Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sentinel and Enterprise blows it on Deval

The Sentinel and Enterprise had an opportunity to lead the way in covering the Deval Patrick-Ben LaGuer controversy, and they fumbled their chance away. Worse than that, their editor embarrassed himself and his paper with a cliched, poorly written and improperly placed column Sunday which belied the paper's failure to cover the story with the fairness and effort it deserved.

Let's start at the end. After failing to add anything substantial to the Patrick-LaGuer story in the ten days since Leominster mayor Dean Mazzarella spoon-fed the story to the Sentinel, editor Jeff McMenemy penned a column Sunday titled "Deval Patrick just doesn't get it." Rather than bringing anything resembling an original thought to the page, McMenemy essentially reprinted the scripts of Kerry Healey's campaign commercials:

Patrick again defended his actions on behalf of the convicted killer [Carl Ray Songer] and again said he was "proud," of his work on the killer's behalf.

"The issue in this case was whether the appropriate punishment was death or life in prison," the Patrick campaign said in an e-mail sent out. The federal appeals court agreed with (Patrick) that the death sentence violated the Constitution of the United States."

I'm not a lawyer, like Patrick, but I spent 10 years covering courts and crime in three states -- I've probably seen the inside of more criminal courthouses than Patrick ever has or ever will -- yet I don't understand how this poor cop killer's Constitutional rights were violated by giving him the death penalty.

To me, putting a convicted killer to death seems like not only the fair thing to do, but the right thing to do....

He'll also likely raise your taxes, increase the already bloated state bureaucracy, give in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants and fight against charter schools.

The smug McMenemy, veteran of a decade of taking notes from the courtroom gallery ought to take better notes. I'm not sure how he doesn't "understand how this poor cop killer's Constitutional rights were violated by giving him the death penalty" after writing a sentence previous that "the federal appeals court agreed with (Patrick) that the death sentence violated the Constitution of the United States."

Actually, I am sure. It's because the entire thing is a recitation of the stuff we've been seeing in TV ads and hearing on talk radio for two weeks. McMenemy is nothing more than a lazy parrot, devoid of anything original. At least some of Patrick's critics can articulate a rationale to vote against him that doesn't devolve into a series of tired talking points. The editor of the Sentinel is not one of them.

But as tired as McMenemy's piece was, he compounded the issue by posting the piece in the news section of the online Sentinel and Enterprise. As much as I disagree with McMenemy, he certainly can fill his weekly column with whatever tripe he sees fit. But a scrupulous editor would keep it in the opinion section where it belongs. A hack would disguise it as "news." Perhaps if McMenemy had studied journalism more closely than he studied constitutional law, he'd have a better handle on the difference between news and opinion.

Not that this is the only example of the Sentinel screwing up this story. In fact, the Sentinel has been two steps behind the story every step of the way, despite being in a position to lead the coverage.

Near the end of last month, Mayor Mazzarella decided it was time to step into the spotlight and advance his name recognition, profile, and the candidacy of the Lt. Governor he had supported in 2002. So he dropped a dime on the Sentinel and the Telegram & Gazette and started the ball rolling on the story that has dominated state politics for the better part of the last two weeks.

The Sentinel was on the story first, yet despite being the paper of record in the city where LaGuer raped his neighbor, they did not follow up. They printed the original story on September 28, followed that with an article the next day chronicling Patrick's response, and then nothing for nearly a week, until running a story on October 5 which was basically an interview with Kerry Healey and a recitation of the case. In the meantime, the Boston Globe was doing the legwork to find the extent of Patrick's involvement in the case.

While I realize the Globe has infinitely more resources than the Sentinel, the local paper had the advantages of being local: they knew the players, the community, and the history behind the case. The paper did not use any of those advantages, instead waiting for someone to break the rest of the story before reacting. For instance, the October 5 article basically is a rehash of the Globe stories of the day before. "Healey's statements came on the day the Boston Globe reported that Patrick wrote letters between 1998 and 2000 to the state parole board, asking that LaGuer be released," wrote reporter J.J. Huggins.

Huggins also adds "
Patrick's letters to the parole board, which the Sentinel & Enterprise obtained Wednesday, show Patrick supported LaGuer as recently as six years ago, not 10 years ago like he told reporters in a statement last week." Well, I "obtained" those letters Wednesday as well, along with anyone who looked them up on the Globe's Web site.

The next day, the Sentinel finally added a little local flavor, but it had nothing to do with adding to the story narrative, but instead consisted of "man on the street" interviews and reactions from local Democrats.

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