White House all wet taking Herald out of pool

Obama’s tabloid snub causes problems for the Globe

Did anyone with even a passing knowledge of Boston politics and media not know what the front page of the Herald would look like today after the White House made a point that the paper’s perceived slant is not appreciated when doling out pool reporting assignments?

As national media came calling for a quote, Herald Editor in Chief Joe Sciacca declared the newspaper will not be cowed by The Man.

“We will always fight for fair access to presidential visits and other important events and we will not be intimidated by attempts to affect our news decisions,” Sciacca, a longtime political reporter, columnist, and editor for the Herald said in a statement.

The Herald, despite its righteous indignation, has had its share of pool opportunities during this administration, including a visit by President Obama last year as well as his Martha’s Vineyard vacations. In addition, during the previous administration, several of the paper’s reporters and editors were invited to an intimate luncheon with a few other small – and right-leaning – media outlets to break bread with then-President George W. Bush. But that’s not the point.

As much as it was journalistic manna from heaven for the tabloid (“Critics: Obama’s media snub ‘troubling’”; “Prez swimming in shallow end of pool”; “Obama, how Nixonian”),  the fact their editorial leanings were cited as a factor also creates some headaches for the Globe by implication and perception.

The email from White House communications staffer Matt Lehrich to the Herald’s Hilary Chabot made clear that the newspaper’s decision to play an oped from Mitt Romney on page 1 when Obama last visited was not forgotten by the increasingly thin-skinned administration.

“I tend to consider the degree to which papers have demonstrated to covering the White House regularly and fairly in determining local pool reporters,” wrote Lehrich, an Arlington native and, more telling, nephew of top Obama political advisor David Axelrod.

Memo to Lehrich: That’s what tabloids do. Take a look any day of the week at the New York tabloids or Philadelphia or Los Angeles. They are headline-driven and the stories that give the best headlines are often culled from opinion pieces, which is why Howie Carr and Margery Egan often lead the paper. Someone should school young Mr. Lehrich.

As Dan Kennedy points out at Media Nation, Lehrich apparently never paid attention to Boston political history and the guiding principle of Southie ward boss legend Martin Lomasney, who said, “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” That has been updated by former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who added “Never put anything in an email.”

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.

Of course politicians, local to international, grant access to those they deem can give them the best play in the best light. It’s human nature. And as long as there’s plausible denial, there’s not much that can be said or done about it. But commit it to paper (or in this case, Internet) and your problems compound exponentially.

What it also says, by implication, is the Globe “writes things the way we prefer” and that presents a perception problem. Is it true? No, not on the news side. But that won’t stop the red meat crowd or even fence-straddlers who want to believe in media bias. Editor Marty Baron did not return a call for comment but it might have behooved the paper to at least protest the reason given for the exclusion of its rival.

And we await an uprising from all those in the field. Pool reports are not glamorous, require more effort than they’re worth, and rarely does news come from such functions. But access to any elected official should not just go to the perceived friendlies. Balance comes when both ends of a scale have weight.