Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Where's the beef at New England Cable News

Where's the beef at NECN?
by Kevin John Sowyrda

If you have absolutely no conceivable social life, like myself, you were watching NECN Tuesday evening and the oh-so-special Jim Braude segment on gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos, the convenience store magnate and Turnpike Authority whistle blower whose recent defection from the Republican party has tossed-like-a-salad the race for Massachusetts governor. Most of his Christy's stores have been sold to 7-11, leaving little doubt that Mihos has ample cash on hand for precious media buys in a race now dominated by millionaires.

Mihos is the unlikely independent candidate for the corner office and recent polling data suggests he's surprisingly viable and a real threat to both partys, thank Heaven - should you subscribe to my theory that we require a serious vacation from both the Democrats and Republicans reigning over us. NECN, that's New England Cable News by the way, is a boutique television outfit and has a pretty cute operation in Newton where they take the scraps off the tables of WHDH, WBZ, WCVB, FOX 25 and Channel 56 (is it still Channel 56, as in Dale Doreman and the Banana Splits?) and try to get some attention with the leftovers. Some call them the MSNBC of Boston, insinuating their ratings are insignificant in the grand scheam of things; and if they're making money for their investors (Comcast mostly) it's a miracle surpassing Moses parting the waves. Personally, I say the more news outlets, the better, red ink or not; and having imitated a smart person on that station in days gone by I find that some of the players there actually have a brain, such as R.D. Sahl and maybe a few others.

But the story here is that there was no news whatsoever on Tuesday from a station that's supposed to give us some. The questions from Boston Globe Metro Page editor Carolyn Ryan, formerly of the Boston Herald and before that the Patriot Ledger, and Braude, whose sort of NECN's lefty version of Bill O'Reilly, were coffee chit chat stuff better left to Oprah - should she lose her faculties and start covering our governor's race.

Let's just say that the interview had all the substance of a candidates night for library board of trustees, and that's giving much more credit than is due.

What do you think about Gay marriage, what are your plans for Massachusetts schools, where do you stand on abortion, immigration, the recent health care legislation, or even, the gosh darn Boston Red Sox - would have been proper questions giving me a reason not to roll my eyes and pray for nine o'clock when I could finally switch to Fox and watch Jack Whats-his-name and that never-dies cell phone of his. It was quite literally thirty minutes of water torture level boredom, minus commercials (they were the best part), regarding Mihos' days as a fine, young lad in Brockton, the courtship of his beautiful wife; and that burning question sizzling in all our collective brain cells - exactly why did Christy run for student body president at Stonehill College back in the sixties. The only thing Carolyn and Jim forgot to ask Christy was about his favorite color; and his personal preferance - boxers or briefs?

Finally I understand what the late, great Talkmaster Jerry Williams meant when he would occasionally lament, "I gotta get out of this business!"

I've heard of some personal warm ups to loosen up the TV guest and give us some personal perspective; but not a scintilla, not a micron of substance was put on the table at NECN. Like the other candidates Braude has interviewed previously, this half hour of kindergarten theatre had all the beef of a vegetarians' convention.

If you're a concerned citizen you should be less than thrilled with this new policy of wasting a half hour of public air waves, air time. These are serious times with little time for kiddie recess. Softie, gushy, juvenile tea parties held under the klieg lights are better left to Entertainment Tonight or the Howie Carr Show. Last time I checked, the name of this station was New England Cable News, not New England Cable Bologne.

Even as a Christy admirer I would have cherished just a peak at his perspective on one of the real hot button issues in Mass., Gay Marriage. But Globie Carolyn Ryan, who I've noted rarely speaks on the topic, was about as ready to submit that querie as she was ready to jump into the polluted Charles River. Rather ironic, I'd say, for an executive representing a paper which has editorially supported Gay marriage and the historic ruling handed down by Justice Margaret Marshall's court on November 18, 2003.

On the other hand, perhaps there's little surprise in how little reporting goes on in this town on Gay issues or anything else of substance. Discussing journalism practices by Globe executives is like talking about ethics at the White House. Globe editor Ryan has been a part of the degeneration of the once influential broadsheet. Under her command as Metro editor the paper printed pictures on May 12, 2004 knowing them to be submitted by City Councilor Chuck Turner, a highly controversial member of the Boston City Council. The photos were graphic and showed US Servicemen in Iraq to be raping women. It was soon discovered that the photos were complete fakes, taken from a cheap, porn web page. The Globe had to apologize to readers, the blatant error made national headlines, and Ryan's own subordinate, highly respected writer Donovan Slack, was not about to back up the breach of ethics. She said to media outlets at the time, "I'm surprised the editor even decided we should write about it." Amazingly, Ryan never got the sack for incompetence and, thankfully, Slack didn't either, for telling the truth and being a reporter's reporter.

