Thursday, September 18, 2008

12 Minutes of Discreet Fame

Lord love a duck, as my mom used to exclaim. It's been three years since I Was a One-Minute Slut for the BBC. It's been two since I was on Worcester public-access TV and the same since we had the lieutenant-governor debate in Lowell. I just don't devote the energy to self-promotion. An artist friend and I commiserate from time to time on this shared failing.

Yesterday, the serving was an even thinner slice of the notoriety pie. I got an invite for 9/17 from News Director Chris Lovett of Neighborhood Network News (Comcast 9 and 24 and RCN 83, I think). He was hosting his weekday half hour, with 10 or so minute of that on the Chang-Díaz/Wilkerson primary race. There was a Wilkerson proponent and I represented an overt Chang-Díaz reporter/supporter.

The clip appears here.

At the studio, the BU staffers lamented in passing that the viewership was small for the cable show. After hearing the sharp questions, I have to agree that it deserves better. The show itself is professional, as you might expect from a daily news broadcast. Chris is low-key but charming, with almost a Southern graciousness we rarely see in Boston.

I accepted even after momentarily flashing back to being the sole non-right-winger at a Young Americans for Freedom conference at the University of South Carolina during the Vietnam War era. This show was the same in that my writings (then newspaper columns and now blog posts) caught the attention of some scheduling person. Bless Lovett's heart, he and his apparently BU student staff churn out a news show five days a week. I'm impressed.

The YAF scene ranged into the absurd. My debate was on the war. I was very much opposed and the other hundreds wanted victory and blood, in the auditorium if not in Saigon. They'd take either.

Yesterday, I complemented an unabashed Wilkerson apologist, Joyce Ferriabough. On that day and subject, she seemed angry, bitter and accusatory. Beyond the loss, she says she was the person responsible for getting Wilkerson to run the first time in 1992.

She kept running down Chang-Díaz and following up with comments about wanting to be fair to everyone. Huh? She ended up with a stream of hearsay about Sonia's campaign (most of the money was not local, but out of state; a single fund-raiser and contributor was responsible for her victory; their campaign workers were spreading dirty lies about the innocent Wilkerson; no one knows anything about Sonia [she's a blank slate]; and on and on).

Coalition building is huge, hard work.

The only other person who has been so disingenuous about Wilkerson is Wilkerson. The 12 minutes with Ferriabough made me wonder whether Wilkerson was surrounded with more self-deceiving sorts. If anyone tells you that a problem is someone else's fault, any internal pressure to fix it or prevent it next time disappears.

It's also a fascinating migration from Joyce's comment to the Dorchester Reporter near the end of last year. She said:
People need to go back to the drawing board and work on getting some candidates out there that can break some barriers and connect to people on a citywide basis. There are some people in the Hispanic community who have the potential to cross a lot of lines, and I think that needs to happen. Ditto with the black community.
One wrinkle though...that was about Boston City Council after Felix Arroyo lost his seat. I'm sure for some reason the same logic and dynamics shouldn't apply to Wilkerson's Senate seat. Or should it?

As a strategist, Ferriabough's forte is not solid honesty nor consistency. She's about getting people elected, about being an advocate, about promoting one over another, about framing and presentation. The same can be said for some bloggers. I certainly have endorsed Chang-Díaz twice and put forth reasons to vote for her over Wilkerson. I am not impartial either. I have to wonder how getting paid by a candidate for my opinions on a race would affect my electrons' spin.

Wilkerson and her strongest believers supporters have hada shock and are stuck in the early stages of grief — Shock or Disbelief, Denial, Bargaining, Guilt, Anger, Depression, Acceptance and Hope. It looks like the Guilt stage may remain transferred to others. They may run the rack of stages for the results, but the causes are on a whole separate table.

With all of Dianne's advantages and all the levers she pulled near the end, her loss is the more surprising. To pretend that Sonia's win is anything other than voter dissatisfaction sounds like denial to me.

While I have watched Wilkerson's work for years, I can believe that most of her constituents think she is a concerned, hard-working and effective senator. My evaluation includes that she falls into that large group of legislators who are only so-so working with others and building coalitions. Her comments at the Wards 11 and 19 forum included that bills that have wandered the General Court desert for years unenacted is that the House is totally to blame. Once the Senate tosses the bill over the wall, its members have done their work. I am sure in her heart of hearts, even Wilkerson knows better. Yet, that sentiment was distressing coming from a long-tenured lawmaker.

Coalition building is huge, hard work. It is the skill and hallmark of the rare leader. It is unusual enough that it is unfair to demand it of any given legislator. When it exists though, it is powerful and beautiful. It is what advances big ideas and creates movements that can carry us with them.

