Loopy coverage says more about media than Legislature

The storyline of loopy Massachusetts liberals going PC-crazy was apparently too good for right-leaning national outlets to resist. But they’re hardly alone, as mainstream Massachusetts media also decided to turn a nothing-burger into a jaw-dropping example of layabout lawmakers frittering away their time on absurd efforts to police free speech. 

The subject: A bill filed by state Rep. Dan Hunt that would outlaw calling someone a “bitch.” It was on the docket, along with scores of bills, for a hearing Tuesday. A middle school civics class might see a First Amendment problem with the proposal, which makes it seems like a pretty outrageous move for an elected state legislator, a law school graduate at that. 

But it turns out there’s a great deal less to the story than meets the eye.

The Dorchester Democrat was merely following traditions of the time-honored Massachusetts “right of free petition,” which allows citizens to file bills for the Legislature to consider. Such measures need a lawmaker to make the official filing, something most legislators do routinely for any bill a constituent asks them to submit. It doesn’t indicate the lawmaker’s support for the bill, and nearly all such measures end up in the legislative discard pile along with the overwhelming majority of the thousands of bills filed each session. 

But none of that has stopped a mini frenzy of overwrought coverage questioning what kind of brain-addling additive gets mixed into the State House water supply. 

While acknowledging the bill would never become law, Katherine Timpf writes for National Review, “I still find myself disturbed by the fact that it was even discussed in the legislature in the first place. After all, this means that the public servants in Massachusetts actually have so little knowledge of the Constitution (which the taxpayers are paying them to protect) that they spent their (taxpayer-funded) time earnestly considering it.”

Except there was actually no real time spent “earnestly considering” the bill.

“Massachusetts leftists want to throw you in jail for saying ‘bitch,’” screams the headline over a Washington Examiner column. 

The Massachusetts Republican Party has had a field day pummeling Hunt on social media. Hunt declined to identify the constituent who asked him to file the bill. But conservative columnist Michael Graham writes that it was a Dorchester human services worker named Takiyah White.

Following up on a Boston.com piece, both the Boston Globe and Boston Herald have run stories on the issue.  

Five years ago, David Bernstein wrote for Boston Magazine about the absurdity of coverage of a similar no-chance-of-passing bill filed on behalf of a constituent. Republican state Sen. Richard Ross had filed a measure that would have prohibited someone going through a divorce from having sex in their own home (presumably with someone other than the spouse from whom they are estranged).  

There’s plenty to knock the Legislature over without stirring up something out of nothing. There are also real assaults on free speech to be fought against.

Massachusetts is one of the few states that allows for citizen-initiated bills, a function of “its nearly 400-year devotion to self-governance, populist energy, and participatory citizenship,” Bernstein wrote in his piece, which was headlined, “The Story of a Non-Story: How a bunch of media outlets got their coverage of an obscure Massachusetts bill really, really wrong.”

Bernstein reminded Twitter followers this week of his Boston Magazine piece ripping  Boston.com and other outlets over the non-story of the 2014 bill. This time, though, instead of wagging a finger, BoMag joins the fray with a tongue-in-cheek take on the issue that imagines the horribleness of a world with the proposed word ban. 

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The Boston Herald whacks secretive House leaders for not providing details of spending reports the paper obtained from the state Comptroller’s office and hiding behind the Legislature’s exemption from the state public records law. 

Henry Thomas III and Jennifer Davis Carey say state oversight of school district spending is critical, and urge lawmakers to embrace the House approach on the Student Opportunity Act and not the Senate version of the bill. (CommonWealth)

Families of prison inmates are backing legislation that would eliminate hefty charges for phone with prisoners. For two calls a week, the charges can run as high as $2,000 a year. (CommonWealth)

The Senate Ways and Means Committee dropped from a supplemental budget bill a corporate tax change that stirred controversy in the House when three women lawmakers say leadership stifled efforts to debate the measure. (Boston Globe)

Lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would end the practice of reincarcerating people on probation who fail a drug test. (Boston Globe

Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett is calling for passage of a criminal justice bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker because, under current law, recently affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court, a Lawrence cop accused of raping a boy cannot be locked up pre-trial as a safety measure. (Eagle-Tribune

David Bernstein says it’s time for Charlie Baker to leave the Republican Party. (Boston Magazine)

Winning passage of a tougher seat belt law, one that allows police to pull over people who aren’t buckled up, seems like a longshot again this year. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Some Brookline residents want new restrictions on the popular pot shop NETA, which often has lines out the door and is open until 10 p.m. (WGBH

Plans for a seaside home on stilts in Gloucester were dashed by Superior Court Judge Salim Tabit’s ruling siding with neighbors to the property. (Gloucester Daily Times

Easton trailer park residents are going without water, just as the proposed sale of the park to its own residents has stalled. (Brockton Enterprise) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In the most damning testimony yet provided in the House impeachment probe, the US ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, Jr., told a House panel that President Trump held up $391 million in military aid to Ukraine to force the country to help investigate his domestic political rivals — laying out exactly the kind of “quid pro quo” that the White House has vehemently insisted did not occur. (New York Times) The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes of the quid pro quo, “It is no longer a question of whether this happened. It is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers — especially Republicans — choose to respond to it.”

Trump likened the impeachment inquiry to a lynching. That’s not “problematic,” as some say, but racist, writes Renee Graham. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Methuen mayoral candidate Neil Perry spoke openly about his contentious 2001 divorce, and then his rival for the top job Jennifer Kannan posted documents about the incident and disputed Perry’s claims about what happened. (Eagle-Tribune

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has opened up a sizable lead in her home state, but on health care Massachusetts voters prefer a public option to Medicare for All, which is what Warren supports, according to a WBUR/MassINC Polling Group survey. (WBUR)

Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno says he didn’t think about the appropriateness of it when he stopped off at a fundraiser for a former firefighter and saw a fire truck and firefighters in uniform at the event. (MassLive)

Boston City Councilor Althea Garrison backed rent control and at-large challenger Julia Mejia proposed a dramatic increase in affordable housing requirements for developers during a debate Tuesday. (WBUR

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Local officials and a developer pitched lawmakers Tuesday on a bill that would pave the way for a planned horse track and gambling facility in Wareham, but Sen. Marc Pacheco slammed the bill as an attempt by a “self-serving” developer to be given special treatment. (Herald News) 

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch and City Councilor Ian Cain say they’re looking into building a municipal broadband  system. (Patriot Ledger) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The state may be living within its health care cost benchmark, but data indicate the burden on individuals and families is growing. (CommonWealth)

A Biogen drug may hold some promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. (Boston Globe)

TRANSPORTATION 

Emerson College journalism professor Moses Shumow was struck and killed by a commuter rail train in Beverly. (MassLive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The New Yorker has a great read on the Stanford scientist behind Impossible Foods, the company behind the plant-based Impossible Burger. He’s trying to eliminate meat from our diet and combat climate change. “Every four pounds of beef you eat contributes to as much global warming as flying from New York to London—and the average American eats that much each month,” the story says. 

Why are moose doing better in Massachusetts than in northern New England, and why are they being spotted in Worcester? (Telegram & Gazette)

The regional administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency must recuse himself in many cases the office is dealing with because of his prior role as a top official at Dow Chemical Co. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A federal grand jury has returned additional charges against several parents and university athletic officials who already had been ensnared in a nationwide college admissions scandal, including two men with Cape ties. (Cape Cod Times)