Wednesday, October 23, 2002

The problem with Shannon and Mitt. (Originally posted 10/22/02 at 10 a.m.) Are the media making a mockery of the gubernatorial race with a series of boneheaded gotcha stories? Or are Mitt Romney and Shannon O'Brien so inherently boring that there's nothing else to write about?

Today the Globe weighs in with a front-page piece that suggests O'Brien may have pushed a loan program for local water-treatment plants that could have benefited Hayes's clients. It's a mildly interesting wrinkle, but you've got to connect a lot of dots to get from here to there. In the Herald, Romney tries lamely to tie that paper's two-part series on pension abuses (click here and here) while fending off charges -- "charges" might be a better way of putting it -- that Bain, the venture-capital firm that he ran, borrowed money from sleazy junk-bond company Drexel Burnham Lambert in the 1980s. (The Podunk Journal has learned that Fred Smith, a candidate for the board of selectmen, got his home mortgage from a bank whose president was later indicted on tax-fraud charges!)

Yes, there are real differences between Democrat O'Brien and Republican Romney, and I'm not going to fall into the Jill Stein trap of arguing that we should all vote for the Green Party because it really doesn't matter -- as she asserted once again on NECN last night (click here, scroll down, and pray that the Real Media gods are with you). But the candidates themselves are doing little to highlight those differences.

O'Brien, fearful of being cast as a tax-and-spend liberal, comes off as though she's running for chief accountant rather than governor. Romney's biggest problem is that people might decide he's too conservative on social issues. His solution -- run a bland-on-bland campaign in which he tries to come across as everything to everyone -- has not worked, given his failure to catch fire at any point during the summer or fall, a failure that is analyzed this week by the Phoenix's Seth Gitell. Blogger John Ellis, the former Globe columnist, shook his head yesterday over what he sees as Romney's likely defeat, calling it an "only in Massachusetts" development. But Ellis apparently sees attributes in Romney that Romney himself has not shown on the campaign trail. He can't debate, his TV ads are insipid, and his policy pronouncements are so simplistic that he has managed to earn the wrath of a Nobel Prize laureate in economics, according to the Globe's Steve Bailey.

The media deserve some blame for trivializing this race, but it's hard to make the coverage significantly better than the candidates.

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