If I'm Christy, I left that cozy, NECN studio wondering who to send the check to. Freebies don't get better than that. If I'm a serious citizen I was channel surfing long before Carolyn got to the biggest questions she had worked os hard on for the night, which were, "what was it like growing up," and "tell us about Christy as a teenager," and "did you think about going further away to college," and, Carolyn's real Chris Matthew's like Hardball hit, "do you enjoy music." I kid you not, folks.

Now there's a journalist of Edward R. Morrow like proportions.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Will the Globe's Carolyn Ryan dare ask about the 'G' issue tonight on NECN.

If you have absolutely no conceivable social life, like myself, you'll be watching NECN this evening and the oh-so-special Jim Braude segment on gubernatorial candidate Christy Mihos, the convenient store magnate (though most of his Chrity's stores have been sold quite nicely to 7-11). Mihos is an independent candidate for governor.

NECN, that's New England Cable News, is a boutique television outfit and has a pretty cute operation in Newton where they take the scraps off the table of WHDH, WBZ, WCVB, FOX 25 and Channel 56 (is it still Channel 56, as in Dale Doreman and the Banana Splits?) and try to get some attention with the leftovers. Some call them the MSNBC of Boston, meaning their ratings are insignificant in the grand sceam of things; and if they're making money for their investors (Comcast mostly) it's a miracle surpassing Moses parting the waves.

But the story here is what will and won't be asked by Boston Globe Metro Page editor Carolyn Ryan, formerly of the Boston Herald and before that the Patriot Ledger. Let's just say that Carolyn isn't going to be too comfortable asking about Gay issues, which are prevelant in any race for governor, especially in the state which first legalized Gay marital unions.

"Do you support Gay marriage." would be a logical question to emit from Ryan's mouth. But will it happen? Could it ever happen?? Let's just say that every reporter has a personal life, sometimes very personal, and at times it affects what conversations they find a survivable comfort level with.

We'll be watching......and then we'll report the skinny for the 99 percent of you who will have better things to do than watch NECN anyway. Democratic activist Jim Braude hosts the program beginning this evening at 8:30 EST.