Ferriabough in our brief exchange sounds a lot like Wilkerson. There are some standard answers there and they almost all damn others. They both have a litany of externalities, including:
  • Some polling places moved before this primary (Wilkerson informed voters before, as did the state, and there had long been signs at the polling places old and new; moreover, she had vans and cars to shuttle people as needed; this is a smelly red herring)
  • Someone else in Dianne's hire should have made sure bills were paid, taxes were filed and state accounting was accurate and legit (the idea being that Dianne's writing checks to herself from her campaign funds was someone else's fault)
  • A single local donor (Barbara Lee) was the major reason Chang-Díaz had so much cash (the allegation includes that this was really from outsiders, out-of-staters who for some reason had targeted the innocent Wilkerson)
  • A dirty tricks calumny campaign swayed some voters (the criticisms were the things Wilkerson was found guilty of by a judge or in a plea bargain)
I, instead, am a sincere man from the land of the maple trees. I figure morality had everything to do with it. Wilkerson had the advantages of incumbency, a huge list of political, union and organizational endorsements, incumbency, a large political organization and even robo-calls from the governor and Boston's mayor.

Wilkerson put it all out, raised every shield, fired every arrow and still lost by a small margin. We simple minded types continue to suspect that morality had a great deal to do with the outcome.

We can't know that if she had won whether she'd consider it vindication and license to keep on doing what has gotten her into so much trouble so often. I do suspect that even knowing that the commonwealth will pore over her next campaign finance filings as part of her plea bargain, those reports should be well worth examining.

Dianne's only shortcoming was in working too hard, we hear. That is, according to Ferriabough, she did too much herself. Someone else should have made sure she hired people to make sure that this that or the other happened. Oh, if only she had had better help. Lackaday, the problem was that she didn't delegate.

While voter after voter for Sonia said the string of convictions, sentences, suspended law license, house arrest, violation of house arrest, unfiled taxes, bounced checks, unjustified expenses billed to the campaign account and such determined their votes, it truly was other factors, according to Ferriabough. "The question of morality...didn't figure into it," she said.

In fact, Ferriabough reserved her strongest condemnation in her list of hearsay accusations against the Chang-Díaz for unfair accusations, saying things are what they aren't, as she put it. She alleges that there was name-calling, but only by the other side. The names included convicted felon, income-tax evader, criminal and such. Assuming that her unsupported accusations were 100% accurate, where the devil (was it from the Devil?) could they get such absurd ideas? The brutal unfairness and inaccuracy are shocking!

I let that chant go on the news show. Not only was it hearsay, but anyone who is not an apologist for Wilkerson would raise both eyebrows and wonder whether Ferriabough was kidding. She wasn't.

Ferriabough's twists on Chang-Díaz seem well practiced and I suspect we'll hear them again from the Wilkerson camp. Consider primarily that Sonia "is a blank slate" that "no one knows anything about her." The fact is that she has been presenting and fine-tuning her message for three years. In truth, in 2006, the Chang-Díaz platform was weak on specifics in places, but the denigration of her being unknown and insubstantial is groundless. It is applicable only to those who not listened or read the papers or attended small or large meetings or fora since early 2006.

Ferreirabough also liked to run down Chang-Díaz by casting her as an echo of Barack Obama' messages. She said Sonia "rode change" because she figured it would "resonate." Díaz' use of "change" became "kind of a mantra." That's certainly a lot easier for Wilkerson's camp to accept than saying she was the reformer and Dianne was the one who needed reform.

The strategist and quite possibly Wilkerson refused to accept that Chang-Díaz presented fully formed ideas and platform planks. Yet, it seems most voters knew better.

On top of it all, word today is that Wilkerson's camp may grasp at every possibility of denial. We'll know by Monday whether they want a recount and have gathered 50 sigs in each ward to do so. Experience shows that this almost always nudges up the winner's total slightly. There's even talk they are considering a write-in or sticker protest campaign for November, which is a certain loss and further diminution of Wilkerson's brand. (Another of my mother's expressions was an entreaty — let me age gracefully!)

Overall, this 12 minutes was fun, like playful arm wrestling during high-school lunch. Lovett maintained a good pace and I suspect that if either of us had lagged, he would have goaded us or switched among speakers. His questions were also pointed and catalytic, but not domineering. He's a pro. I'll be watching more of his shows.

As we all imagine we have a novel in us, undoubtedly each us has short news segments we can fill. Of course, the poor Chris Lovetts of the cable world would have to become aware of, identify, locate and match us without areas of opinion and expertise.

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theszak said...

Where is there a biography of Chris Lovett?...

Or please post biographical background for the journalist.

massmarrier said...

I don't have a detailed bio. He's been at BNN and NNN a long time. He's a news pro.