Kerry’s Globe Problem, Part 2

Editor Martin Baron revives suspicions that the Boston Globe dislikes the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Three months ago, Chatterbox made the case that the Boston Globe had it in for John Kerry. Within hours of the column’s posting, the Globe endorsed Kerry for the New Hampshire primary. Since then, Chatterbox has not noticed that the Globe’s Kerry coverage has been especially nasty. In a March 19 report, for example, the Globe’s Patrick Healy reported that Kerry collided with a member of his Secret Service detail while snowboarding in Idaho, but Healy did not report—as Ed O’Keefe did in ABC News’ weblog, The Note—that Kerry growled, “I don’t fall down. That son of a bitch ran into me.”

Still, Chatterbox is not yet willing to take back what he wrote about the Globe. Partly that’s because the Globe long ago established a pattern of endorsing Kerry while simultaneously portraying him unsympathetically. Partly it’s because Chatterbox thinks it’s logical for a presumptive presidential nominee to receive better press after he sews the nomination up but before the general election goes into high gear. Mostly, though, it’s because the Globe itself insists on churning up additional evidence of its distaste.

The latest evidence is the preface by Globe editor Martin Baron to John Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best. (The authors of the book itself, which Chatterbox has not yet read, are Michael Kranish, Brian C. Mooney, and Nina J. Easton.) Ostensibly, the purpose of Baron’s introductory essay is to persuade readers that the Globe’s Kerry coverage has been unmarred by hostility. In practice, however, Baron’s preface demonstrates Kerry’s unique ability to get under the Globe’s skin.

  • In the very first paragraph, Baron harks back to June 2003, when the Globe’s “[r]elations with the campaign had turned downright toxic.” The reason was the Globe’s imminent publication of the multipart candidate profile that laid the foundation for the new book. Jim Jordan, Kerry’s campaign manager, complained to Baron that the series would be “[s]mall bore, snarky, cynical.” Baron answered that the series would be fair. Editors and sources have arguments like this all the time, but it’s striking that Baron continues to dwell on this one almost a full year later, quoting his e-mail exchange with Jordan at obsessive length. (Jordan was later fired, Baron notes, and replaced by Mary Beth Cahill, who praised the Globe’s “high standard of accuracy in its coverage of Senator Kerry,” most particularly in its “groundbreaking series” but nonetheless wouldn’t grant the Globe’s book team additional time with Kerry.)

  • Baron concedes that the Globe’s relationship with Kerry “has been marked by rocky moments” and that Kerry has often said, “directly or through surrogates” that “the newspaper was out to get him.” Again, nothing unusual about a politician griping about the coverage he gets in his hometown paper. But Baron never really gets around to answering the accusation, except to note many paragraphs later that the Globe failed to endorse Kerry only once, in the 1984 Senate primary. Rather than disprove the Globe’s hostility to Kerry, this argument merely shows that the hostility is complex and interesting.

  • Baron himself serves up evidence, of which Chatterbox was previously unaware, that the Globe dislikes Kerry. He cites a December 2002 New Yorker profile by Joe Klein that quotes Martin Nolan, a retired former editorial-page editor at the Globe, saying, “We were pretty rough on him over the years.” (In January, Nolan told Chatterbox that he’d gotten to like Kerry much better than he used to and never described the Globe’s former attitude quite so bluntly.) Baron also passes along what former Globe editor Michael Janeway told Klein he’d said to Kerry about the rough coverage the Globe gave him during that 1984 Senate primary: “John, there are workhorses and show horses, and I guess our staff considers you a show horse.” Ouch!

Chatterbox has already outlined the Globe-specific reasons the Globe might want to give Kerry an especially hard time. To review:

  • The Globe, quite rightly, doesn’t want to get scooped on big Kerry stories because he’s local. Most big political stories are negative. Baron affirms the former point (and hints at the latter) in the preface: “We determined [in December 2002] that the Boston Globe should be the point of reference for anyone seeking to know John Kerry. No one should discover material about him that we hadn’t identified and vetted first.”

  • The Globe wishes it hadn’t covered the 1988 presidential race of Gov. Michael Dukakis (another local story) as favorably as it did. It doesn’t want to repeat that mistake. (There’s some ambiguity as to whether the perceived mistake was the loss of objectivity or the failure to back a winner.)

  • The Globe has too many columnists, therefore too many snarky opinions.

  • The Globe wants the world to know that it is no longer the provincial newspaper of yore, as lampooned in the old joke about the Globe headlining the nuclear annihilation of New York, “Hub Man Killed in Atom Blast.” The Globe lacks the option of ignoring Kerry, but second-best might be to hold him in contempt.

It would be remiss for Chatterbox not to point out that it remains difficult to find anyone in Massachusetts (well, anyone besides Teddy Kennedy) who professes to like Kerry, even though Kerry keeps getting himself elected senator there, and even though Kerry won the New Hampshire and Massachusetts primaries. It isn’t as though Kerry typically got favorable coverage in other Massachusetts news outlets. The implications are not pleasant for this loyal Democrat to think about. But Baron’s preface shores up Chatterbox’s belief that the Kerry-Globe relationship is particularly dysfunctional.

[Update, April 14: Apparently whatever honeymoon Kerry enjoyed at the Globe after sewing up the nomination is now ended. Today’s paper carries a Page One story by Michael Kranish that quotes Kerry’s former commander in Vietnam saying that in December 1968 Kerry insisted on being given a Purple Heart for a widdul bitty skwatch. (“I’ve had thorns from a rose that were worse.”) The significance of this is substantially diminished by the Globe’s pointing out that a) the former commander is a registered Republican; b) the Kerry campaign was able to produce a document showing that Kerry received medical treatment for the scratch/wound/whatever; c) “The incident that led to Kerry’s first Purple Heart was risky, and covert”; d) Kerry would later receive two additional Purple Hearts; and e) in those days, the services were handing out Purple Hearts in Vietnam like they were party favors. The Globe obviously chose this moment to publish the piece because it wants to publicize the Kerry book, from which it is derived. Chatterbox doesn’t quarrel with this material’s inclusion in the book, or even, necessarily, in today’s newspaper. But it’s a little nuts to put so marginal a story on Page One.

Press critic Dan Kennedy says much the same and congratulates Chatterbox on his timing. He also reports that Baron thinks Chatterbox’s analysis of the Globe’s relationship with Kerry is “silly.”]