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Which paper do you read? Elizabeth Warren either “cool” to debating Scott Brown or “eager” to debate

Posted by Mark Leccese  June 4, 2012 03:12 PM

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Here are the headlines, on the same news item, from this morning’s Boston dailies.


Care to guess which headline came from which paper? Nah, never mind. Too easy. If you know anything about the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe, you know the answer.

Let’s look at the evidence in each story that lead the headline writers to described Elizabeth Warren as “cool” or “eager” to debate Scott Brown.

The Herald story leads with Scott Brown issuing a challenge, on Dan Rea’s WBZ-AM talk show, for “three of four” debates, including one on WBZ-AM. Herald reporter Chris Cassidy writes that Warren “said she’s not ready to commit to specifics yet.”

Keep reading the Herald story, and you find out what precisely Warren said.

Warren wouldn’t commit to the WBZ debate yesterday or to a specific number, but said she’s ready to square off.

“Hey, I’m glad he’s accepting the challenge for a debate,” said Warren, greeting locals at the Dorchester Day Parade about 50 yards away from Brown. “I am delighted to get out there and do some debates. We’ve got a lot of invitations, and we’ll get them sorted out with his campaign, and I think that’ll be great. We’ll have something set up.”

I would not call that “cool.” I would call it, as does the reporter, “ready.” The Herald reporter and editors faced a challenge they face with every story about this Senate race: How to present Elizabeth Warren in the worst possible light and Scott Brown in the best. They met the challange.

This morning’s Globe story, with no byline, credits Elizabeth Warren for being the first to call for debates.

Brown’s challenge may have been prompted by Warren, who, in comments following her [state Democratic convention] win on Saturday, told reporters: “I’d love to see some debates with Scott Brown. Let’s get started on this. I’m ready.’’

Sixth paragraph:

In a statement Sunday, Warren said, “I am glad Scott Brown has accepted my challenge to debate. My campaign has received a number of requests from all over the Commonwealth, and we will be reaching out to the Brown campaign to discuss debates.”

Those statements could fairly describe Elizabeth Warren as “eager.” A better word, I think, would be the one Warren herself used: “ready.”

And the Herald, in story of only seven paragraphs, squeezed in its by now obligatory shot at Warren over her claims of Native American ancestry, even though it had nothing to do with the topic of the story.

Brown renewed his call for Warren to answer lingering questions about her claims of minority status, saying, “It’s very clear that she’s obviously not Native American.”

Warren, upbeat after her historic 96 percent nomination at the state Democratic Party Convention on Saturday, accused Brown of trying to use her as-yet unsupported heritage claims to distract voters: “I think that Scott Brown would rather talk about anything other than how he’s been voting in Washington.”

Right. We get it.

A week ago, the Herald ran a story headlined “Elizabeth Warren stays mum on heritage, affirmative action” that was entirely news-free.

A day after closing doors on a Herald reporter’s questions, Elizabeth Warren and her campaign yesterday declined to answer questions about her purported Native American heritage and whether she supports affirmative action, instead issuing the same statement they have released whenever questioned about her minority claims.

Well, yes, that is what campaigns do when asked the same question over and over again: issue the same statement over and over again. The only thing new here is that the reporter made a phone call — read that lead again, and you’ll see the story is not about Warren but about the reporter.

The Washington, DC-based website Politico had taken notice the day before of the, um, differing ways the Herald and Globe have been covering the Senate campaign and wrote a piece headlined “Scott Brown-Elizabeth Warren Senate race: Boston dailies duke it out.” It contains about what you would expect: Republicans accusing the Globe of anti-Brown bias on thin evidence (this is not an anti-Brown story, nor is this) and Democrats fuming at the Herald’s taunting of Warren in its news pages.

(Quick aside here. I do not work for the Boston Globe, I am not paid by the Boston Globe, and no Globe editors edit this blog before or after it is posted.)

Taunting Democrats is what the Herald needs to do to survive as a business. It has found its niche: talk radio in print.

The Herald’s guiding principle for its political coverage was expressed succinctly by Herald columnist Howie Carr in a May GQ profile of Eric Fehrnstrom, one of Mitt Romney’s top advisors and a former Herald political reporter.

Before he went into politics, Fehrnstrom was a reporter himself — and a notorious one at that. He worked for the Boston Herald — the tabloid rival to the more staid Boston Globe — which prided itself on its feisty, muckraking metro coverage. As a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper, the Herald’s political mission was simple: Make life miserable for Massachusetts Democrats.

“The Herald was like the schoolyard bully,” Howie Carr, the legendary Boston brawler who was the paper’s top columnist and animating spirit, told me. “We were all about finding people and kicking them when they were down. And then we’d laugh about it.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Follow @mleccese on Twitter.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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