“[Herald publisher] Pat Purcell and I are both children of the ’60s,” adds Cohen. “We were raised during the Vietnam War era, so we bring all that to the table. And, at a certain point — when it came down to the ‘surge,’ and we’d been inching away rhetorically from the pro-war position — we had a very brief conversation in which we were both on the same page. ‘This was a really, really bad idea; this was too little, too late.’ ”
But Cohen insists that Iraq is the exception, not the rule. For example, she acknowledges that some Herald readers might dislike the editorial page’s relatively moderate position on immigration. Her rebuttal: “This is sort of the Wall Street Journal take versus the Pat Buchanan, Fortress America take. . . . You can make a very strong conservative case for immigration, and even for some path to citizenship for illegals.”
Fair enough, but the Herald has softened on gay marriage, too. In January 2004, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Goodridge ruling legalized same-sex matrimony, the Herald urged the state legislature to pass a civil-union bill that would “satisfy the legitimate needs” of gay couples while restricting marriage to heterosexuals. “Zealots on both sides can rally all they want,” the Herald opined. “It doesn’t change the fact that public opinion occupies that vast middle ground of wanting to offer same-sex couples a host of rights and privileges WITHOUT redefining the concept of marriage that has existed for centuries.”
Note those capital letters, as well as the closing reference to “centuries” of traditional marriage — a favorite anti-gay-marriage rhetorical trope. Now consider how Cohen explained the Herald’s current position to the Phoenix: “We were okay with putting an amendment on the ballot that would both ban gay marriages and set up a system of civil unions. We are far less comfortable with putting on the ballot something that just says, ‘We’re banning gay marriage.’ And we are perfectly comfortable with the notion that, if the advocates for such a ban can’t muster 50 votes in the Constitutional Convention, then it is not worth putting on the ballot. So long as there is a vote in the ConCon — up, down, sideways — we’re fine with that.” The difference is primarily one of tone and emphasis, but that doesn’t make it any less striking.
How much is too much?
Recent personnel changes at the Herald may be partly responsible. Cohen’s description of her relationship with current editor Kevin Convey and his predecessor Ken Chandler, a Rupert Murdoch protégé, hints that the divide between the newsroom and the editorial page is more sacrosanct than it used to be. Cohen says her conversations with Chandler focused more on logistics than content: for example, he’d brief her on upcoming news offerings in case she wanted to editorialize on them. But she also says this: “I always respected the fact that [Chandler] came from a very different tradition, the British tradition. And they call editorials ‘leaders’ for a reason — because they really did lead the paper.”