Communications & Media

Scott Brown's Journalist Wife: A Conflict of Interest?

By Adam Reilly   |   Tuesday, June 19, 2012
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June 20, 2012

BOSTON — When it comes to journalists getting involved in politics most news organizations err on the side of caution, telling staff to keep their sympathies quiet. But when reporter Gail Huff asked permission to star in a pair of new ads for her husband, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, Washington’s WJLA-TV said … go right ahead.

Huff may be a bit biased when it comes to Brown — she is his wife, after all. In several new campaign ads the longtime television reporter praises Brown as a model husband and fantastic father, saying in one, "If the kids had a problem they didn’t call me — they called Dad."

Huff’s praise could help Brown fend off Democrat Elizabeth Warren. But whether Huff should be a campaign surrogate at all is debatable. During Brown’s last campaign, Huff was at Boston’s WCVB. She didn’t campaign for her husband or even appear with him until election night.

After that race, she said, "What was hard was not to be able to be out there in public support — to say that this is my husband, I love him, I support him."

Now she’s making her support very public. And her current employer doesn’t mind. A spokeswoman for WJLA told Beat the Press, “We discussed it with Gail and we decided it was okay — she’s not a political reporter.”

But sometimes Huff’s general-assignment work does touch on political topics, such as the Occupy movement. In an April 5 story on police attempts to move protesters out of a park, she said, "All you have to do is look at the ground to see the problem. … We still have many tents here. They’ll have to go."

For the record, that’s the same Occupy movement that’s been praised by Warren and panned by Brown — proof Huff may need to do more to keep politics and her career separate. 

The panel discusses the question on Beat the Press.

Brown Takes Warren 'Heritage' Issue National

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Thursday, June 14, 2012
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June 15, 2012

BOSTON — Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown is stepping up personal attacks on his Democratic opponent. After leaving the issue mostly to surrogates, he appeared on national television twice the week of June 11 questioning Elizabeth Warren's claims of Native American ancestry.

On Fox & Friends on June 14, Brown said Warren has a credibility problem.

"When you’re running for elective office, especially high elective office, you have to pass a test. And the test is about truthfulness and credibility and honesty. And quite frankly she failed that test as evidenced by her claiming to be Native American and her checking the box and making misrepresentations to not only Harvard but Penn,” he said.

He said the same thing on CBS Network News on June 11.

Warren defended herself on MSNBC, asserting that she does have Native American heritage but she never used it to get a job or a raise.

“This is how I grew up, this is my family. I’m not backing off from my family. It became clear I didn’t get anything for law school applications or from college or for any of the jobs that I was hired for," she said.

Warren has gone through a slow wringer over whether she inappropriately identified herself as Native American in order to advance her academic career. And while a Suffolk University poll in May showed a majority of voters don't care about her heritage, some party leaders have expressed concern that Warren's handling of the situation shows the dangers of putting such an inexperienced campaigner in a high-profile race. 

For months, Brown's campaign staff has been calling reporters and bombarding them with press releases pushing the Native American story line. But the week of June 11 marks the first time he took the attacks national in network television interviews. 
So far, Brown hasn't run any attack ads about Warren's heritage. And an agreement he signed with Warren back earlier this year bans third-party PACs from doing the dirty work for him.?. But as the campaign gets more competitive in the following months, Brown might have to go even more on the offensive.

From the Archives — the Boston Strangler

Wednesday, June 6, 2012
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June 6, 2012
Greater Boston has partnered with the Boston Globe to bring you a weekly feature called "From the Archives." Each Wednesday on Greater Boston, we will show one to two photos from the newspaper's archives. This weekly feature offers a glimpse into Boston's past.
On June 6, we get a sneak peek of … the Boston Strangler. 

boston strangler

Courtesy of the Boston Globe. Click to see a larger photo.

Critic Wesley Morris on His Pulitzer Win

By WGBH News   |   Thursday, April 19, 2012
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April 19, 2012

BOSTON — This week, Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris, 36, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for criticism for his reviews of gems, garbage and everything in between. The Pulitzer panel said Morris' work was “smart, inventive and distinguished." 

