THEY SAY THAT the three main pastimes in Boston are politics, sports, and revenge. But that doesn’t even begin to get at our unique obsession with the first of this unholy trinity. Politics, after all, is a sport unto itself, one followed every bit as avidly as Red Sox baseball. And the prospect of revenge is what makes politics — and the sport of politics — so much fun.
The principal playing fields for this most sedentary of sports are the pages of the city’s two daily newspapers. The paper of record is the Boston Globe, a mainstream broadsheet whose roots extend back to the 1870s, and that has been owned since 1992 by the New York Times Company. The Boston Herald, a tabloid that seems to get racier by the day, has a name that is nearly as venerable. Yet it was a virtual start-up in 1983, when international press baron Rupert Murdoch saved it from collapse. Since 1994 it has been owned by local businessman Pat Purcell, a former Murdoch protégé.
From the time that Martin Baron became editor of the Globe, in 2001, the paper has defined itself by throwing massive resources at big stories. That’s how it won a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Catholic Church crisis, and that’s how it came to dominate the same-sex-marriage story in 2003 and ’04. The paper’s approach to the Democratic National Convention will be much the same. Deputy managing editor John Yemma, who’s heading up the Globe’s presidential-campaign coverage, says that just about every department of the paper will be mobilized: the Washington bureau and the political staff to cover the convention itself; the City & Region staff to cover the impact on the city; and the Living/Arts crew to write up the party scene. No doubt the Business section will find a way to makes its presence known as well.
The Globe’s main political reporters this campaign season have been a pair of young veterans, Glen Johnson and Patrick Healy. Johnson, in particular, has been the leakee of choice for John Kerry’s presidential campaign — breaking the news, for instance, that Kerry would name his running mate on July 6. Washington-bureau chief Peter Canellos, a Boston Phoenix alumnus, weighs in thoughtfully on broad themes, and City Hall–bureau chief Rick Klein has been covering the ins and outs of convention planning — and the potential for massive disruption — for many months. Brian Mooney and State House–bureau chief Frank Phillips have been covering Kerry since the 1970s. Mooney also co-authored the Globe’s admirably comprehensive book John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography.
But what distinguishes one news outlet from another during such a time of media overload is voice. The Globe has three must-read columnists: Joan Vennochi, an outspoken Kerry critic; Scot Lehigh (also formerly of the Phoenix), who’s not a huge Kerry fan, but whose criticism is more measured; and Steve Bailey, who writes for the Business section, but who breaks more news than anyone in town. Alex Beam, who’s enjoyed unusual access to Kerry’s ex-wife, Julia Thorne, will be worth checking out. Jeff Jacoby, the paper’s designated conservative voice, may have a surprise up his sleeve as well: in 1996, during the early stages of Kerry’s tough re-election fight against then-governor Bill Weld, Jacoby revealed that Kerry threw nickels around as though they were manhole covers when it came to charitable contributions. Kerry today is more generous than he was then, but he’s never quite lived down his reputation as a cheapskate, at least locally. Tom Oliphant has good sources within the Kerry camp, and is the senator’s most sympathetic defender at the Globe. Finally, no one is being given a bigger opportunity to shine than City & Region columnist Brian McGrory, a former national and Washington-bureau reporter, who’ll write a daily essay on the convention and what it all means.
The Globe will sponsor what may be the media event of the week: a party for the press on Saturday night at the brand-spanking-new convention center, in South Boston. The paper has ponied up an estimated $500,000, which has occasioned some griping among employees, given that they just finished a seemingly endless, contentious round of union contract negotiations that haven’t even been approved yet by the rank and file. But it’s hardly unusual for a convention city’s largest news organization to sponsor such an event. The Globe’s corporate sibling, the New York Times, will host two events at the Republican National Convention next month, a "Salute to Broadway" and a high-powered cocktail party. A Times spokesman declined to reveal how much money his paper is sinking into those events.
AFTER YEARS of co-existence as a conservative local-news alternative to the Globe, the Herald for the past year-plus has been re-exploring its tabloid roots. Under editorial director Ken Chandler, a Herald editor in the 1980s and a New York Post editor and publisher in the ’90s, the Herald these days is the city’s undisputed champion of flash, trash, and gossip. Last week, though, the paper brought back one of its most respected former top editors, Kevin Convey, to serve as managing editor; Convey is expected to succeed Chandler perhaps as early as next year. Convey’s reassuring presence should stop or at least slow down the outbound flow of talent. And if anyone can find the right balance between tabloid values and a journalistic mission, it’s Convey.
Fortunately, there are still a number of good people working for the Herald. Washington-bureau chief Andrew Miga and political reporter Noelle Straub will be hitting the FleetCenter. Political editor Joe Sciacca is as experienced as anyone in town. Elisabeth Beardsley and David Guarino are both fine reporters. Guarino’s also been writing a weblog on the convention for the past few months; go to news.bostonherald.com/election2004/blogs. Business columnist Cosmo Macero is a worthy competitor to the Globe’s Steve Bailey, last year putting forth the sensible idea (later picked up by Governor Mitt Romney) that the convention ought to be moved to the South Boston convention center, an isolated locale that would not have created nearly as many transportation and security hassles. Macero was also the first commentator to suggest that the convention would actually be a money-loser for the city; it looks as though that was a prescient call.
More than anything, though, the Democratic National Convention will be a target of opportunity for veteran Herald columnist Howie Carr. Along with WLVI-TV (Channel 56) political analyst Jon Keller, Carr is the city’s leading Kerry-basher. Former Massachusetts Senate president Bill Bulger may have given Kerry the nickname "Liveshot," for the senator’s heat-seeking way with television cameras, but it is Carr — in the Herald and on his WRKO Radio (AM 680) talk show — who’s kept the appellation alive. Reading Carr can be like looking at pornography: you feel like you need a shower afterward. He bashes welfare mothers, gays, and liberals with gusto, delivering it all with a sneer and a smirk. But Carr is smart and savvy, and probably knows more about Massachusetts politics than anyone.
Other Herald columnists worth watching: Margery Eagan, who’s smart and unconventional; Peter Gelzinis, Boston’s best pure city columnist; long-time political analyst Wayne Woodlief, now semi-retired; iconoclastic liberal Howard Manly; and the "Inside Track," the city’s premier gossip column. For once, Tracksters Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa shouldn’t have to scrape for items. As for former Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, brought in earlier this year in a desperate bid to build circulation, one of Carr’s favorite phrases applies: "forgotten but not gone." Barnicle competes with Joe Fitzgerald, also of the Herald, to see who can write the city’s sleepiest, most irrelevant column.page 1 page 2
Issue Date: July 23 - 29, 2004
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