Ginny Buckingham - from 9-11 to Gay Bashing

In one of her recent editorials, Boston Herald writer Ginny Buckingham let Boston know exactly what she thinks about people rolling Easter Eggs while being Gay. The anti-Gay column was surprising for someone who once toiled for Bill Weld, a Massachusetts governor known for his Gay-friendly policy making. So who is Ginny Buckingham, and what is her claim to fame; or infamy.
When I think of Boston Herald Columnist Ginny Buckingham, I automatically think of people like G. Gordon Liddy, a valueless creature and one of the secret "plumbers" in the Nixon Administration. He was eventually thrown behind bars and now does a radio show and a commendable imitation as a journalist.
Ginny - who sometimes prefers Virginia - never went to jail though some think she should have. On September 11, 2001 it was she who proved that hack appointments do indeed have their life and death consequences. Buckingham was the czarina of Massport - the agency which runs General Logan International - on that fateful date, despite a chorus of protests earlier when her benefactor, Paul Cellucci, appointed her to the aviation post in 1999. Buckingham's aviation management experience was limited to making reservations for trips to Disney World and operating the sickness bag during turbulent flight time. As Democratic Consultant Michael Goldman said in a widely carried quote when Buckingham received the patronage appointment, "the only person less qualified for this job is me." Boston was rocked and tongues were wagging, but no one was able to see what was coming down the pike and how dangerous this hackdom behavior could be for the world.
None of this is to say Ginny didn't leave her mark at Logan before 9-11. She granted, among other things, a $300,000 consulting contract to her special friend Ray Howell; and if Ray can ever tell me what he did to earn that $300,000 I'll give him another $300,000. That contract is just one of many which don't pass what Bill Weld would have called, "the smell test." No telling how history might have changed had all the money sprinkled on pals and political salons by Ginny been diverted to security and protection. We'll just never know, which may be why Acting Governor Jane Swift basically fired Buckingham in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the smartest thing Her Excellency ever did in her own brief tenure of power. Buckingham's resignation letter read, in part, "The fact that our airport was used in an unimaginable plot that killed thousands of people is something I will carry in my mind and heart forever."
On October 30, 2001 it was revealed that she would depart in a golden parachute deal worth $180,000. Massport's own personnel policies strictly limited the director to a severance package of $28,482. Then Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran called the sweetheart deal, "a dreadful, dreadful message." Under intense local, and even national pressure, the Massport board of directors cut the Buckingham deal by $47,000. But the terms of Buckingham's extraordinary severance package remained too naked an abuse of public office for the public to digest, given the heinous events which promulgated her firing. The entire episode rocked the state house and made Buckingham only more the figure of national scorn.
Buckingham became radioactive overnight; a walking Chernobyl with a pretty smile. The terms of her hefty severance package compelled police officers to guard Buckingham's Marblehead mcmansion where she and her husband (for whom she secured a judicial appointment while still chief of staff in the governor's office) enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, Sapronos style, while thousands of 9-11 victims were were finally learning that Logan Airport, from where the attacks on the World Trade Center originated, was run by an infamous hack, and therefore ill managed from every vantage point.
Today, the infamous hack is…well….I don't quite know what she is. I guess she's imitating a columnist, all be it a very isolated one and at a less than thriving publication; where no less than forty of her colleagues singed an unprecedented publicly released letter protesting her hiring due to lack of competence for the job. But the journalists who spoke out could not compare to the calibre of influence belonging to Attorney Bob Cordy, a Buckingham confidant from the Weld days and now a high ranking jourist. Cordy has a, well, very close relationship with Herald editorial page boss Rachelle Cohen. He brokered the deal for Buckingham's retainer. And since her appointment the caliber of Buckingham's missives have not proven her critics wrong; and her soft ball diatribes for people known to have worked with her in the governor's office have eroded what credibility she never had in the first place.
This Tuesday, Ginny decided it was time to get in Goose Step with most other Herald Columnists, namely Howie Carr and Joe Fitzgerald. You guessed it, another Gay bashing editorial in the Herald….kinda like discovering Tom Cruise really likes Katie or that the Pope wears white shoes - even after Labor Day. In her piece titled, "Activists lay egg by politicizing event," Buckingham writes that Gay couples who attended the White House Easter Egg Hunt are guilty of "exploitation of this treasured Easter season tradition." She said that the Gay parents were "inappropriate" and "classless." She further scribes that the Gay parents should, "Get a grip, people, and while you're at it get a life."
Ginny, why don't you get a real job?? Truth be told, if the columns aren't perpetually boring, nonsensical or completely self serving, they are now just old fashioned bigotry. Once upon a time a couple of color could not attend this White House tradition. The same attacks were levied against those who tried. I tried to bring these points to the attention of Buckingham's editor, Rachelle Cohen, but she hung up on me.
You gotta hand it to the Herald. They're behaving at the exact level of maturity as was Massport before 9-11. Thank God there aren't any airplanes at Herald Square to hijack; just loads of ink, a low rated web page, and a silly "columnist" whose destined to be forever lost in the abyss of her own infamy.

Herald Columnist left Logan disgraced but with significant cash.

Follow-up to our posting on Herald Columnist and Republican Operative Ginny Buckingham:
On October 30, 2001 it was revealed that Ginney Buckingham, disgraced Massport chief, would depart in a golden parachute deal worth $180,000. Massport's own personnel policies strictly limited the director to a severance package of $28,482. Then Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran called the sweetheart deal, "a dreadful, dreadful message." Under intense local, and even national pressure, the highly politicized board of directors cut the Buckingham deal by $47,000. But the terms of Buckingham's extraordinary severance package remained too naked an abuse of public office for the public to digest. It was highly ironic given the heinous event which promulgated her firing, that being 9-11. The entire episode made Buckingham a walking Chernobyl, though as we've documented in an earlier posting her new job at Boston's daily and very increasingly New York flavored tabloid was orchestrated by Boston's best horse trader, Attorney Bob Cordy, now a high ranking judge and former legal advisor to Bill Weld, when both he and Buckingham served the former governor. Cordy's influence over Herald opinion page boss Rachelle Cohen is universally recognized by many reporters at the Titanic of Boston print outlets. "Cordy and Cohen are more than just close," a Herald insider told me last week as we recalled the events of Buckingham's hiring while enjoying a beer at - where else - J.J. Foley's. "Cordy could get Cohen to bungy jump off the Tobin bridge, and Cohen wouldn't blink and eye, she'd just jump to make him happy. You go figure the nature of that relationship," said our Herald spy, who freely admits he's one of the forty journalists who signed a letter which urged publisher Patrick Purcell not to hire Buckingham given her absence of any qualifications for a role in journalism. Prediction - look for Buckingham to start some bash and trash 'em columns on Christy Mihos, the renegade Republican and wealthy businessman now running as an independent for governor. Most of Buckingham's political allies are working hard on the Kerry-Healey campaign, and this will be her contribution. The Buckingham watch will continue.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mr. Chairman - Barney Frank

