Finally, looking ahead, there’s the issue of program sponsorship. If Open Book Club was sponsored by advertisers doing business with the state of Massachusetts, this would pose a whole new set of problems. That’s a purely hypothetical scenario, however, because the program currently has no sponsors. (Mmes. Cashman and DiMasi have said they hope to attract literary advertisers such as Amazon.)
Compared with, say, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell covering the Bush administration while her husband, Alan Greenspan, ran the Federal Reserve, NECN’s conflict of interest seems relatively mild. And for now, the network has no intention of ending its relationship with Open Book Club and Saint Aire. Says NECN’s Vice-President of Communications Doreen Vigue: “We have fully vetted this business relationship” — i.e., Christy Cashman and Deborah DiMasi’s partnership — “and we know it’s aboveboard. We’re very comfortable that these ladies have joined together in a legitimate business venture.”
“We’re proud of the show,” she continues. “It’s beautifully done.” And, Vigue concludes, “We’ve been covering DiMasi as hard as anyone out there. I challenge anyone to look at our coverage and say otherwise.”
For the most part, that description is apt. NECN has spent plenty of time on DiMasi’s travails, and NewsNight host Jim Braude has been especially pointed in his assessment of the Speaker.
Still, a recent interview that NECN’s Chet Curtis did with Sal DiMasi shows why the station should be worried. For most of the segment, Curtis was commendably tough. But when the conversation turned to Cashman, the tone changed.
First, Curtis asked DiMasi about the squashed LNG ban. DiMasi began his response by citing a two-page disclosure, filed with the House Clerk in 2007, in which he discussed the relationship that he and his wife have with the Cashmans. (This disclosure didn’t include mention of payments from Saint Aire to Debbie DiMasi.) Then he defended the merit of his actions.
At that point, Curtis disclosed that NECN is the broadcast home of Open Book Club. Here’s what came next:
Curtis: Want to give us a quick review? Did you like it [the show’s debut]?
DiMasi: I loved it. I’m so proud of my wife and Christy Cashman. I thought they did a professional job. It was interesting; it was a unique kind of a program. I think that’s needed here, and I think NECN saw that. And I think they did a tremendous job with the author and the two guests that were there. If you really, really want to talk about a book show that really is exciting, and vibrant, in talking about the details with the author himself — and the next show is going to prove to be even more exciting, because it’s a great book. They have great guests, it was professionally done, and I am so proud of them.
Curtis: And no problem with the relationship between Jay Cashman and his wife and —
DiMasi: No, that was all disclosed. That’s not a problem, because before they did anything, they checked with the so-called ethics attorneys about everything they did. And they’re fine.
Curtis: Good enough.
Actually, no. But in fairness to Curtis, what was he supposed to do after bringing up Open Book Club? Plug the show? Or push the Speaker for behind-the-scenes financial details?
Here’s a modest proposal for NECN: delay the broadcast of their next show until the financial details of Debbie DiMasi’s relationship with Saint Aire are fully disclosed. If, as Sal DiMasi maintains, his wife and Cashman’s wife have proceeded with appropriate caution, there’s nothing worth hiding. And when that information is finally revealed, we’ll be able to watch NECN without wondering whether the station is involved — indirectly, but still — in a business relationship that might need to be reconsidered.