Globe struggles to balance Olympics coverage

Olympics logoYesterday the Boston Business Journal revealed some of Boston 2024’s duplicity in misrepresenting to the public what it had included in its bid for bringing the Olympics to the Hub.  Information the BBJ obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request indicates the bid outlined the need for public funding (and a public authority) for land acquisition and infrastructure costs (not just for security) and the dependence on a Convention Center expansion (already scotched by Governor Charlie Baker).  The BBJ says the bid document mentions only the traffic challenges and nothing about the problems of the T, though one hopes that by 2024 those will be remedied, and goes into considerable detail about required land acquisition, including the New Boston Food Market and other parcels.  This material was “redacted” from what the organizers had previously shared, allegedly to protect their competitive advantage vis-a-vis other bidders.

The Governor has rightly called for Boston 2024 to reveal details of its plan by June 30, which it has agreed to do, and one has to assume the contents disclosed are still in flux. But the revelations validate public skepticism and concerns about getting left holding the bag financially.

In contrast to other local media, the Globe’s treatment of the Olympics story in this morning’s paper are downplayed on page 2 of the Metro section. Above the fold was Mark Arsenault’s piece “Boston Olympic team meets with IOC.”  It quotes new 2024 chairman Steve Pagliuca about how flexible the IOC is being about venue sites and about the optimism of the visiting team, including John Fitzgerald of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, representing Mayor Marty Walsh.

Buried below the fold is an even shorter article by the same reporter with the headline “Olympics panel disingenuous, foes say.”   The italics are mine. In fairness, the online version is headlined “Questions raised about new 2024 documents.” I’d like to think that some editor noticed the print headline was unfairly dismissive about critics of the Olympics bid, but the tone does reflect the attitude of 2024 booster and Business section columnist Shirley Leung, whose contempt for 2024 critics was plastered on the front page last week.  She compares skeptics and critics to two-year-olds throwing tantrums and scoffs that they love to hate and complain.

The paper has tried, in occasional substantive editorials, to explore ways the 2024 Olympics bid could align with certain long-term needs, including improvements in Franklin Park, opportunities for Gateway Cities, and tourism generally. But placement of articles and thought pieces has editorial content as well, and given the watering down of the institutional voice on the Globe’s new look, lamentably diluted editorial pages, the thought pieces have yet to make an impact on the public dialogue.

We’d be better served to have the Globe play a stronger thought leader role in some of the Boston 2030 discussions, helping to plan Boston’s future, instead of bootstrapping the Olympics into something it wasn’t designed to be.

Shirley Leung is bright, energetic, engaged and, except for her overweening Olympics boosterism , frequently on target and a welcome addition to the paper.  The history of Olympics cost overruns (with a couple of exceptions) gives legitimate pause to any rational thinker interested in the well-being of the entire community and the need for long-term strategic planning.  The tail should not wag the dog.

We need a for fact-checking what’s being said about the Boston Olympics bid. Independent vetting of competing claims could go far to dialing back the venomous characterizations of pros and cons as self-serving fat cat elites versus two-year-olds having tantrums.

I welcome your comments in the section below.



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George Stephanopoulos should know better

George StephanopoulosMany bemoan the revolving door in government/media circles.  For a while you’re a politician; then you get a job as a lobbyist, retaining your politicians’ access; then you’re a candidate again.  One day you’re a journalist; the next you’re a communications director for a candidate or elected official; the next you’re a TV or radio analyst. Full disclosure: I was a journalist for close to 30 years and a consultant for the last 15 years. The door didn’t keep swinging.  Going back and forth blurs the lines and provides the basis for conflict of interest, or, at a minimum, the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Most journalists I know wouldn’t dream of contributing to a candidate they were covering or even that candidate’s pet interest.  It just doesn’t look right. And ABC’s George Stephanopoulos knows that.  I interviewed him when he worked on the 1988 Presidential campaign of Mike Dukakis, but years before he had cut his political teeth as chief of staff for Cleveland Congressman Ed Feighan. In 1992, he worked in Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign and became one of the fiercely loyal inner-circle members of the Clinton administration. At the beginning of the second term, he left and wrote a book (“All Too Human“) that was not especially flattering to the President.

While his post-Clinton media career has soared, and he is now chief anchor of ABC News, he apparently has spent the last four years making up to the Clintons and reestablishing his bona fides as a Clinton supporter.  He has donated at least $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation (admittedly a paltry amount compared to the gifts by foreign potentates) and has worked collaboratively with the Clinton Global Initiative, several times being a “featured attendee” and panel moderator at the Clintons’ annual meeting. He is identified on the Clinton Foundation website as a “notable” media member of the organization, a murky mix of good works charity,  cash cow for the Clinton family lifestyle and stalking horse for the Hillary Clinton candidacy. As a discussion on CNN’s Reliable Sources said of the Clinton Foundation, “it is sometimes hard to tell where the good works end and where the politics begin.” That’s putting it mildly.