Two days after the official announcement, he was still happily stunned.
"It feels amazing but it hasn't quite sunken in — whatever it means, whatever it's supposed to mean, hasn't quite sunken in yet," he said.
That's even though he had an extra weekend to process: Globe editor Marty Baron called with the news on Friday, April 13. "[I] had to sit on it all weekend. I called my mother."
After a weekend of silence, Morris entered the newsroom Monday to acclaim. "Our copy desk, they knew and they applauded." He was determined to stay composed. But when the copy desk, the world's harshest critics, are happy for you … well. "Those are my favorite guys, they're the best, they have saved my life a number of times," Morris said, "— and I just started to cry."
Also proud: Morris' middle school social studies teacher, who emailed with congratulations. He assigned the tween his first movie review: "April Morning," a made-for-TV historical drama starring Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, Chad Lowe and Meredith Salenger.
Young Morris came to a verdict, and argued his point in print: "It was really boring." The teacher liked the review and encouraged him to continue.
"I'm going to write him back and tell him he's responsible for this," Morris said.  

> > READ: Morris' review of "The Help" (pdf)

Populism in the Mass. Senate Race

By Adam Reilly   |   Tuesday, April 17, 2012
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April 17, 2012

elizabeth warren fenway

This candidate's for you? Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren is fighting to portray herself as the populist choice. (Facebook)

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate race is becoming an all-out war over which candidate is out of touch.
When Republican Sen. Scott Brown mentions his likely Democrat opponent Elizabeth Warren, he refers to her as “professor” — a reminder that she teaches at Harvard and lives in Cambridge. It’s just one more example of Brown’s push to cast himself as an affable Everyman next to Warren’s out-of-touch elitist.
But unlike Martha Coakley, who lost to Brown in 2010, Warren seems unwilling to let Brown claim that mantle all for himself.
Brown recently panned Warren’s supporters as “Washington insiders, celebrities, elites, occupiers and leftists.” That charge made Warren bristle. "You know, I think Scott Brown should stop the name-calling," she said. "I’m very proud of everyone who’s become part of this campaign. There are people all across this commonwealth."
However, Warren also recognizes that Brown’s rhetoric is potent — and that she needs to fight back. Last week she made sure to hit Fenway’s 100th anniversary season home opener with her husband Bruce Mann — and to document their outing on Facebook.
Brown has played the Fenway card too, lauding the park in a recent radio ad: "Remember what Fenway looked like the first time you walked into the ballpark? There was that emerald-green grass, the white chalk lines perfectly laid out, and that giant green wall out in left field…."

The Massachusetts Democratic Party pounced on that radio ad, noting that Brown once urged the Sox to move to Foxborough.
If state Dems have Warren’s back, the Boston Herald has Brown’s. Recently the paper gave Brown’s visit to a local brewery an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
"This is him, I think, trying to show that he’s a regular guy, that voters in Massachusetts can approach him, that he’s a guy you want to get to know," reporter Hilary Chabot said in a Herald video.

Now the Brown campaign has offered voters a chance to win a very blue-collar day with the candidate: lunch at Kelly’s Roast Beef, bowling and a beer.

For her part, Warren is insisting that voters want more than cultural populism. "I think people will be affected by reality. Families are struggling. There are people across this Commonwealth who are working hard just to keep it together," she said.
Still, when Warren gets demonstrably down to earth — whether it’s visiting Fenway or making her own stop at Kelly’s — she’ll make sure to let us know. 

Mike Wallace and the Early Days of TV News

By Ted Canova   |   Wednesday, April 11, 2012
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April 12, 2012

BOSTON — For most of us, "60 Minutes" was appointment television in a time before 700 channels, Tivo and endless reruns. When news reached me of Mike Wallace's death, it took me back to the days when you actually had to get up to change the channel. It also took me back to the night I appeared in a "60 Minutes" story, ever so briefly.
Wallace was a merciless interviewer. On Sundays we'd see him confront a newsmaker. On Mondays, we'd all talk about it. But for all the ambushes, the pointed follow-up questions and the celebrity interviews, Wallace was a big believer and a strong advocate for making you, the news consumer, more responsible.
His death led us into the WGBH Vault, a climate-controlled room where thousands of archives are carefully stored. It is here where our team found a 1970 seminar at MIT in Cambridge. The topic centered on television news, which was still in its infancy. So the audience was suspect and ready to take on Wallace as if he were the spokesman for the entire industry.

