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Sensibly stonewalling the press.

The marble corridor of the state-house looks more like a parapet for the press as dozens of print and broadcast reporters, tape recorders and microphones in hand, lie in wait.

Where do you stand on the controversial gun law being voted on today? How about the budget bill? The abortion amendment? The charges levied against you by your opponent back home?

What do you do?

If you're William Bulger, whose relationship with his home city press has been somewhat incendiary, you don't have to answer. Or you could even mutter the unthinkable: "I'm sorry, but I don't have an answer for you now. I'm still trying to think it out."

Heresy? In the era of hypermedia coverage, Bulger doesn't think so. In fact, he believes that sometimes stonewalling the press is the only sensible response.

"I doubt that many people in life would want to be staked to a position based on what they said in an impromptu press interview," says Bulger. "But lawmakers are all of the time.

"I honestly believe this," he continues, "we have a right to say 'no' to them. Just as they say 'I must keep you at arm's length lest I be co-opted by you,' we ought to be able to say the same thing. There is a real danger that we're being co-opted by them."

Bulger's complaint against the press transcends the usual gripe that reporters want to know too much, too often, too soon. He contends, instead, that because publishers and station owners have political points of view, reporters are little different from any of the other competing interest groups lawmakers daily contend with. They are only more dangerous, Bulger adds, because they have the ability to make their views widely know.

"I'm insufferable on this issue," Bulger laughs. But not without reason: In the mid-1970s as South Boston, under a federal busing order, simmered on the verge of racial conflagration, Bulger noticed that the city's press habitually classified a racial incident as any white-on-black violence. But the far more frequent black-on-white crimes, he argues, were written up only as simple criminal statistics from the daily police blotter.

That dichotomy, Bulger suggests in his memoirs, also infected the media's coverage of busing: "Boston Globe reporters, editorial writers and columnists who savaged us for resisting busing kept their children away from it," he writes. "Robert Turner, a Globe columnist who was particularly vitriolic toward us, enrolled his own children in Milton Academy, an outstanding school. Tom Wicker of The New York Times was asked, 'Why is it you advocate forced busing for our children, but then put your own children in private schools?' He answered that he would not sacrifice his children for his political beliefs!"

Nearly 20 years later, Bulger's relationship with the press hardened. A four-month investigation into whether he was improperly involved in a downtown Boston real estate development turned up no wrongdoing on his part, an event worthy of notice on Page 17 of the Globe.

Bulger notes, however, that before his exoneration, the Globe published nearly 20 stories on the investigation, "most of them on Page 1."

Lawmakers, Bulger advises, can enjoy productive relationships with the press by being honest and helpful - and inaccessible when so inclined. "The press is not the voice of the people, 'vox populi,' as they like to put it. They are entirely self-appointed," Bulger adds. "The constitutionally proper voices are from those who are elected. Lawmakers need to keep that in mind."
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Conference of State Legislatures
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:politician William Bulger's relations with media
Author:Boulard, Garry
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Jun 1, 1996
Words:579
Previous Article:While the Music Lasts: My Life in Politics.
Next Article:Moving up, on, out or over.
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