Title: Mr. Chairman by Kevin John Sowyrda. Barney Frank seems quite relaxed and content for a man who, by many estimates including mine, is about to become one of the most powerful men in the United States. After all, the chairmanship of the House Committee on Financial Services brings to the holder of that heavy gavel legislative influence over nothing less than the following - the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve, The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the chartered federal housing agencies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the NASDAQ, the Treasury Department, Housing and Urban Development, various financial companies and every single bank that could ever give you a free toaster in the U.S. Could I possibly have missed anything? The only organization which doesn't need to genuflect to this committee is the British Monarchy, but give Barney some time.
So there's Congressman Frank, an old acquaintance who continues to charm me with his veritable encyclopedic knowledge of political events long forgotten by lesser political giants, enjoying his sandwich at Club Café last Sunday night as I try to digest the power that's about to fall into his lap if his party, the Democrats, seize the House in the upcoming bi-election; an event even Newt Gingrich seemed resigned to in a Fox News Interview aired this weekend.
As the ranking Democrat on the committee which can decide everything from what your bank charges for an overdraft to the affordable housing grant your town does or doesn't get, Barney Frank is already referenced as "the real chairman" by the Wall Street Journal and happily discovers that getting calls returned from private sector luminaries is suddenly mere child's play. When the congressman's phone rings it's likely to be Kenneth Lewis, who heads Bank of America, or Chuck Prince, who runs Citicorp, or Jamie Diamond who reigns at JP Morgan Chase. So imagine what it will be like to be chairman in January 2007?
"I have a lot of new friends and my personality has not improved; which leads me to believe something's in the wind," says the famously self-deprecating Frank, the most noted openly-Gay member of Congress who enjoys broad, popular support in his Fourth Congressional District after a quarter-century of service.
Not too shabby for a guy once perceived as the frumpy law maker known for his very non-GQ attire. But that was Barney before he discovered stair-master and weight lifting, a better diet, perhaps a Macy's charge card, and indeed, I dare say, himself. Barney actually came out of the closet (did I actually use that cliché) just days before speaking at my college graduation in 1987 when he was the guest speaker at the Northeastern University commencement ceremony at the old Boston Garden. Suddenly there were no more secrets, just Barney being Barney. And being just Barney seems to be earning the frank Mr. Frank accolades from most unlikely points of destination on the eve of his accession to great power.
In a recent interview with Chris Matthews on the MSNBC program Hardball, departing congressman Tom Delay, a conservative's conservative, was asked to name "strong, moral Democrats," as Matthews put it. Go figure, the Texan whose not renowned for being Mr. Gay friendly, said without tongue in cheek that it was Barney Frank, hands down. "I respect him greatly. He's a true liberal, and he's unashamedly a liberal. And I respect that," said Delay.
But will the financial community be as gracious. Politics 101 teaches us that the conservative bankers of America would prefer a soul mate chairing the congressional committee which gazes at their comings and goings. But Frank says he's worked hard to gain the confidence of the country's financial magnates and that his own philosophy should not antagonize the business elite because, "you can be a responsible liberal," he said. "The banks might not prefer me but they are not threatened by me." The Newton Democrat provides an explanation which is not just simplistic when he says, "I am a liberal capitalist, and I want to take a little bit of the money they make and give it to poor people." Apparently the bankers are hardly shaking in their wingtips. The director for congressional relations at the American Bankers Association, Floyd Stoner, described Frank to me as "one of the smartest men in Congress," and a "social liberal with a market orientation."
The prestige of Frank's new jurisdiction, denied him only if the Republicans are able to stop the flooding in all compartments, is not lost on Frank himself, who once toiled as a political advisor to Boston mayor Kevin White, served four terms as a Boston state legislator and saved his political career when he bested Congresswoman Peg Heckler after their districts were merged by the state legislature in 1982, producing a bruising political brawl that is now a part of Baystate political folklore. "I think the committee can be the macro economic engine of congress," he said, already appearing rich with ideas on what to do and how to do it; which is quintessentially the Barney Frank Massachusetts voters have become accustomed to.
