Defending the Herald: Diane Patrick got it wrong--updated!

Yesterday's Globe "Names" column included a nugget re: Gwen Ifill's new book, The Breakthrough, on the new generation of black politicians. After calling the flap over Ifill's role as presidential-debate moderator overblown, "Names" proceeded to pluck one--and only one--detail from Ifill's text:

One tidbit: Recalling the controversy over Patrick's decision to replace Mitt Romney's Ford Crown Vic with a new Cadillac DeVille DTS, the governor's wife, Diane, takes issue with the Boston Herald for calling the car "tricked-out." The first spouse says the description is "frankly racist. . . . It didn't have boom boxes, speakers on the outside, but they called it tricked-out." Ifill, by the way, once worked for the Herald.

Now comes a little Herald push-back, in the form of a Hillary Chabot story that quotes Herald editor Kevin Convey on D. Patrick's characterization:

Herald Editor Kevin Convey said the term “tricked out” had no racist implications.

“We’re sorry that the first lady feels the way she does, but the term ‘tricked out’ as a synonym for decorated or adorned is over 100 years old and has no racial connotation whatsoever. Moreover we meant none,” Convey said.

I don't know when "tricked out" first entered the lexicon, but I do think Diane Patrick is reaching here. I made a similar mistake myself when the Herald story first ran, positing a parallel between the Herald's coverage and Ronald Reagan's welfare-queen shtick.

But then a slew of critical comments convinced me I was wrong (scroll down for my admission of error). And I still feel that way. Remember, it wasn't just the Cadillac. It was the Cadillac, and the drapes, and the furniture, and the $72,000-a-year-aide to Diane Patrick, and Patrick's difficulty grasping why this stuff struck people as problematic.

Chabot's account says that the governor's office had no comment on Diane Patrick's accusation or Convey's response. But let's remember what the governor himself ultimately said--and did--on this particular subject. As Chabot herself reminds us, Patrick subsequently "admitt[ed] he misstepped" and moved to cover the cost differential between his car and the Ford Crown Victoria used by his predecessor, Mitt Romney.* From a February 2007 story by the Globe's Andrea Estes:

Governor Deval Patrick for the first time publicly expressed regret yesterday for spending thousands of dollars on new office decor and a luxury car lease , but stood behind his wife's need for a $72,000 aide and the effort to make his corner office suitable for visitors.

"Oh, yeah, we screwed up," Patrick told a horde of reporters, a day after promising to repay the state for office furnishings and a portion of the lease for his official car. "I am so sorry that we all have spent the kind of time we have on what we have spent time on, and I am sorry to have been responsible for that." [emph. added]

The new governor's public mea culpa came after a week of spiraling reports about his spending of taxpayer money, including $1,166 each month on a Cadillac DTS and $12,306 on new draperies in his office....

On Tuesday, Patrick announced he would contribute $543 per month toward the lease of the $46,000 Cadillac, bringing the state cost in line with the monthly payment on the more modest Ford Crown Victoria used by his predecessor, Mitt Romney.

Patrick also said he would repay taxpayers for $27,387 in furniture he purchased for his corner office. An interior designer helped Patrick select two wing chairs priced at $3,870, two couches at $4,470, damask draperies for $12,306, and other furnishings from a variety of antiques and furniture stores, including the high-end Baker Knapp & Tubbs.

Yes, there was a passive-aggressive tinge to Patrick's apology/repayment plan. ("Unless I get this off your screen," he told the press at the time, the media wouldn't "help get the message out about what it is we are concentrating on.") Still, he apologized and anted up. Hopefully Ifill mentioned that outcome in her book.

*UPDATE: My original post failed to note that Chabot mentioned Patrick's subsequent apology/reimbursement plan--for which I apologize.

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