Given that, it is appalling that so many media stars like Christiane Amanpour, Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakharia, Judy Woodruff, Matt Lauer, Anderson Cooper and even Tom Brokaw (don’t know if he became involved before or after his retirement) are also listed as media members.   All of this has been exposed by investigative journalist and former Bush speech writer Peter Schweizer, whom Stephanopoulos aggressively and one-sidedly interviewed on ABC after Schweizer’s book – Clinton Cash: The Untold Story Of How And Why Foreign Governments And Businesses Helped Make Bill And Hillary Rich – about the Clinton Foundation finances was recently published.

The blame game is two-sided. Schweizer himself is reported by the liberal MediaMatters to have close ties to moneyed interests behind Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, limiting any claim Schweizer could make of objectivity in reporting on the Clintons. (sometimes viewed as a shill for the Clintons) also points out more than 20 errors of fact in Schweizer’s reporting, a few of which he says will be addressed in the next edition. The fact remains, however, that Schweizer raised some legitimate concerns, which Stephanopoulos ignored in his interview.

Notwithstanding the flaws in Schweizer’s book,  the criticism of Stephanopoulos’ involvement with the Clintons still holds. And, Brian Williams-like, the anchor, who had apparently never told his bosses, has apologized to them and to the public on yesterday morning’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Can you imagine anyone who would stand for Stephanopoulos’ moderating a Presidential debate in 2016 as he did in the 2012 election? Or covering either national nominating convention? His integrity is a big question mark.

When Bill  (“I never had sexual relations with that woman”) Clinton on August 17, 1998 finally, after his grand jury testimony, admitted his inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky, he said, ” It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.”  Might not Stephanopoulos  say the same thing?  And might not the networks and other news outlets figure out a better way to set and enforce ethical standards for their employees to salvage whatever shreds of media credibility remain to be saved?

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Tom Brady’s punishment – Oh, nooooo

Tom BradyI long ago gave up my belief in the Easter bunny. (The rabbits who regularly destroy my garden took care of that.) Santa Claus is a relic of a decades-past childhood. But now, harsh reality demands that I can no longer cling to the idea of Tom Brady, man god. Mr. Perfect.  The National Football League, in handing down its severe punishment of an unprecedented  four-game suspension (will Brady even miss the $2 million cost of that?), $1 million fine for the Patriots, and loss of two draft picks has said that Tom Brady is worse than the wife beaters, drug users and thugs who populate the league.

This week, President Obama, chiding Senator Elizabeth Warren for her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Trade Pact, dismissed her as a politician like any other politician. How damning is that! So now we have to face the fact that the man who is arguably the best quarterback ever (at worse, second best) is just a football player like any other: a guy who will do whatever it takes to win. He’ll do it even if it means pushing and exceeding the limits of the rules envelope  – or look the other way as someone else (in this case, two equipment managers who have now lost their jobs.) As the NFL investigation concluded, it is “more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”

It’s all well and good to say that everyone does it, rubbing dirt on the ball for greater traction, scuffing up the leather. How many of the other teams routinely deflate or inflate the balls beyond allowable limits to suit their quarterbacks?  The Boston Globe has identified the Panthers, Vikings and Chargers as just a few of those who have been involved in equipment tampering. In such a world, what does constitute the much vaunted integrity of the game?  Well, as my parents told me, just because everyone does wrong doesn’t mean you should too.

But does the punishment fit the crime?  It’s appropriately less severe that that visited upon Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez and others guilty of doping, a far more nefarious way to cheat.  I have to think that, if owner Bob Kraft hadn’t demanded an apology from Commissioner Roger Goodell at the beginning of the brouhaha, and, if Patriots officials had seemed to cooperate more with the investigation, perhaps the punishment wouldn’t have been so severe. (According to CBS, Brady spent a day answering preliminary questions but refused to turn over his cell phone.  Some Brady messages on equipment man John Jastremski’s phone were accessible to investigators, but Brady messages to others – possibly to Kraft, Belichick, and his agent- were not.) Surely matters were made worse because the Patriots were not a first-time NFL rules offender.

Crisis communications 101 suggests a preferred route for the team to have taken. If, for example, Brady had been more forthcoming after the fact, if he had  early on owned up and apologized to the extent he was culpable, perhaps the issue would have been resolved without reaching the mess it is today. But he has been evasive in the, say, Belichick press conference style.  When my friend Mark Leibovich (NY times writer)  asked the quarterback whether he preferred hard balls or soft balls, Brady said, “Truthfully, the balls feel the same to me.” Oh, really?

Brady dodged interviewer Jim Gray’s questions at the recent Salem State University speaker series, saying (rather lamely) that he hadn’t had time to digest the report. That strains credulity. He said he’d be making a statement. When?