Intellectual prowess is not the only natural gift attributed Frank by even his Republican nemesis. As a Democratic consultant might say, "it's the dry sense of humor, stupid." Humor, quotes of note and debating skills which are of an Oxford-like level, have not only made Frank a staple on the evening news programs but have secured him a nick-name from the Nick-Namer-in-Chief. Frank says that President Bush calls him Saber Teeth; no doubt a respectful reference to the fact that few in the G.O.P. caucus can hold their own in a one-on-one with the liberal who seems to have a lot of secret conservative admirers.
Take this page from Barney's parodies at a recent committee hearing. After grueling - ok, painfully boring - testimony on the virtues or non virtues of accounting methods for stock options, Barney was the oasis of comic relief. "What does treating stock options as a regular expense on the balance sheet have in common with same sex marriage in Massachusetts," Frank asked a suddenly speechless lobbyist giving testimony against the new accounting method. "In both cases," said Frank, "a lot of people predicted chaos would erupt and nothing happened at all." Here you see original humor perfectly mixed with bold substance; a secret formula Barney Frank owns the patent to.
Only Barney Frank could discover this segue between fighting for Gay rights and overseeing the American financial empires. "I'll have a major non-Gay role in the government while remaining fully committed to Gay issues," he said. No one doubts it.
But alas, our time grows short. My clam chowder and salad have disappeared and the congressman's low carb dinner went quickly, understandable given he had just finished a workout an hour earlier. So it's time for dessert, but Frank's pallet is not tempted by cheese cake, not even that Weight Watcher's brand. His dessert is politics and if you know his track record you know his predictions will beat the best of the pollsters. We meandered a bit from state to national, and then from national to state, but here's how a guy with a lifetime of political victories under his belt sees events of our day.
Regarding Hillary: "She's the anti-Bush and she has that clearly staked out. If people are in a mood to repudiate Bush that helps Hillary." And, on the presidential front, Franks says the G.O.P.'s best bet for holding the White House is increasingly ironic. "The only way they can win is by nominating the person who is the most anti-Bush, and that's John McCain. I can't see us losing to anyone other than McCain."
Regarding George Bush; the congressman says he's never seen such anger directed toward the president, even in conservative enclaves; and says he's taken criticism from some Democrats for not supporting an impeach the president movement, now best associated with Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold who advocates a censure vote against Mr. Bush. "I don't think he's (Bush) dumb, but here's his problem - he came to the presidency not a serious person. I think he's above average intelligence but he lacks a basic knowledge base."
Regarding the midterm in November; Frank predicts senate wins for his party in Montana, Ohio, Missouri, and, perhaps most importantly, in Pennsylvania where Democrats are yearning to knock-off the senate's most conservative conservative, Rick Santorum. Closer to home, Frank thinks moderate Republican Lincoln Chaffee is in trouble, as the moderate Republican faces a tough primary bid from a well financed conservative.
Regarding the Massachusetts governor's race; Frank dismisses a recent Boston Globe story suggesting A.G. Tom Reilly could fail to garner the essential fifteen percent convention endorsement vote, required for placement on the September ballot; and Frank offered an interesting perspective on the independent candidacy of former Republican Christy Mihos, who plans to self-finance his own campaign. "Don't dismiss him," said Frank.
Finally, Frank regarding Frank is about the election for the House. With the chamber in recess until April 24, it's on the road for the chairman presumptive. This week began in Indianapolis and ends I forget where. Typical Barney, cris crossing the country to raise money for Democrats. He's unopposed in his district where his favorability rating is purely enviable, and just enjoying life as a guy whose comfortable about himself and his future.
Kevin John Sowyrda is a political writer and commentator. You can reach him at mediarelease@aol.com