Charlie Baker’s ‘Sweetheart’ Apology Turns Sour

And fast.

As you might have heard, Charlie Baker called FOX25 reporter Sharman Sacchetti “sweetheart” the other day, which may or may not reveal something disturbing about his view toward women but which will almost certainly make it even harder for him to personally attack Martha Coakley without seeming sexist.

I want to jump a bit forward, however, to the statement Baker sent out afterward, as reported in various media, publicly apologizing to Sacchetti, “an accomplished professional and someone who I have come to both respect and consider a friend.”

It’s absolutely amazing to me that a major political figure—in the middle of a high-profile campaign—would deliberately refer to a reporter covering him as “a friend.” Especially as a way to explain his seemingly inappropriate behavior toward her in an interview.

More than calling her “sweetheart,” that follow-up statement attacks and demeans Sacchetti, who is a damn good journalist. It’s because the statement wasn’t a momentary utterance; it was a carefully considered statement, thought over, reviewed, and then sent to multiple media outlets.

Baker has gotten very friendly with political journalists—including me—over the past couple of years, as part of an obvious strategy for this campaign. His 2010 campaign, run by Romneyites and Healeyites, mostly treated the press as a hostile enemy to be kept as far away from the candidate as possible. I strongly suspect that he blames that approach for the “angry Charlie” public image he sustained. Determined to sell “Charlie 2.0: the REAL nice guy” this time, he has buddied up to those who cover him. (I talk more about this in a feature article coming out soon in the October issue of Boston magazine.)

But those are not actual friendships; that’s a strategy on his part, and on the part of the journalists covering him.

And—much as I prefer having the access—there are reasons why campaign strategists sometimes want to keep their candidates from getting chummy with the press. “Sweetheart” was a good example. (And not the first, as Yvonne Abraham writes.) Sacchetti did something a good political journalist is supposed to do: press the candidate past his comfort level to see how he handles it. That’s important insight for voters, but often something the campaign would prefer not to reveal.

When Baker gets pushed past his comfort level, he becomes condescending. And that’s what he did to Sacchetti.

And then he attacked her professionalism—at least as I see it—by putting out that statement saying that he considers her a friend.

This particular storm will likely pass, as it should. But Baker’s got bigger problems coming if he thinks he’s turned the journalists covering him into friends, especially now that they have reason to worry that the public thinks they’re too friendly with him.