And where does the league go from here? NPR sports reporter Tom Goldman suggested letting every team do to its footballs whatever the quarterback wants.  According to that reasoning, allowing both sides that freedom eliminates the advantage for either.  CBS news anchor Bob Schieffer made a better suggestion: have the NFL provide all the balls, and have control of them throughout each game.

Even if the Patriots’ appeal of the sanctions results in a reduction of the punishment, it seems clear that the Pats’ stellar record will go down with a real or metaphorical asterisk in the record books.  Regrettably, Tom Brady’s brand has been tarnished as the sheen dulls on the golden boy’s reputation. It’s a sad day for 11 and 12-year olds, and for the kid in all of us.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Remembering my mother: a reprise

MimThree years ago, I wrote about my mother, Mim Myers, who died in 2006 at the age of 93.  She’s now been gone nine years, and the aching loss is felt no less today.  In fact, the meaning of things ephemeral becomes all the more acute with each passing year.  There are so many things I want her to know about, events that would have made her proud, my honorary doctorate (she’d have let every one of her friends know about that), my husband’s book project nearing completion, her first grandson’s graduation from high school and acceptance at Oberlin College, her other two grandsons’ bar mitzvah successes, her granddaughters’ artistic talents and love of martial arts, my sister’s and my closeness.

I would, of course, have shared the other family stuff too:  troubling medical diagnoses, the passing of friends. And she would have been there to commiserate, find the silver linings in the dark clouds, changing nothing but somehow making it all feel better.

She would have some humorous insights, flashes of wit, cutting asides for fools she wouldn’t suffer lightly, all laced with salty language.  The lilacs I have always placed on her grave on Mother’s Day aren’t even blooming yet due to the harsh winter.  She’d fully understand my spending the time getting annuals to plant in the garden rather than brave the traffic in the cemetery.  I’ll go, but when the lilacs have blossomed. For the fact is that, every time I put roses or tulips or lilacs in my kitchen, dining or living room, I am communing with my mother.  And there is rarely a day that I am without flowers – or the memory of her.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Combatting ISIS: Seth Moulton on strategy and tactics

Seth MoultonJust 119 days into his first term in Congress,  Salem’s Seth Moulton, who upset longtime incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary last fall, brought his distinct perspective to The New England Council for the first time.  He won, he said, by running to the center. And he’s off to a good start, deftly responding to a range of questions.

His mission in the House is to make centrism work, on both national and local issues. He approaches challenges facing the fishing industry in his district as finding a middle ground between fishermen’s need to survive and environmentalists’ concerns about sustainability.  Bringing fishermen and scientists together, he proposed limiting the catch of threatened cod, but expanding that of haddock and redfish, more plentiful in supply.  “A small step, but one in the right direction,” he said.

He started to reach across the aisle during the eight-day freshman orientation, inviting to dinner Republican Representative Steven Russell of Oklahoma,  like Moulton, a  veteran of combat in Iraq. Moulton, a decorated Marine, feels strongly that the House  needs more members with experience in the military.

Never have there been fewer ground combat veterans in Congress, he said, and their perspective is needed.  For example, the funding of the A-10 fighter jet is a “political football,” which even the Air Force acknowledges it doesn’t need.  Yet, based on his questioning of military brass testifying before Congress, there are probably 20 big-ticket items that politicians insist on funding that aren’t necessary. Other choices like (IED protection) are not adequately funded but would, in the view of those on the ground, make a big difference in the conduct of war.  It is noteworthy that the A-10 engine is manufactured by General Electric in Lynn, an important part of Moulton’s district, but he stands his ground in not wanting to fund it.

Moulton has already been on two fact-finding missions with the Armed Services Committee, one to Iraq and Afghanistan to learn more about ISIS. Military expert General John Allen, speaking to the Association of Opinion Journalists last week, feels the media have understated the inroads that have been made in ISIS military power. I asked Moulton about that.  “We are having some military successes, but we don’t have a long-term diplomatic and political strategy,” he said, adding his criticism of how we left our embassy in Baghdad undermanned,  and his concern that five years from now we’ll find ourselves back where we were at the height of our Iraq engagement. His concern about ISIS’ growing power is compounded by ISIS’ high level skills at social media.

Moulton co-authored a piece for TIME Magazine with that same Representative Russell, saying that ISIS is a real security threat but that the solution isn’t just US military training of indigenous forces.  The answer is figuring out solutions to the sectarianism of local government and building government institutions that people can trust.  He calls on the U.S. to support Jordanian King Abdullah’s efforts to convene an international conference to combat transnational terrorism.  As the two freshman Reps put it, “our strategy should dictate the breadth of our war authorization, not the other way around.”

