The prism of the media

Holiday weekends are usually bereft of real news and five-day summertime weekends can be especially challenging for assignment desks.

But anyone who picked up the Boston Herald on Friday morning saw an unflattering picture of Secretary of State John Kerry in a kayak in Nantucket Harbor—while Egypt burned. With scorching heat and little to report from the July 4th concert and fireworks, it was manna from heaven for news-starved reporters and editors. And with a story like that, it required little heavy-lifting to get partisan pundits on the horn to wail about how bad “the optics” were for the country’s top diplomat to be sunning and splashing in his palatial home on the Island of the Filthy Rich while the Middle East smoldered with unrest.

Some GOP mouthpieces wrapped themselves in the flag on this patriotic holiday to bash Kerry and his boss, President Obama. “I would think the secretary of state would interrupt his vacation and at least send a very clear signal — even by flying back to Washington for a day or two — that on our Independence Day we are very concerned about the freedom and democracy that we hope is instilled for some period of time in the Arab World,” Patrick Griffin, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist, told the Herald. Um, what?

There was little available to help readers or viewers determine the appropriateness of Kerry’s mini-vacation. What was missing in the Herald stories and columns was context and actual knowledge about just what the Secretary of State’s job entails and what he could/can do when a region erupts. It was a chance for the tabloid to do what it does best – flame a local pol on the front page and worry about the fallout later. There was no mention that Kerry just completed a two-week, 22,500-mile trip to the Middle East to try to reignite Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

The Boston Globe was of little help in cutting through the chafe, determined instead to diminish the Herald story with background and quotes that could have easily substituted for State Department talking points and declaring “the criticism came from predictably partisan quarters.” The story was chock-full of Kerry’s travels and accomplishments in his first six months in office, including comparing his Middle East itinerary to his predecessor, Hilary Clinton.  The State Department didn’t do much to help their boss either, initially denying a CBS report that Kerry was aboard his yacht on July 4th then later backtracking.

The best analysis of what it meant came from the New York Times. The Times story mentioned Kerry’s island stay as well as the golfing itinerary of Obama on Friday morning, interpreting the actions as showing the administration’s view that there are worse things than the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood from power.

But the Herald’s tone did a 180 today amid reports that Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was rushed to Nantucket Cottage Hospital then airlifted to Massachusetts General Hospital in critical condition after suffering an apparent seizure at home. Accompanying the Herald story about her hospitalization was a tender column by the Joe Battenfeld highlighting Heinz Kerry’s importance to her husband’s political fortunes. It brings to mind the possibility that perhaps Kerry’s decision to spend a little island time with his wife may have been as much personal as bad “optics.”

Kerry, though, really should have learned his lesson by now. All he needed to do is think back to his 2004 presidential campaign that he interrupted with a little bonding time with his windsurfer in the same waters.

                                                                                                                                                                — JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Lawmakers will hold a hearing tomorrow on a bill that would require law enforcement officials to obtain a warrant to seek information from telephone companies or Internet providers; currently,under a little-known state law, officials only need to put a request in writing to the businesses for that information.

State officials defend a decision not to award a Lottery advertising contract to a firm run by a woman, reports the Herald.

The Boston Globe profiles the former Boston state representative and mayoral candidate Mel King.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Fall River, which has an estimated 100,000 feral cats, is ramping up its spaying and neutering program with grants to try to contain the homeless feline population.

A Baltimore gambling company partners with a Leominster developer on a slots parlor proposal, the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise reports.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

US Rep. Niki Tsongas is pushing legislation that would require athletic shoes purchased by new military recruits be American-made, which could benefit New Balance, which makes many of its shoes in Lawrence, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The National Journal has a little “be careful what you wish for” primer, looking at nominees that have been rejected by Congress for different positions but, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, come back to haunt the partisans.

US Rep. Richard Neal is now dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation.

Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as New York governor five years ago amid a prostitution scandal, jumps back into the political ring with a run for the office of New York City comptroller, the New York Times reports. And he can win according to those in the know in the Big Apple. Also why Spitzer is no Anthony Weiner.

Nearly 150 female prison inmates were sterilized without proper state approvals from 2006 to 2010 in California state prisons, the Center for Investigative Reporting reports.

ELECTIONS

Boston mayoral candidate Bill Walczak gets another plug, this time from John Nucci in the Herald. Earlier, the Globe’s Yvonne Abraham talked up his candidacy.

EDUCATION

Oregon approves a pay-it-forward plan that would allow students to attend public colleges for free and then pay it back in small increments out of their paychecks for the next 25 years, Governing reports.

The growing availability of free and open source educational materials put out by nonprofits, universities, and other education groups is threatening the stranglehold commercial textbook publishers have had on schools for decades.

University of Massachusetts President Robert Caret institutes new performance evaluation metrics for the five campus system.

HEALTH CARE

The bacteria that causes the deadly Legionnaire’s Disease is detected in a Lynn apartment building geared toward seniors, the Item reports.

Businesses are eagerly seeking permits to sell electronic cigarettes.

TRANSPORTATION

About 20 new Hubway stations are being planned for the end of the summer, expanding the bike-sharing program deeper into inner-city neighborhoods such as Dorchester, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain.

BART strike reveals a divide between tech and transit workers, Marketplace reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

An increase in the use of so-called “smart meters” by utility companies, which monitor electricity use and are aimed at lowering consumption, has critics worried about health and privacy concerns.

The soggy start to summer, which has seen twice the average rainfall for the region since June 1, has threatened the growing and harvesting season for some area farmers who hope for a rebound before the end of the season.

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. A veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Haverhill cop is fired for using police resources to stalk his ex-wife and her boyfriend, the Eagle-Tribune reports.