Missing the Scott Brown juggernaut

By Gabrielle Gurley

This week, Boston University and The Pew Research’s Center Project for Excellence in Journalism published Hidden In Plain Sight, From Kennedy to Brown. The report dissects national and local newspaper coverage of US Sen. Scott Brown’s path to victory over Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

The takeaway is not surprising. “The press never saw it coming.” That the national media (the study looked at New York Times and Associated Press coverage) missed the classic “underdog triumphs over heir presumptive” story line is not surprising, given the “parachute-in-shuttle-out” nature of national news coverage outside New York and Washington.

What’s more noteworthy is the report’s tacit indictment of The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald for missing the story that was right under their noses.

Among the findings:

  • There were far fewer stories about Brown during the primary season than there were about people toying with the idea of running like Joe Kennedy, Curt Schilling, and Andrew Card.
  • Both the local and the national media were more preoccupied with the political coverage (polls, endorsements, debate performances) rather than policy issues like health care or the economy–the flash points for voter disenchantment.
  • Few reporters trekked outside the Hub to central or southeastern Massachusetts where Brown ended up piling up votes: 84 per cent of the general election stories and a whopping 95 percent of the primary election stories had a Boston dateline. (For complete town-level results from the election, click here.)