Part 1—A window on the world: Long ago and far away, the Washingtonian may have given its readers a window onto the world.
We refer to a lengthy lifestyle piece in the August 2003 issue of the “insider Washington” magazine. We know of no on-line link to the piece.
In part, this highly instructive piece described The Houses of Journalist County. More specidically, we were invited to contemplate a few of The Houses of Nantucket County.
For all previous reports in this award-winning series, click here.
The Washingtonian focuses on the lifestyles of upper-class Washington. To our suspicious, well-informed minds, Sallie Brady’s lengthy piece suggested the things a person might do to make his way into the island mansions she briefly described in her piece.
Brady wasn’t trying to blow the whistle on the nation’s leading TV journalists. Her 6400-word piece was cheerful and fawning in tone.
Brady was simply helping us see where Washington’s finest summer. Her report started like this:
BRADY (8/03): Congress is in recess, and all over town, office voicemails gleefully offer return dates of September 2.The banter was upbeat throughout.
It's August in Washington, which means it's time to get out of town.
Where is everyone? If you're young, rich, and single, you might be in the Hamptons.
Political and media establishment? That would be Martha's Vineyard.
Ever work for NBC or raise money for the pols? See you on Nantucket.
As she continued, Brady discussed the Washington scene on Martha’s Vineyard.
(In 1972, “in a watershed moment,” Washington Post owner Katherine Graham “anointed the 100-square-mile island a Washington summer colony,” Brady gushingly said.)
Brady went on to discuss the Washington scene in the Hamptons. She then moved on to a second island off the Massachusetts coast.
According to Brady, the gang from NBC News did its summering on Nantucket. In the passage shown below, she discusses that part of the Nantucket scene, which also involved a large number of corporate players and a succession of pols who come to the island begging them for cash.
To the untrained eye, the following passage may seem rather innocuous. We would suggest that it almost surely provides an important window onto the world, including George Bush’s war in Iraq and the subsequent rise of ISIS.
You’ve never seen this passage discussed. That concerted silence represents a major story too:
BRADY: In summer, Nantucket is a remarkable re-creation of Washington politics, fundraisers, and restaurant life, confined to a 3.5-by-14-mile resort island.For the record, that passage includes one of the seven instances where Brady used “summer” as a verb without apparent irony.
Tim Russert remembers the first time he visited. It “was in 1972. I had graduated from college,” Russert recalled in a Nantucket Magazine profile. “About 20 of us drove up, and we all jumped on the [Steamship Authority ferry] …and as soon as I stepped off I said, 'This is something special.’”
Russert is part of the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle’s social engine. It was Jack Welch, the story goes, the 20-year chairman and CEO of NBC's parent company, General Electric, who drew network folk to Nantucket.
Russert and his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, began summering on Nantucket in 1992. Russert has said he can go days without leaving his house except for a bike ride to get the newspapers. Then he'll sit in his rocking chair and watch the grass blow in the breeze.
Russert does make it back for Meet the Press, the show that made him and that helped finance the Nantucket hideaway he acquired in 1999. The sprawling gray-shingled house, with rooftop sundeck and cutting garden, lies down an unmarked dirt path through a secluded forest. Hanging over the portico, a wooden sign bearing the cottage's name says it all: SUNDAY MORNING.
Russert’s boss, NBC CEO Bob Wright, is also on the scene. Add to the cocktail chatter the latest tidbits from the Oval Office, care of White House correspondent David Gregory, who was married on Nantucket and returns with his wife, Beth, for vacations; celeb updates from Access Hollywood host Pat O'Brien, who retreats here; and Washington gossip from News 4 anchor Barbara Harrison, and the only ones missing from the NBC lineup are Will and Grace.
Although Welch retired in 2001, he's still a power magnet. He holds court from a massive gray-shingled home festooned with window boxes, near Sankaty Head Golf Club. It was there that Welch once played Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, only to discover that two of the richest men in the world routinely bet only $1 a round.
