Thursday, January 22, 2004

Does the Globe hate John Kerry? Timothy Noah's latest "Chatterbox" piece in Slate is on "Kerry's Globe problem." The nut: Kerry's presidential campaign has been hurt by the fact that New England's dominant daily newspaper is out to get him.

Noah is definitely tapping into a real undercurrent, at least in terms of what the national media perceive. ABC's online political tip sheet, "The Note," isn't archived; but last fall I recall reading an observation that the Globe's coverage of Kerry was the meanest any presidential candidate had ever received from his hometown paper. Noah also notes that Kerry's former campaign manager, Jim Jordan, has called the Globe's Kerry coverage "distorted, insignificant, irrelevant, and vindictive."

But as I told Noah yesterday, I don't quite buy it. By far the nastiest local commentator on all things Kerry, for instance, is Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr. It is Carr who tagged Kerry with his most enduring nickname - "Liveshot," for his camera-seeking-missile act - and who bashes Kerry every afternoon on WRKO Radio (AM 680), where Carr hosts the afternoon drive-time talk show.

Nor can anyone at the Globe hold a candle - or perhaps I should say a flaming torch - to my former Phoenix colleague Jon Keller, the political analyst for WLVI-TV (Channel 56), who last fall hosted an entire half-hour special devoted to Kerry-bashing. Keller's column in the current issue of Boston magazine - obviously overtaken by events - examines in loving detail how it all fell apart for Kerry on the presidential campaign trail.

To be sure, Noah's Slate piece is full of "to be sures" - so many, in fact, that his Globe theory begins to fall apart. (Among the inconvenient facts Noah is forced to acknowledge is that today's Globe endorses Kerry's presidential campaign. So, for that matter, does the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Herald.) Out-of-town journalists such as Noah take far more notice of the Globe than they do of the Herald or Boston's local TV news stations. But in this case that has led Noah to commit a fundamental error of logic: he correctly observes that there has been a lot of mean commentary about Kerry in the Globe; therefore, he decides, it must have something to do with the Globe.

Yes, over the years the Globe has run tough pieces on Kerry - some fair, some not - by what Noah properly observes is an astonishingly large stable of columnists.

But when it come to truly inspired anti-Kerry pieces of recent vintage, the Globe's not even on the radar.

I could go through a laundry list (if you'd like to compile your own, search these incomparable archives), but I'll close with this. Without question, the meanest, most vicious Kerry-basher working in the media today is someone whose name pops up on Noah's screen every time he clicks to the Slate home page.

That would, of course, be Mickey Kaus, who actually ran a Kerry Loathsomeness Contest last year, and who recently had to suspend his Kerry Withdrawal Contest.

Actual Kaus lead-in for an item on John Edwards on Tuesday: "I'd rather be trashing Kerry ..."

The fact is that Kerry is an ambiguous figure on the Massachusetts political landscape. He's long labored in the shadows of the state's senior senator, Ted Kennedy. He is reserved and formal, which is another way of saying that he's aloof. He doesn't stroke reporters, and reporters love nothing better than to be stroked. He has a reputation for being inattentive to the needs of local officials. He is, for better or worse, a big thinker who's always had his eye on national politics.

Such a person is going to get cuffed around. It would be pretty strange if the Globe ignored that.

New in this week's Phoenix. Speaking of Kerry ... I spent Tuesday tromping around New Hampshire, chasing after Kerry and the other Democratic presidential candidates. Here's what I found.

Also, what did former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill really tell journalist Ron Suskind?

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