To be fair, the Globe did run some searching, in-depth pieces on big challenges facing Massachusetts along the way, complete with comparative issue grids in which candidates were forced to stake out concrete positions on key topics. Unfortunately, most of these stories came in the run-up to the Democratic primary, when relatively few readers were paying serious attention to the race. Of late, the paper’s issues-focused stories have been generally reactive. Take Brian Mooney’s hefty opus on the various candidates’ tax proposals, prompted by criticisms Healey leveled at Patrick, which concluded both candidates (as well as independent Christy Mihos and Green-Rainbow nominee Grace Ross) were dealing in fuzzy math. Thanks for clearing that up, guys.
Whose job is it, anyway?
Of course, it’s not like the Globe determines the parameters of the political conversation and every other media outlet in town passively follows suit. The Herald has some say in the matter too. It reported the Sigh story after the Globe took a pass, for example, and broke the story of the Romney administration hiring Bechtel to inspect the Big Dig tunnels — a disheartening bit of news that some voters may remember come Election Day. The various network affiliates shape the conversation as well; so do State House News Service, New England Cable News, WGBH’s Greater Boston, and various talking heads on AM and FM radio. For that matter, so does Blue Mass Group (BMG), the liberal political blog that became a must-read for activists and reporters as the campaign progressed. (For now, BMG is the only blog of any ideological stripe that wields this kind of influence; come 2010, expect to see more political blogs breaking more original stories.)
Still, the Globe brought more resources to bear on the governor’s race than anybody else. And its coverage had a higher profile than any other media outlet’s. So it’s not far-fetched to posit a connection between, say, the four stories the Globe’s Estes wrote in five days about Patrick’s mismanagement of the LaGuer issue back in early October (one of which featured a joint byline) and the inordinate focus WBUR’s Bob Oakes gave to L’affaire LaGuer during his big pre-election interview with Patrick later that month.
Maybe I’m being too hard on the Globe in particular and the press in general. After all, horserace coverage naturally proliferates as the election gets closer: there are polls to report, ads to parse, dueling accusations to convey. Plus, reportage that oozes drama and intrigue is — for most readers/viewers/listeners — more accessible and far more interesting than dry treatises on policy matters. I immediately read every story Estes wrote about LaGuer and Patrick. If Estes had written one magnum opus on the nuances of charter-school funding instead, I might have “forgotten” to check it out.
Ultimately, it all boils down to one simple question: is it really the media’s job to decide what subjects are worthy of discussion? “My sense is that this comes up every campaign cycle — people say the press did not force the candidates to talk about the issues,” argues Joe Sciacca, the Herald’s deputy managing editor for news. “My feeling about that is that it’s not our obligation. You want to run for the highest office in the state simply by dealing in personality, by dealing in negative ads and polls? That’s your prerogative as a candidate.”