses that made the terrorist attacks possible. Her post at the Herald might be something of a marriage of convenience. The Herald got a smart insider who can help its readers understand the intricacies of state government. Buckingham, meanwhile, got an opportunity to lay low and rebuild her reputation.
Buckingham does not write about the court system, since her husband, David Lowy, is a superior-court judge in Massachusetts. But she doesnít shy away from Massport and Logan. Just this past Sunday she defended JetBlue Airways, which is being investigated by the federal government for turning over a list of its 1.1 million passengers to a Pentagon contractor studying anti-terrorism techniques.
Last spring Stephen Burgard, director of the Northeastern University School of Journalism and a former editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a piece for the Columbia Journalism Review in which he criticized Buckinghamís appointment. Wrote Burgard: "Her lack of journalistic training and her service in the political sphere suggest that she may act in a political way in her new job. If she does, this could harm the integrity of the editorial page."
Contacted last week, Burgard says he remains concerned about the Heraldís ability to opine in a meaningful way on airport security, although he agrees that there should be a statute of limitations on Buckinghamís conflicts. So when would such a statute expire? "I would say it had expired if I saw the Boston Herald write a really good editorial on Massport. That would be the clincher for me," Burgard says. "I donít think this is a life sentence in journalistic purgatory."
Bob Keough, who is the editor of the nonpartisan political magazine CommonWealth, and who raised similar alarms last winter, adds: "I would think absent any egregious missteps to date, that the probationary period is over. She is now basically a Boston Herald editorialist."
Then, too, an editorial writer is supposed to be opinionated. The fact that sheís a veteran of Republican administrations shouldnít be that much of a hindrance at a paper whose conservative editorial pages are ó if anything ó a bit to the right of the governors she served.
"If they want to have some ideologue to write editorials for them, thatís what itís about," says Boston University journalism professor Mike Berlin, who wrote editorials for the New York Post under liberal owner Dorothy Schiff and, later, under conservative Rupert Murdoch. He adds of Buckingham: "I donít think sheís an ideologue."
Nearly every editorial in the Herald is written by either editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen or Buckingham. Cohen, who hired Buckingham, says that, early on, she assigned Buckingham to keep tabs on the state-budget crisis ó a subject with which she had considerable experience, having served under Weld during a similar crisis in 1991.
Among other things, Buckingham criticized the Romney administration last June for hiking fees, a move that she described as a tax increase. Such editorials, she says, help to counteract the "blaring headlines" in the Boston Globe to the effect that "the elderly, mothers, and children are all going to die if you cut this program."
Since then, Buckingham has branched out. Cohen points to Buckinghamís editorial of September 8, on President Bushís most recent televised speech, as a key moment in her brief journalism career: she cranked it out in about an hour for the following dayís paper. "It was a wonderful piece of writing," Cohen says, adding that it also showed "she could turn it around on a dime." Says Buckingham: "I felt very good about it. It was a bit of a high, I guess, writing on deadline like that."
For the record, she also beat the Globeís post-speech editorial by a day ó but also took a far more positive view of the presidentís assessment of the situation in Iraq than the Globe did. (Buckingham praised Bushís "clarity of purpose," whereas the Globe cited his "stone wall of denial.")
Like the governors she worked for, Buckingham is something of a fiscal conservative and a social moderate. On August 1, the Herald published an editorial opposing same-sex marriage ó something that Weld, who once appeared on the cover of the Advocate, might support if he were still governor.
Buckingham says she didnít write that editorial, but agrees that Weld would probably back gay marriage today. As for her own views, she describes herself as "struggling," noting that she has a lesbian sister who is "in a long-term committed relationship." Buckingham, who is Catholic, adds: "Iíve given a lot of thought to it personally. I havenít reached a conclusion. Iím not trying to dodge it."
Still just 38, with two young children, Buckingham works at her Marblehead home on Monday and at the Herald Tuesday through Friday.
What does she see herself doing five years from now?
"I donít know. Best-selling novelist? Oprah Winfrey Show?" she replies, laughing. On a more serious note, she says, "One lesson I learned from the whole Massport experience is that you canít count on anything being the same. And thatís probably a good lesson to learn. I am completely open to change. I very much enjoy what Iím doing now, and I may be doing it in five years."
TO THE New Republicís Leon Wieseltier, the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, who died last Friday, was a man with a "hating mind" whose advocacy of a secular state in which Israelis and Palestinians would live together was "a method of abolishing the Jewish state by demographic means."
To the London Independentís Robert Fisk, Said "was a tough guy, the most eloquent defender of an occupied people and the most irascible attacker of its corrupt leadership."
To the British writer Christopher Hitchens, paying tribute in Slate, Saidís death "will be unbearable for his family, insupportable to his immense circle of friends, upsetting to a vast periphery of admirers and readers who one might almost term his diaspora, and depressing to all those who continue hoping for a decent agreement in his birthplace of Jerusalem."
Clearly the life of Edward Said ó a Columbia University professor, near-concert-level classical pianist, and former music critic for the Nation ó meant different things to different people. And it would seem no exaggeration to say that what one thought of Said depended entirely on what one thinks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Wieseltier ó who wrote about Said after a lecture he attended some months ago, and who is thus absolved of the charge of defaming the just-departed ó was right: Saidís vision of a democratic, binational state would mean the end of Israel. By projecting the image of the rejectionist Palestinian as a cultured, peaceful man (albeit one who allowed himself to be photographed throwing a rock at Israeli soldiers), Said attracted more than the usual amount of admiration and hatred.
In 1999 an Israel-based researcher, Justus Reid Weiner, published a long article in Commentary alleging that Said had fabricated much of his Jerusalem childhood in order to portray himself as a Palestinian refugee. In fact, though Saidís parents had indeed traveled to Jerusalem so that Edward could be born in the family homestead, Weiner reported that Said had actually grown up mostly in Cairo (see "Donít Quote Me," News and Features, September 24, 1999).
Weinerís scholarship, though well-founded, was overtaken by Saidís own memoir, Out of Place, which was released at about the same time, and which finally clarified Saidís roots, about which he had been ambiguous ó deliberately so, it would appear ó for many years. (Richard Bernsteinís obituary of Said in Saturdayís New York Times states that "Saidís last book" was 1994ís The Politics of Dispossession ó an apparent error.)
In the end, Saidís self-mythologizing did little harm to his image: he may not have been a Palestinian refugee, but he was nevertheless rootless, caught between cultures, which certainly said something important about the Palestinian experience.
Edward Mortimer, writing in the Financial Times last Friday, summed up Saidís views thusly: "His anti-Zionism, however vehement, was never tinged with anti-Semitism."
Mortimer may well be right. But in the actual world in which we live, thatís a distinction without a difference. Edward Said stood for the destruction of Israel, and for its replacement by a secular state in which Jews would be outnumbered.
The status of Jews in the rest of the Arab and Muslim world does not inspire hope that Saidís vision would have amounted to anything more than another means of annihilation.
DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL consultant Michael Goldman ó plotting his return to part-time work as he recovers from a serious leg infection ó says his favorable/unfavorable ratings are looking up.
"The cards are running about 70-30 to get well," he says. "Thatís pretty good. I had been predicting a 51-49 split."
Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com Read his daily Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com.