Another Boston journalist offers a harsher take on Patrick’s MNPA remarks. “You saw a sort of obnoxious side of Patrick — not just thinking he knows everything, but wanting to shove it up your news,” this journalist says. “I think that was widely taken by the media as a challenge, now, to not really give the guy any slack. And I think there might have been a tendency to give him slack: he had a stirring mandate in the election; he’s the first black governor; he’s a breath of fresh air. He terminated his own honeymoon.”
If he has, though, would that really be so bad? Think of Bill Weld, who governed from 1991 to 1997 and kept his own honeymoon going for most of that time. Weld’s cozy relationship with the press was good for the man himself, certainly: thanks to the press corps’ collective intoxication with Weld’s charm, his questionable work habits and love of “amber-colored liquids” got less scrutiny than they might have otherwise. Of course, so did dysfunction inside the Big Dig. Weld ultimately left to pursue (unsuccessfully) an appointment as ambassador to Mexico in the Clinton administration; his successor, Paul Cellucci, had to reckon with the secret cost overruns that had occurred under Jim Kerasiotes, Weld’s Big Dig point man.
Jane Swift, who became acting governor when Cellucci quit to become ambassador to Canada, wasn’t afforded much of a honeymoon to begin with, and was, in any case, a kind of anti-Weld. Her gaffes (the helicopter ride to North Adams, the aides conscripted as baby-sitters) and her personal foibles (her weight, her weird husband) got at least as much press attention as they deserved.
And what about Mitt Romney, who rode to the rescue when the state’s Republican establishment (led by one Christy Mihos) pushed a battered Swift aside? Compared to his predecessors, Romney’s press operation was strikingly centralized and disciplined, with everything running through Eric Ferhnstrom, Romney’s communications director. “They showed a real sophisticated understanding of message control,” says another journalist. “The one thing I’d fault them on is, they didn’t maximize the benefits of using Romney’s own personal charm to win people over. I never failed to come away from interactions with Romney saying, ‘Isn’t he impressive?’ But at the end he was never available for interviews, largely because he wasn’t around.” This, of course, was the result of Romney’s decision to focus far more on his presidential aspirations than on his stewardship of Massachusetts. But while a case could be made that Romney’s lack of local engagement has been bad for the state, it’s harder to argue that his inaccessibility to the local media has had similarly negative consequences. Romney hasn’t been able to push his local agenda, but that’s okay because he doesn’t really have one to push. If anything, the press has become more critical as Romney has refocused on the White House — which is exactly how it’s supposed to act.
If there’s an early conclusion to be drawn about Patrick and the press, it may be this: while the relationship has grown less cozy since the early days of the governor’s race, the people of Massachusetts will probably benefit. Excessive closeness breeds credulity. In addition to the cautionary example offered by Weld, consider the pre–Iraq War reporting of the New York Times’ Judith Miller, or the broader phenomenon of “embedded” journalism. The skepticism fostered by tension between politicians and the press may not always produce great reporting, but it’s probably better than the alternative.