For years, Sankaty, with its reported 30-year waiting list, was the only private 18-hole course on the island. In 1997, Welch and other investors pooled dividend checks to turn a sheep pasture into the ultra-exclusive Nantucket Golf Club. "New rich," sniff the Old Guard. "For those who'd never get into Sankaty," say others.
Unlike Sankaty, which allows nonmembers in the winter, Nantucket is limited to its 300 members, who've ponied up hundreds of thousands of dollars not because of the club's pool or tennis courts—it has neither—but for the "comfort zone of being with our peers," says one member.
In that passage, Brady describes two of The Houses of Nantucket County—Jack Welch’s “massive gray-shingled home” and the late Tim Russert’s “sprawling gray-shingled house,” which was also a “hideaway” and a “cottage.”
Brady mentions Bob Wright, the CEO of NBC, another Nantucket homeowner. She mentions David Gregory, Russert’s successor at Meet the Press, who was only said to vacation on the island.
Given such obtuse behavior, it’s no wonder Gregory’s out!
A bit later on, Brady added a name which will play the key role in this week’s reports. We refer to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who has played a very important, disgraceful role in modern journalistic history—a role you don’t see discussed:
BRADY: The dazzling bank accounts of summer people like Tommy Hilfiger, Bunny Mellon, whose father-in-law, Andrew, paid for the National Gallery of Art, and Arie and Coco Kopelman, who own Chanel, create a magnetic pull on politicians. At the height of summer, congressional sightings are as common as seagulls, especially during election years. The season's biggest migration is the fly-in of nearly two dozen members of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.Brady’s piece appeared in August 2003. Roughly one year later, Matthews became the latest of the “NBC crowd” (and the “shamrock contingent”) to buy a home on the island.
"We usually have four or five of them," says former ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, chair of the Democratic National Committee National Advisory Board, who's married to Smith Bagley, an heir to the R.J. Reynolds fortune, who sits on the board of the Kennedy Center. "Tom Daschle, Debbie Stabenow, Harry Reid, Martin Frost, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, John Breaux, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd—they've all stayed with us."
"We try not to do too much fundraising in the summer because we do so much of it the rest of the year," says Elizabeth Bagley, who in her early days worked for another Nantucket regular, Ted Kennedy. "But there are exceptions: Hillary's Senate campaign, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the American Ireland Fund."
Bagley founded the Nantucket chapter of the American Ireland Fund and annually hosts a cocktail buffet for several hundred that draws in the shamrock contingent: the Russerts, Kennedys, Kerrys, and MSNBC host Chris Matthews and his wife, Channel 7's Kathleen [Matthews].
In our reports this week, we will refer to only a few of The Houses of Nantucket County. On the whole, our reports will only encompass four major players at NBC News. These will be the major dramatis personae:
The NBC crowd on Nantucket:When we discuss The Houses of Nantucket County, we’ll be talking about this small but extremely influential band. As we close today’s report, let’s make sure we have a rough idea what the houses in question are like.
Jack Welch, long-time former CEO of General Electric
Bob Wright, long-time president, chairman and CEO of NBC
Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief of NBC News, host of Meet the Press
Chris Matthews, host of Hardball
In the passage presented above, Brady described Russert’s sprawling summer home on Nantucket as a “hideaway” and as a “cottage.” In June 2008, the Cape Cod Times published a photo of the rather large Nantucket cottage Russert owned at that time, which it said was valued at $7.2 million.
We don’t know if that's the same house Brady wrote about. The question isn’t relevant to our award-winning point.
Matthews purchased his own summer home on Nantucket in 2004. According to the Boston Globe, the purchase price of Matthews’ crib was $4.35 million.
Under our system, there’s nothing “wrong” with summering in homes of this type. That said, there may be something very wrong with the things a TV journalist will do to put himself in position to summer and weekend this way.
Starting most dramatically in March 1999, Matthews engaged in years of astonishing “journalism”—“journalism” which reinforced the conservative views of the near-billionaire Welch, his corporate owner and eventual island neighbor.
