[Cross-posted on Blue Mass Group.]
A few weeks back, on June 2, Republican Scott Brown's opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, won her party's endorsement in record-setting fashion at its state convention. She immediately called for debates between her and Brown. Brown responded the next day by unilaterally accepting his first debate invitation, to Dan Rea's WBZ Radio show "NightSide."
However, in light of Republican Scott Brown's recent response to the proposed Kennedy Institute debate, it's clear that Brown does have a clear set of standards for considering debate invitations - and Dan Rea does not meet those standards. Simply put, Dan Rea fails what we will call the "Scott Brown Doctrine for Senate Debates."
When Republican Scott Brown tentatively accepted the Kennedy Institute's invitation, his acceptance was pending the following demands:
In a letter to the Institute Monday, Brown's campaign manager Jim Barnett wrote: "In order to proceed, we need to know that in keeping with the spirit of neutrality expressed in Vicki Kennedy's letter that she will not endorse or otherwise get involved in this race.
"Furthermore, while we accept Tom Brokaw as a moderator, we prefer debates with local media sponsors, not out-of-state cable networks with a reputation for political advocacy."
The first item Brown's campaign offered notwithstanding the fact that Brown had no problem participating in the Kennedy Institute-sponsored debate in January 2010 during the special election in which Brown was the underdog, and despite that Vicki Kennedy had endorsed Brown's Democratic opponent only days earlier. (Perhaps, now that Republican Scott Brown is the incumbent, he has a newfound distaste for high-profile televised debates.) The second item refers to the suggestion by the Kennedy Institute that MSNBC might televise the debate, putting aside the fact that the network was never actually asked to carry the debate.
Similarly, when Vicki Kennedy declined to adhere to Republican Scott Brown's demand for her political silence, his campaign issued another statement, rejecting the debate altogether:
"We respect Vicki Kennedy's decision but we regret that we cannot accept a debate invitation from someone who plans to endorse Scott Brown's opponent," Brown Campaign Manager Jim Barnett said in a statement. "The Kennedy Institute cannot hold itself out as a nonpartisan debate sponsor while the president of its board of trustees gets involved in the race on behalf of one of the candidates."
Regardless of whether you think Republican Scott Brown's demands were fair or unfair, perfectly legitimate or ridiculously out of bounds, we should all agree that the statements set a clear set of standards for debate invitations that Brown will and won't accept - a "Scott Brown Doctrine for Senate Debates." Again, based on his own statements and his own demands, the "Scott Brown Doctrine for Senate Debates" includes the following precepts:
1) The debate cannot be sponsored by or aired on a program or network "with a reputation for political advocacy."
2) The debate must feature a "spirit of neutrality."
3) Nobody involved in the execution of the debate can show a preference "on behalf of one of the candidates."
Now recall that the first debate invitation that Republican Scott Brown accepted was to Dan Rea's WBZ Radio show "NightSide." This seems a peculiar choice given that Rea fails the Scott Brown Doctrine of Senate Debates on all three points.
Does Dan Rea's program have a "reputation for political advocacy?" CBS News called him a "conservative radio host." The Boston Globe called him "a longtime TV newsman who espouses conservative views and openly describes himself as Brown's friend" in one item and "a conservative-leaning host on talk radio, a forum that is typically friendlier territory for Republicans than Democrats" in another. So, yes, Rea does have a reputation for political advocacy.
What of the "spirit of neutrality" along with no displays of preference "on behalf of one of the candidates?" Again, Rea fails these standards. As one of the linked-to Boston Globe items in the previous paragraph mentions, Rea "openly describes himself as Brown's friend." In fact, Rea has repeatedly highlighted his personal friendship with Brown and his family on the NightSide program.
On Rea's October 6, 2011, program, on which Republican Scott Brown was a guest, Rea noted (at the 1:34 mark of the audio provided), "you and I have been friends for a long time, and I'm even a closer friend to your wife, Gail." On Rea's February 21, 2011, program, on which Republican Scott Brown again was a guest, Rea said to Brown (at the 4:20 mark of the audio provided), "you're a friend, I make no apologies for it."
Now, to clarify, it's perfectly fine, in a vacuum, that Dan Rea "espouses conservative views." It's perfectly fine, in a vacuum, that Rea and Republican Scott Brown "have been friends for a long time," in Rea's own words, and that he makes "no apologies for it." Rea doesn't have to apologize for being long-time pals with Brown or for advocating a conservative perspective on issues.
However, it does mean that, according to Republican Scott Brown's own standard for debate invitations - according to the Scott Brown Doctrine for Senate Debates - Rea should not moderate a debate featuring Brown, and "NightSide" should not host it.
Additionally, though Dan Rea has moderated a number of debates on his radio in the past, that is irrelevant to the Scott Brown Doctrine for Senate Debates. After all, I don't recall Brown complaining that he was the victim of biased treatment during the Kennedy Institute-sponsored debate in January 2010, during the special election. Quite the contrary, he received significant praise for his performance. Why should a 2012 sequel to that 2010 performance be any different?
In her Boston Herald blog, The Lone Republican, Republican political strategist Holly Robichaud responded to Vicki Kennedy declining to adhere to Republican Scott Brown's demand for her political silence:
I cannot think of another time when such a bias forum has been proposed.
Brown has every right to ask for a fair forum!
Would you agree to a baseball game where the umpire is the coach of the opposing team?
Robichaud's metaphor is not entirely accurate - Vicki Kennedy would not have been the "umpire" or moderator of the Kennedy Institute debate; Tom Brokaw would have been - but her sentiment is clear. If the moderator has a personal inclination toward one side or the other, he or she negates the appearance of fairness. For all of his good intentions, this unquestionably applies to Dan Rea, which is why he fails the Scott Brown Doctrine for Senate Debates.