When Martin Lomasney ruled Boston’s West End a century ago, dirty tricks were key to his political success — but so was discretion. “Never write if you can speak,” Lomasney famously counseled; “never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”
COKE HEAD: Killer Coke’s Ray Rogers at a Deval Patrick event in Southie.
Wise words, these. Just ask Dave Guarino.
Earlier this month, Guarino took over as communications director for the gubernatorial campaign of Tom Reilly, the Democratic attorney general (AG), after previously doing the same job in the AG’s office. Apparently, one of Guarino’s first tasks in his new role was to coordinate with Ray Rogers — head of the New York–based Campaign to Stop Killer Coke — in an effort to discredit Deval Patrick, Reilly’s rival for the Democratic nomination and a former Coca-Cola Company general counsel. On August 3, his first day with the campaign, Guarino outlined a strategy for introducing Rogers to the Boston media and e-mailed it to several other Reilly insiders; this correspondence continued on August 4.
Fast-forward to Saturday, August 12, when hefty chunks of those e-mails made their way into in a damning column by the Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi. Coupled with Guarino’s attendant denial — “our campaign has had no involvement with [Rogers], that’s the truth” — the excerpts in question undercut Rogers’s ability to turn Patrick’s Coke connection into a campaign issue. They made Guarino look foolish. And they raised fresh doubts about the political talents of Reilly, who’d been enjoying an unblemished summer after a stretch of bad gaffes earlier this year. Now, with the Democratic primary just five weeks away, voters who might have attributed Reilly’s earlier blunders to simple bad luck have new reason to wonder: if the AG gets the nomination, could he make it through the general election without self-destructing? “The idea of Reilly being inept had scabbed over,” says one Democratic consultant. “This scratches the scab.”
The good news for Reilly and his supporters is that Killer Coke–gate isn’t getting the level of attention Reilly’s previous errors did. In January — after the Herald reported Reilly’s intercession in the investigation of a crash that killed the daughters of a Reilly-campaign contributor — the Herald ran with the subject, columnists at the Globe weighed in, and TV and radio covered it extensively. When, just a few weeks later, Reilly made the disastrous decision to name Marie St. Fleur as his running mate, that became a huge story as well.
So far, though, the Killer Coke scandal hasn’t driven the news in the same way. On Sunday, August 13, the day after Vennochi’s column ran in the paper, the Globe followed with a slight item that was written by LeMont Calloway, a summer intern, and buried on page B5. That same day, the Herald’s “Pols and Politics” column cited Killer Coke as a sign that Reilly’s candidacy was floundering. On Monday, however, neither the Globe nor the Herald addressed the subject — and while it got some play on talk radio, it had zero presence on TV. On Tuesday, a Globe story (by newly minted State House reporter Cristina Silva) quoted Reilly professing ignorance about Guarino’s plans but adding that Rogers raised “fair questions”; once again, the Herald said nothing.
To some extent, this lack of media buzz is a matter of timing: after all, Vennochi’s scoop came on a late-summer weekend, one of the worst possible times for a story to get traction. But there are other factors at work here as well.
For starters, Boston’s dailies each have good reason to let the story slide. Take the Globe. Read in tandem with Vennochi’s August 10 column — “Killer Coke’s Charges Go Flat” — her August 12 piece looks like a stinging rebuff to Frank Phillips, the Globe’s veteran State House reporter, who’d written an August 7 story that discussed Rogers’s pending trip to Massachusetts in an oddly credulous light. (In response to Phillips’s piece, the liberal political blog Blue Mass. Group reported that Killer Coke seems to be a one-man operation linked to Corporate Campaign, Inc., Rogers’s for-profit consulting operation, rather than a “group of labor activists,” as Phillips described it.) Had they followed up on Vennochi’s work, the Globe’s news desk would have been implicitly criticizing the work of its top political reporter. As the Phoenix went to press, Globe political editor David Dahl said the news desk would continue reporting the story and added, “I wish the news side would have had those e-mails. That was a great bit of reporting by Joan.”)
As for the Herald, Killer Coke seems like just the kind of hard-hitting gotcha story the tabloid thrives on. But the Herald also tends to write off stories when the Globe gets there first. (The Globe usually takes a different tack when beaten by a competitor: it waits a bit and then re-reports the story without mentioning the rival who broke it.)