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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Educatin' Deval

Let's start with a few stipulations: The Ameriquest call was stupid. The Cadillac was bad symbolism. The drapes were a bogus issue.

But the lesson a viewer should draw from NECN's fine documentary, The Education of Deval Patrick, is that the governor's biggest "mistake"was to try to change the culture of Beacon Hill. And one of the biggest groups to resists change is the Statehouse press crops.

I've admitted to being a recovering political reporter and my primary turf was the corridors covered in that documentary. What qualifies as news under the Golden Dome may not match what qualifies as news to the rest of the world. It focuses on people, rivalries and the staple of political journalism -- the gaffe.

Patrick sure made his fair share of those. But as Alison King's report shows he did much more than that. He talked budget line items with staff; he familiarized himself with the details for a $26 billion organization that he was chosen to lead -- and whose deepest secrets were hidden from him until the early days of January.

And he left The Building. For Fall River. Northampton. Pittsfield. Medford.

Unless things have changed drastically since my time, that may have been the biggest mistake of all. Statehouse reporters covers The Building. Leaving it for The World is not something that comes easily. We expected the news to be made under our noses.

And when it wasn't, when the governor was out of The Building, we were left to dig for scraps. Like Cadillacs.

Deval Patrick did not make the care and feeding of the Statehouse press a priority. In fact, he tossed out a challenge when he addressed the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and told the media to "put its cynicism aside."

Big mistake. The Statehouse press corps does cynicism. And it doesn't do Fall River.

So when Patrick stepped outside his bubble of the Golden Dome -- frequently by King's portrayal -- the only reporters to be found were from the local papers and radio stations. They don't possess the same cynicism -- and they don't do Boston (although they may dream about it.)

As the documentary clearly shows, things got better when Patrick started to surround himself with people who knew these facts of life -- Joe Landolfi and David Morales and Doug Rubin.

A look at Patrick's schedule today still shows plenty of activity (and a lot of it outside The Building). In fact, that's a fact worth noting in itself. Patrick makes his daily schedule available, something Mitt Romney couldn't be bothered with -- probably because most of it focused way too far out of The Building and Massachusetts.

Yes, in an ideal world Patrick would have cleaned house of Romney-Swift-Cellucci-Weld holdovers in the first days, not the fifth month. And he would have avoided some tempests in a teapot over the departures of Harry Spence, Gerald Morrissey and Elmer Bartels.

I've often said I got into the business because I loved politics. Covering policy was the price I paid for the right to cover it. Over time, the love interested shifted (and political coverage descended to the gutter, then the sewer and is heading straight to the netherworld.).

I suspect Patrick sees politics as the necessary evil to do policy. The press corps still has my old view. Patrick was looking ahead four years. The press looks ahead four hours. The clash was inevitable.

Kudos to NECN for taking the time to do what the media often fail to do: put things into context.

But Deval, a word to the wise: Buckle up!

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Blogger Ryan Adams said...

Great post. I watched that documentary last night too - and thought it was pretty fair. Yes, it covered a lot of his early mistakes more than his big achievements, but it sort of recognized they were largely phony stories too.

The best thing it did, in my opinion, is showed a real side of Deval Patrick that not many people get to see. He was himself in a lot of those interviews - and the real Deval is someone I think almost anyone would admire and respect. He's a wonk who's spent time learning all the ins and outs of this state's entire budget - something I highly doubt Mr. Romney ever did. He's someone who would prefer to meet with Joe Schmoe than either top Globe reporters or some sort of dignitary. Furthermore, he genuinely likes the job so far, which is far more than previous governors in Massachusetts could say. I loved the part of the documentary where he signed his first law - he thought it was cool. It was cool. I'm glad he's taking it all in.

June 01, 2007 10:58 AM  

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