How the Boston Papers Saw the Beantown Debate

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It's Wednesday in Boston: The smoke has cleared, and Beantown is getting back to business after the media frenzy surrounding the first presidential debate. Many Bostonians will find it a relief, no doubt, to pass the dubious honor of the national spotlight on to Winston-Salem, N.C., where the second Gore-Bush meeting will take place next week. Let them deal with the ornery press, never-ending protests and Ralph Nader's righteous indignation.

But before the last campaign wagon heads south, there remains the little matter of dissection. Debate dissection, that is. And for that, we turn to the trusty local media.

For the past 24 hours, Boston's Fourth Estate was operating under intense scrutiny. The challenge? To cover a national story for a momentarily captive national audience — without alienating local readers. And in a city (and state) as heavily Democratic as this one, the local Kennedy-esque perspective seemed bound for a collision with national expectations of objectivity. The rest of the country wasn't at all sure there'd been a winner. Would Beantown pay homage to its liberal roots and declare a Gore victory?


When the morning papers hit the stands, any fears that Boston would be forever branded with the a scarlet "L" dissipated quickly. The Globe, usually liberal broadsheet, planted itself firmly in the middle as the staff analyzed the debate. Every perspective was given a reasonable chunk of column inches; Nader was covered, but so were vehemently pro-Bush supporters. The op-ed page read like a who's who of moderate politics: moderate liberals side by side with moderate conservatives. Much like Tuesday night's debate, there was no slash-and- burn. Instead, the Globe played fair, the editorial staff stopping just short of declaring a victor (although Bush got points for sticking more closely to his convention themes) and carving up its space to assure absolutely equal treatment.

The tabloid Herald, which used to be owned by conservative media baron Rupert Murdoch, took a slightly less equitable swing on its op-ed pages. The editorial board essentially handed Bush the win, calling the debate "feisty" and bemoaning Gore's attachment to big government.

On Boston's television stations, the debate was old news by noon. The local morning broadcasts were laden with rehashes from exhausted-looking political reporters, but interest sloped off quickly by the time the third hour of "Today" rolled around. As befits the medium, perhaps, local TV coverage was not only short-lived but also concentrated mightily on the personalities on hand Tuesday night.