Healey’s ad backfired, and Patrick went on to win easily. In retrospect, though, the episode might have played out differently if the Globe had mentioned that Patrick was asked about his ties to LaGuer in August 2006, when the Herald first ran a story on the subject. After all, this meant Patrick had been aware of his potential vulnerability on the LaGuer issue for more than a month — and his campaign still couldn’t get its story straight. This, in turn, might have made Globe readers less likely to indulge Patrick’s changing explanations and more skeptical about his basic political competence. Of course, since the Globe’s focus was on Patrick’s shifting explanations of his involvement with LaGuer rather than that involvement itself, the paper had no real obligation here. (According to Globe editor Marty Baron, “If something is an exclusive or obviously involves a significant piece of enterprise, our policy is to give credit.”)
Shed no tears for the Herald, however. Also in the ’06 campaign, the tabloid provided a textbook example of another way to avoid giving credit to a competitor — namely, running away from a big story someone else broke. During the Democratic primary, Globe columnist Joan Vennochi wrote a damning column on attempts by Tom Reilly’s campaign to discredit Patrick by working with Ray Rogers, a union activist and vocal Coca-Cola critic. (Patrick had previously been Coke’s in-house counsel.) Vennochi’s column, which quoted extensively from an e-mail sent by a Reilly operative, ran on August 12. The Herald alluded to it on August 14, but the reference was so obscure it was useless. On August 17, the Herald did note that the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance was investigating possible collusion between Rogers and both Reilly and Chris Gabrieli, Patrick’s other Democratic opponent — but still didn’t mention Vennochi’s smoking-gun e-mail. Reilly only managed 23 percent of the primary vote; if the Herald had given the Rogers contretemps the attention it deserved, it might have been less. (In fairness to the Herald, no paper runs away from competitors’ scoops like the New York Times, generally regarded as the national paper of record.)
“We don’t have the resources to do everything,” says Herald editor Kevin Convey. “If the Globe breaks it, it’s going to be on radio and TV. Unless it’s huge, I’d rather have our people go out and break something else.”
24/7 highs and woes
According to Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, journalists’ willingness to credit their competition has actually increased in recent years — though not necessarily for welcome reasons. “The basic instinct has been a grudging one,” Rosenstiel says. “And yet that attitude, that kind of competitive spirit, was a sign of news organizations that were truly competitive — that had substantial staffs and were engaged in original newsgathering. Now so many outlets are essentially passing stuff along secondhand without trying to verify it, because things move so fast in the era of 24-hour news, that they’re somewhat more generous.”
Of course, the Post’s obstinacy regarding Walter Reed shows that any newfound generosity has its limits. But now would be a good time to rethink the terms of credit-giving — because given the way news is consumed today, any news outlet that takes a stingy approach toward crediting the competition, especially on a major story like Walter Reed, risks looking absurd.