Deval Patrick, the nation’s only African American governor, made a predictable trip down legacy lane during the National Association of Black Journalists’ recent convention in Boston.
Patrick celebrated how his administration regained jobs lost in the Great Recession; made significant progress in student achievement; helped stimulate the state’s energy sector; and achieved the highest bond rating in the state’s history. His remarks were generally well-received by people who know better than to get excited about a politician’s applause lines.
However, the Massachusetts journalists in the room noticed a distinct shift in the governor’s approach. The remarks, as NECN’s Alison King noted, sounded suspiciously “like a stump speech.”
Patrick boiled down his political essence to few succinct sound bites: “a liberal Democrat from a reliably blue state,” “a black man elected governor twice” in a state where African Americans are a tiny minority, and, most importantly, “a capitalist,” an important descriptor in the current political climate. Republican political consultant Patrick Griffin toldKing that he thought Patrick was “message testing.”
Patrick, who has made no secret of his impatience with the news media during his eight years in office also had a very specific message for the assembled reporters and other media professionals. Those comments offered up a revealing glimpse of his evolution in his views on journalists:
“This job, as I experienced, is a funny blend of substance and performance art,” he said, “but your job might be even harder, especially if you’re a political reporter, because you have to report on the drama and the substance without confusing the two. We need you to get that right. A functioning democracy needs a well-informed public. And that public needs to be versed in the substance of the politics and not just be entertained by the drama of it.”
Asked after his NABJ address to elaborate on Bay State media had done on the drama versus substance front, Patrick struck a conciliatory tone. “We’ve got a productive working relationship and I hope a respectful one,” he said. Yet the relationship between the natural adversaries still seems to stings a bit. “There are days when I feel like your collective job is to keep me from doing mine,” he said.
From his vantage point, the coverage of complex issues was uneven, and he expressed frustration with the feed-the-beast demands that govern news coverage today. “It’s a 24-hour cycle and you’ve got to produce instantly, you don’t always have the time to digest.” Patrick said.
His remarks were a far cry from the complaints he delivered in a speech to the Massachusetts Newspapers Publishers Association eight years ago. In 2006, the newly-elected governor and political neophyte charged that some reporters “were openly contemptuous” of the enthusiasm his campaign sparked and chided them for missing the reasons why people flocked to his banner. “Put your cynicism down,” he said. “Don’t trivialize optimism and hope.”
Patrick has had little to say about his life after the Corner Office. But with a presidential election on the horizon and hundreds of frequent flyer miles under his belt, clearly he doesn’t intend to spend his days contemplating Berkshire mountain vistas. Especially if he is messaging a roomful of political journalists on the value of substance over performance art.
— GABRIELLE GURLEY
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