Another journalist put it this way: with the election less than a week away, we don’t really know how Patrick or Healey would control spiraling payroll or pension costs, or rein in rogue agencies like Massport, or manage the ongoing Big Dig mess. For that matter, we don’t even know who they might tap for their cabinet come January. “After the votes are counted,” Journalist #2 concluded, “the question is this: are any of the things that have been major stories during the campaign going to make any difference to the average citizen of Massachusetts over the next four years?”
The answer is, probably not. So what went wrong?
By way of an answer, let’s start with the Globe — which, for better or worse, remains the 800-pound-gorilla of Boston journalism. David Dahl, the paper’s political editor, insists (not surprisingly) that the paper’s coverage of the race has been strong. “I think the Globe always dominates political coverage, and we did it again this cycle,” Dahl says. “We wanted to do the most comprehensive coverage, and break all the big stories, and serve our readers as well as we could. And we still have several days to go.”
This swagger isn’t entirely groundless, especially if you look back to the Democratic primary. Early in 2005, when Tom Reilly looked like the automatic Democratic nominee, Frank Phillips was the first reporter in town to note that some guy named Deval Patrick was weighing a run. After Reilly made Marie St. Fleur his running mate, reporters Walter Robinson and Michael Rezendes broke the story about St. Fleur’s tax woes; St. Fleur withdrew from the race the next day. Later, Joan Vennochi revealed the Reilly camp’s connection to anti-Coke activist Ray Rogers in a column that served as the death knell for Reilly’s campaign. And while the Herald actually reported Patrick’s ties to LaGuer first, the Globe’s Andrea Estes ferreted out the full extent of those ties after Patrick failed to disclose them.
All good stuff — and this kind candidate tire-kicking can certainly be useful to voters. For example, Patrick’s handling of the LaGuer story hints at a possible lack of candor. But here’s the problem: ideally, voters should also be equipped to size up a given candidate’s substantive agenda by the time the general election rolls around — and in this area, the Globe has less to brag about.
Case in point: go to Boston.com/news/local/politics, the online hub for the paper’s political coverage; click on the Campaign 2006 “Issues” tab; and click on the “Taxes/Economy” button. Here, near the top of the page, you’ll find Kerry Healey’s assessment of the Massachusetts economy, presented thusly: “She paints a rosier picture of the state’s economy than her opponents. ‘Our administration found a $3 billion budget gap, and through sensible fiscal restraint made it a $1 billion budget surplus. An unemployment rate of 5.7 percent is down to 4.9, and our economy is back on track,” she said in her campaign kick-off speech” [emphasis added]. Is Massachusetts really in great shape? Is Healey exaggerating? You be the judge, cowboy, because the Globe isn’t going to tell you.