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Media Misses Weld's Point

POSTCARD FROM DARTMOUTH, MASS.

By Richard M. Burnes

The image of Bill Weld speaking before a hungry Statehouse press corps earlier this week was a world away from the photogenic candidate Bill Weld of last summer.

Standing in front of a dull blue curtain wearing a lifeless gray suit and a blue tie, the Guv looked like he belonged on local cable access TV. But Bill Weld doesn't care what he looks like. He's not running for Senate and he's certainly not running for president. Instead, the governor has the taste of margaritas in his mouth and is thinking only of escaping The Hub with his camera-shy wife.

So when he stood up to say that he would fight for his principles, the clothes were there to show that politics were not involved. He meant exactly what he said. But it seems that the Boston political media just doesn't get it. Just moments after our governor explained that he was standing up to the more powerful fringes of his party in defense of his political ideology, evening anchors were already explaining what a savvy political move had just been made. Even if the governor had pulled out his squash racquet and hit them over the head, the Boston media wouldn't have understood that politicians don't always make political decisions.

To be sure, William "Fly Club" Weld is not beyond Byzantine political maneuvering. In this financially challenged part of the state, the Guv is only sighted during campaign season. He rolls into town doling out pithy comments and paltry checks. The people of New Bedford and Fall River would gladly trade what he actually gives in state funds for even half of what he promises.

But because the governor is such a savvy politician, it should be clear that his latest move was not political. Now backed into a corner and left with few options, the governor would not have taken a stand against Jesse Helms if he were seeking a higher office. He earns points for talking tough to a figure whose negative ratings compete with those of Newt Gingrich; but what if his ruse actually works? How is Ambassador Weld to run for a higher office from the porch of his Mexico City hacienda? Bill Weld had thousands of options this week, and if he was still running for office he wouldn't have committed to the one that meant leaving the country.

The press' analysis of the governor's announcement is not meant as slander. The media love their Brattle Street governor. They love when his dead-pan wit turns a mundane press conference into an event that makes HBO's Comedy Central look like church, or when his beefed-up intellect sends them scurrying for a dictionary. Their analysis is not that of critics judging an artist, but instead, that of children trying to show their father they understand what he's up to. Yet these children actually have no idea what their father is up to. His move is too simple for them to understand. The governor is standing up for his political ideology because it is the right thing to do, and not because of the political consequences.

To give some credit to the media, the negative reaction is an important part of their job. A democracy depends on the press to expose the decisions of public officials for what they are. And given that so many decisions these days are political, the media are programmed to ask themselves, "What are the political consequences of this event?" Such questioning can help the people of New Bedford and Fall River see through the vacuous comments made by Boston politicians. Yet it runs into problems when those comments become more trenchant, as Bill Weld's did this week. The media must recognize that political considerations are not universal decision-makers.

The true absurdity of the media's analysis can be seen by looking at what they actually said. On Tuesday, as evening anchors traded chit-chat with their Beacon Hill corespondents, they all had a smug sense of satisfaction because they figured out the governor's game. They could see he was attempting to look tough and trying to be seen standing up for his principles.

The thought that a political game didn't exist--that the governor was standing up for his principles because that, in itself, is a good thing--seemed to elude them.

Richard M. Burnes is a junior living in Kirkland House.

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