Moulton was less impressive in his puzzling support of Boston 2024’s efforts to bring the Olympics here.  He appropriately bemoans the absence of comprehensive transportation policy nationally and regionally, but  his boosterism of the Rube Goldberg 2024 plan seems inconsistent with his belief in always putting comprehensive policy planning first. He wants the Boston Olympics proposal to be on an even larger scale than what’s now proposed, because he seems to feel  that  it’s the only way of ever getting a North/South rail connector built.  Thinking big is good, but it’s certainly not clear how the connector fits in with a non-transparent Olympic bid or some to-be-determined state transportation policy. (And what about all the other state transportation needs that will be twisted by the 2024 priorities?)  His position is  also at odds with proponents’ promises of limiting the outlay of public dollars.

I’ll forgive him his naivete on the Olympics for the time being.  Otherwise, Moulton is smart, self-deprecating in his humor,  and he impressed even some longtime supporters of John Tierney. More than a few predict big things in his future.  File under: politician worth watching.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Civic leadership through robust public dialogue and love of language

MAB at RegisAt the risk of sounding immodest, I want to share with readers how deeply moved I am to be receiving an honorary doctor of letters from Regis College, a dynamic and growing university in Weston, MA.  Last night I was privileged to deliver an address to the hundreds of students receiving master’s and doctoral degrees. Entitled, “Donning the mantle of civic leadership,”  the speech was an opportunity to urge graduates, even while working and raising families, to stay engaged in the news, remaining open to conflicting points of view and being willing to live with nuance and even contradiction.

While touching on First Amendment rights and responsibilities, I also talked about loving language and not relegating their ideas and convictions solely to the 140 characters of a tweet.  I link the speech here, and there will not be a pop quiz.

I am always moved by commencements because of the accomplishments they signal and because, at these moments, all things seem possible.  I am inspired by the energy and intellect of the younger generation, and reassured by its capacity to pick up where we left off and make things better.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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Time to rewind the state film tax credit

old cameraNew catering services. Sound engineering. Construction of sets. New sound stages. Trailers for sets. Porta-potties. All side businesses that claim to have prospered in Massachusetts ever since the state implemented a 25 percent tax credit on production costs and salaries plus a break on certain sales taxes to entice production companies to set up shop here.  Film production spending has increased nearly fourfold ($86 million to more than $315 million since 2006.)  Supporters of the film tax credit say that eliminating it could cost Massachusetts more than 10,000 direct jobs. And then, they add, there are the indirect jobs in restaurants, dry cleaning, florists and all the other sundries needed by people living on location for the duration of the production. But what has been the cost of having the tax credit? The different interpretations are mind-numbing and often misleading.

MassINC’s Commonwealth Magazine has covered the costs and benefits of the film tax credit since editor Bruce Mohl’s first piece in 2008. Relying heavily on state Revenue Department data, Mohl has charted how more than half the benefits go to out-of-state individuals. Than means subsidizing the enormous salaries of Hollywood stars. Other studies put just a third of the jobs as having gone to state residents.  The state’s Inspector General has called for an end to the credit, which, he said, has cost the state $411 million but has generated just $261 million in new spending. Industry figures compute the analysis differently: saying every dollar in credits led to $10 of additional spending in Massachusetts.

There’s no doubt that some gossip columnists (think Gayle Fee of The Track in the Boston Herald and Meredith Goldstein and Mark Shanahan of the Globe’s Names column) would have to dig deeper for its “celebrity” spottings.  But that is hardly enough reason to extend a sweetheart deal that isn’t delivering on its promise.

What’s really aggravating is that some film production companies actually sell their tax credits, and who’s buying them up? Banks and insurance companies wishing to reduce their tax liability.  This is crazy.

I’ve seen figures that each job allegedly spurred by the tax credit costs the state between $108,000 and $118,000. Governor Charlie Baker’s budget took aim at the film tax credit.  He wants to phase it out by 2017 and use the difference to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor. That makes sense.  Phasing it out would cushion the blow (if indeed there is one) for those small businesses that say they have benefited from the tax credit.

Somewhere between 35 and 40 states have similar tax incentive programs, and many of them are also having second thoughts. Some are scaling back. Deval Patrick tried to cap the outflow in credits to $40 million, but the Massachusetts House, in fealty to the Teamsters, would have none of that.

The state is having to pare away a budget deficit of around a billion dollars.  So any questionable expenditure, including tax credits like this one, should be grounds for reassessment. And consider this.  My husband and I spoke recently with an LA-based designer who has made several trips to Boston to work on major films.  It was his considered opinion that film makers who discovered the city since the implementation of the tax credits have really come to like it here.  Phasing out the credits, he mused, would probably not be as much of a deterrent to shooting here as some of the industry boosters and bean counters would have us think.

Changing it is worth a shot.

I welcome your comments in the section below.

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