Top of Mind: Mike Barnicle
Is it possible Mike Barnicle is still the most obsessed-about journalist in town? One could make the case: Consider the fuss when he joined Jack Connors and Jack Welch in trying to buy the Globe, and the further fuss that followed his rumored job talks with WBUR. Meanwhile, more than a decade after losing his marquee Globe column for sins against journalism, Barnicle is a fixture on NBC and MSNBC, and fields assignments from Newsweek and Time. On 12/5 at the Charles Hotel, he talked with Boston about those projects—and shared his thoughts on a few other topics, too.
THE BARNICLE INTERVIEW: FULL VERSION
James Burnett: For a Boston guy, you spend a lot time in New York.
Mike Barnicle: New York is about success. Boston is about resentment. In New York, there is only one question asked, “Can you get it done?” Then it’s up to you. But it’s a magnificent city. Just walking around Central Park, which I try to do every day that I’m down there, do 4 or 5 miles in the park, walking briskly, and the treasure that is Central Park—lots of cities have different treasures. Boston has its own treasures, but it’s pretty hard to beat Central Park.
Burnett: There’s an emerging debate about what to do with the Common, what role it should serve…Seems to me it’s good that people are talking about it at all. We take it for granted, but it seems like a good comparison.
Barnicle: Well yeah, if you look at the Common, that’s a good comparison. If you look at the Common, I think you’d find a lot of people that say the problem with the Common isn’t the Common, it’s downtown. Specifically Downtown Crossing, which despite every effort that’s been made over 30 or 40 years, has never really clicked. So you have one end, the Commonwealth Avenue, Newbury Street, Boylston Street end, that is attractive and has enormous appeal, both for people with money, looking to live in town as well as commercial appeal for people looking to shop. You look at the other end, and it’s pretty tough to look at, despite years of spending money and thinking the big thoughts about it. It’s not the Common’s fault. It’s that area of Downtown Crossing.
Burnett: One thing I found surprising…. Is how hard it is to get anything done.
Barnicle: Yeah, it’s a unique area. I mean, I’ve lived here all my life. I love it. I don’t want to “live,” in quotation marks, anywhere else, but it’s nearly impossible to get anything done as quickly as things ought to go get done in this particular state, in this particular area. There’s always another obstacle. There’s always someone with another obstacle once you’ve made that hurdle.
Burnett: Going back to the various things you’re working on these days. Which of them is most gratifying for you?
Barnicle: Writing. I’m working on a piece for Time magazine. I write occasionally for the Herald. Newsweek, written some stuff for them. Huffington Post, they call and ask for stuff. The writing is obviously the most rewarding.
Burnett: Given your background, and the work you did early in your career, tell us something most people miss, or misperceive, or get wrong about Obama’s speeches, as he’s considered the great orator of this moment.
Barnicle: I don’t know that they get anything wrong about his speeches. I think, you know, perhaps, given the past eight years in this country, they might have a little too much optimism when they hear him, which is not a bad thing. I mean, when you hear him speak, when you see him in person, when you see the crowds, he sort of puts a smile on the face of the country that hasn’t been there for quite some time.
I first noticed it in Iowa last summer, not the summer of ’08, the summer of ’07. When you would see people who would show up at his rallies, and if you looked at their feet, they’re all leaning forward, even though some of them were quite close to him. They didn’t have huge Secret Service protection. But people were leaning forward, and the metaphor back then would be: they’re leaning into this change; they’re looking for the door to open. The sense of optimism that that he brought to the campaign, the sense of promise, the sense of potential, I don’t think those are bad things, but we live in a culture that is so geared toward instant gratification. I mean, the TV clickers, and the drive-thru windows.
We teach history so poorly in this country, I just hope that a lot of people aren’t disappointed that the stock market isn’t up around 12,000 by Valentine’s Day. Oh my God, you know he’s a failure. What’s this thing about change? You know, he hasn’t changed it. Change will come, but it’s going to take a while, and I don’t know that enough people in this country, especially young people, are prepared to wait for the change.
Burnett: Are you going to the inaugural?
Barnicle: Yeah, as one of 500 million people.