Mike Wallace at MIT

"Catering" to short-term sensation      

"Do you really think that in fact the profit motive of exactly appealing to your audience isn't accelerating, isn't teaching people to have a shorter time span, and to want more sensational things?" one attendee said. "Aren't you really reversing all the things that people learn from kindergarten to 12th grade about how to really appreciate complex issues by your catering to the sensational short-term, let's-do-this-and-move-on-to-another-thing type news broadcast?"
Wallace said television news was "getting better" but admitted, "We err sometimes, still."
At the time, the country was in the middle of the Vietnam War and college campuses were the focal point of anti-war rallies against President Richard Nixon and Vice President Agnew. Television news was getting battered from both sides, as Wallace noted, referencing a disparaging comment recently made by the vice president.
"I could hardly believe I would have to come to Cambridge to find so many allies of Spiro Agnew," Wallace retorted. "In three separate seminars today, it's become painfully obvious to me that the MIT community looks askance at television news just about as much as Agnew does, although for different reasons."
Wallace responds to the critique
Long before personal computers, cellphones and "apps," Wallace knew the audience's attention span was pivotal.
"If we in broadcasting fail at the mass communication of complicated issues, and I think we should plead guilty, we fail because first of all, the attention span of our viewers is probably minute," Wallace said. "If we delve too deeply, or linger too long on something difficult, we lose our audience — the ratings prove it. Second …  there is almost no chance to savor and test an idea before another proposition has replaced it on the tube. And finally the average viewer or listener finds so many issues so overwhelmingly complicated to begin with that he despairs of understanding them anyway and says to hell with it and settles for a movie or a paperback whodunit or an episode of 'Mission Impossible.'"
But the audience isn't off the hook
In the WGBH Archives, I'm struck by the give-and-take, Wallace's comments and audience laughter, and think of a simpler time in journalism. But whether it was 1970 or throughout his career, Wallace always believed that you, the audience, held a powerful responsibility.
"We can sketch the outlines of the story. We can convey its feel. We can get the citizen involved, whet his interest, make him want to know more," he said. But for the complications and intricacies, the viewer would have to go deeper, "to the newspapers and journals, to the magazines and books, to public conversations and to private thinking — and in the final analysis, of course, that’s where he must go: to himself."
Wallace added, "It's hard work to learn about complicated issues. It is easier to pin the tail on the mass media for failing to keep us informed than to suggest that we ourselves lack the discipline to inform ourselves." 
Which gets me back to my flash frame on a "60 Minutes" broadcast — when Wallace became interested in a situation that followed when my television station delved into complicated issues on the air.
Judging journalism
In 1996, after a year's worth of work by top-notch, respected journalists, my station aired an investigative series on Northwest Airlines detailing safety issues, sizable fines and a culture that prevented employees from coming forward. We also had whistleblowers (something that, coincidentally, Wallace would come to know in his controversial story on big tobacco).
To this day, I believe Northwest knew the story would hold up in court. So instead of staging a legal battle, the airline filed a grievance with a public watchdog group called the Minnesota News Council. Its criticism of our investigation was lengthy; our defense was equally thorough. The result was a very public airing of journalism standards, tactics and techniques in newsgathering. We didn't stand a chance.
Over the years, I had testified before the council and defended news stories. But this case was different. Wallace was advocating for a national news council, where aggrieved subjects could take their case before a similar group. So when Northwest filed a complaint, Wallace came to town and "60 Minutes" covered it. Sunday night. Appointment TV.
A Wallace effect?
There was plenty of intrigue before and after the council ruled against the story. Did the glare of "60 Minutes" impact the council's decision? Was my station being held to a higher standard? How would Wallace's own, famously aggressive newsgathering tactics hold up in front of an ad hoc panel of former newspaper people and community members? Not well, I bet. 
When the council ruled, there was celebration at the airline and a chilling effect in our newsroom. We realized that a news story could win in the courtroom but lose in the court of public opinion. The next night, my station won an Emmy for the Northwest investigation.
In subsequent years, instead of ignoring News Council complaints as my competitors did, I returned to the lion's den to defend more stories — none of which, I believe, we won. But it was important to face this "jury" even if its decisions seemed off the mark. The News Council disbanded in 2011 after 41 years.
Mike Wallace's passing could be the end of a conversation about journalism standards and the public's role. Or it could be a fresh start.
I'd like to know what you think. Tell me in the comments or email your thoughts to

Ted Canova is the executive editor for news at WGBH Radio.

About the Authors
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 


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