Tom Rettig / Worcester Telegram & Gazette
On Saturday morning, Scott Brown joined his Senate colleague, John Kerry, as well as Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray in Auburn for the funeral of an Air Force officer killed by a rampaging gunman in Afghanistan.
In so doing, the officeholders conferred the weight and stature of their respective offices on the event, signaling to the public in deed if not in word that this was a moment worthy of pause amid the motion of daily life.
It’s because of the esteem the public holds for such high office that people also stopped and listened last week when Brown went on television and weighed in on the debate about whether to release photos showing Osama bin Laden after he had been shot to death by US troops in Pakistan.
Brown, drawing on his stature as not only a US senator but also a three-decade member of the Massachusetts National Guard, argued they should be withheld, especially if they were to be released not to rebut conspiracy theories or help bring a sense of conclusion to relatives of the 9/11 victims, but to “sell newspapers.”
He told NECN: “Let me assure you that he is dead, that bin Laden is dead. I have seen the photos and, in fact, we’ve received the briefings and we’ll continue to get the briefings.’’
Brown similarly told WFXT-TV (Channel 25): “Listen, I’ve seen the picture. He’s definitely dead. And if there’s any conspiracy theories out there, you should put them to rest.’’
Hours later, Brown backtracked, admitting he had been deceived. It turned out he had not seen the death photos that were being closely held by the White House, but a fake that had been whizzing across the Internet.
‘‘The photo that I saw and that a lot of other people saw is not authentic,’’ the senator said in a one-sentence mea culpa.
The turnabout prompted the Massachusetts Democratic Party to issue a statement challenging Brown to explain who gave him the photo and why he felt it was sufficiently legitimate to speak about in his interviews.
Amid the partisan sniping, one comment had a factual ring: “Senator Brown needs to understand that his words matter, and his assertions are taken at face value because of his position."
Yet that may not have been the most jarring element of the whole episode. Rather, it may have been Brown’s departure from the everyman’s stature that helped propel him to the US Senate not even 18 months ago.
It was an aura he nurtured during a truncated special election campaign with his commonsensical talk about political issues and symbols such as his barn coat and pickup truck.
Brown wasn’t a state senator. You couldn’t even decipher he was a Republican if you looked at much of his campaign literature. He was “Scott from Wrentham,” seeking not Ted Kennedy’s seat, but “the people’s seat.”
The pitch was especially potent as he ran against a prototypical politician, Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had risen steadily through the establishment ranks and was prepared to carry on the state’s liberal Democratic political tradition.
Yet last week, Brown took on a politician’s air, declaring he was special, among the small group who had seen the most secret photos in the world. Because he was in such elite company, he suggested, he brought special insight to the conversation.
On one level, that’s the expectation: The nation created 100 senators so they could represent the other 308 million people in the country in matters of national debate and foreign policy. In that sense, it’s entirely appropriate for Brown to have been among a select few to see what others could not.
But his subsequent admission that he was duped, on top of reports that that the bin Laden photos had not been shown at any of the official briefings the senator said he received, made it appear that Brown had offered something akin to a barroom boast, bragging rather than informing.
The senator subsequently refused to explain how he had been misled, limiting his comment to the one-sentence statement acknowledging he had been duped.
That’s not to say Brown was rendered mute on the subject.
The senator ended up speaking about bin Laden’s killing, and its impact on the war in Afghanistan, when he delivered the Republican Party’s weekly radio address on Saturday.
One aide said Brown didn’t seek the opportunity but responded to a request that he represent the GOP in the national forum.
“The troop surge of last year has made a difference in Afghanistan, and we can’t surrender those gains to what’s left of the Taliban,” said Brown. “We must ensure that Afghanistan does not once again become a sanctuary for terrorists.
In case anyone missed the senator’s message on that topic, his press shop sent out a recap hours after he left the funeral for Major David L. Brodeur, who died as part of the conflict in Afghanistan. The meat of it wasn’t one sentence but six paragraphs.
“Highlights Of Scott Brown Delivering Weekly Republican Address,” was the headline.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.