Fehrnstrom on Fehrnstrom

In the most recent issue of GQ, writer Jason Zengerle has a great profile of Mitt Romney’s top political strategist and all-around consigliere, Eric Fehrnstrom. “The best political operatives are the ones who provide their clients with a tangible quality the candidate himself lacks,” Zengerle writes. “If Karl Rove was Bush’s brain, then Fehrnstrom is Romney’s balls.”

As it turns out, many of the insights Zengerle draws come from a 1999 essay that Fehrnstrom, a former Herald reporter, wrote for this very magazine about making the switch from tabloid journalist to political operative. It’s a fascinating peak inside the brain of the guy masterminding both Romney’s run for president and Scott Brown’s reelection campaign. It’s also a great look at a bygone era of Massachusetts politics and journalism (I say bygone, because apparently people used to take Howie Carr seriously). Check out the first three paragraphs of Fehrnstrom’s piece:

In December 1989, when the commonwealth was in the grip of a bitter cold snap and a fiscal crisis, the lieutenant governor, Evelyn Murphy, was on vacation in Florida. Since she was the candidate for governor, it could be argued that she belonged on freezing Beacon Hill, wrestling the state’s finances into shape. That was the argument my editors at the Boston Herald, where I wrote about pols and politics, used when they first found out about Murphy’s days in the sun. But the reasons hardly mattered: at the Herald, sniping at pols was a giddy blood sport. “Big or small, we shoot ‘em all,” one of my bosses, managing editor Andy Gully used to say.

So we lined her up for a kill shot. I jumped on a southbound plane with a photographer, and we staked out Murphy on Sanibel Island, on Florida’s Gulf Coast. We found her soon enough, jogging along a road in shorts and a T-shirt. The next day, we splashed her picture across page one, her middle-aged thighs flouncing across more than 300,000 newspapers. It was a terribly unflattering photograph, an image that became one of those iconic campaign symbols, like when Mike Dukakis rode in that tank with a helmet strapped to his head, looking for all the Flying Squirrel, only more dour.

Of course, that photo wasn’t the only reason Murphy lost in 1990, but it certainly didn’t help. Meanwhile, back in the newsroom, I was greeted with the highest praise in tabloid journalism: “Nice hit.”

There’s much more of course — the piece essentially tracks how Fehrnstrom became a journalist-hating ex-journalist. Read it all here.