According to standard press reports, Matthews’ salary rose from $1.1 million to $5 million during the period when he engaged in this astounding “journalistic” conduct. By the summer of 04, he was able to acquire one of The Houses of Nantucket County.
Matthews wasn’t the only broadcaster who prospered under the ownership of Welch. By all accounts, including Russert’s own, the conservative CEO made Tim Russert’s journalistic career.
Russert got wealthy under Welch. Consider a tale of two signs.
In Brady’s cheerful profile, she said the sign outside Russert’s sprawling cottage said this: SUNDAY MORNING. In her account, the cottage had been named in honor of Russert’s TV program.
Last year, in his book This Town, Mark Leibovich described a different sign outside Russert’s summer home on Nantucket. As of 2008, Leibovich said the sign said this: “The House That Jack Built.”
(For fuller text, see below.)
Did the sign really say that? We can’t confirm or deny! But in a very familiar note, let us also mention this:
Leibovich’s book was widely reviewed. In a Nexis search, we find no indication that any reviewer mentioned that sign, which Leibovich pushed to the front of his book.
What’s signed on Nantucket stays on Nantucket! Within the guild we still call the mainstream press, such matters will not get discussed!
We can’t tell you what the sign said outside Russert’s cottage. It may even be that the two signs stood outside two different houses.
We can’t tell you what the sign said. But starting in March 1999, Matthews’ conduct was easy to observe and confirm. It was conducted on the air, for all the world to see.
Relentlessly, that astonishing conduct advanced Jack Welch’s conservative line. Almost surely, Matthews’ conduct also changed world history.
(Don’t be fooled by the way Matthews behaves today. Today, he pimps the corporate line of his new corporate owners.)
Matthews’ conduct during those years was outrageous, astounding. More outrageous is the way it has always gone undiscussed.
Can we talk? Some people will do and say many things to put themselves in position to enter The Houses of Nantucket County. Other people will keep very quiet about what those people have done.
In the next few days, we’ll review the way those desires may have affected the conduct of NBC News during the Clinton/Gore and early Bush years.
Jack Welch owned NBC News at that time. He lived in The Houses of Nantucket County, and we’re going to tell you it showed.
Kevin Drum and others will fail to link to the things we show. In all its aspects, this is a story you aren’t supposed to discuss.
Tomorrow: Assembling a news division
A possible sign of the times: Mark Leibovich’s book, This Town, was published just last year.
He started by reviewing the way Washington reacted to Russert’s sudden, premature death in June 2008. Below, you see one part of the way he profiled Russert:
LEIBOVICH (page 20): Russert—“Tim”—reached the top of the pecking order while shrouding a cutthroat ambition in his slovenly nonchalance. While a focused and surgical ambition is vital to success in D.C., the ability to be appropriately sheepish about it is more so. Russert had a nice, easy populism about him—just a guy out of Buffalo who cherished his country, loved his dad and his son and his Bills and his T-shirts and all that. "Rumpled" is always good for the brand here, and Tim had that nailed.Leibovich also described Russert as “a superb journalist,” though he offered a sardonic account of what that meant in this instance.
He was also acutely status-conscious. Known primarily as a TV star, he preferred to identify himself by his more hierarchical title, "Washington bureau chief."
Tim liked his seat in the corporate boardroom and his large home in Nantucket, "The House That Jack Built," as the sign outside identified the Nantucket house—Jack being Jack Welch, the longtime CEO of NBC's corporate parent, General Electric. Russert and Brokaw attended Ronald Reagan's funeral as guests, and then walked outside the Washington National Cathedral to anchor the news coverage for NBC.
Tim lived in the sweet spot of the big, lucrative revolving door between money, media, and politics...
So you’ll know, page 20 was just the second page of Leibovich’s Chapter One. As such, he pushed that sign—“The House That Jack Built”—right to the front of his portrait of Insider Washington, which didn’t resemble Brady’s cheerful portrait in tone.
Was there really such a sign outside one of The Houses of Nantucket County? We can’t confirm or deny it! Inside insider Washington, a sign like that will not get discussed, even if it exists.
We’re going to tell you an ugly story. The silence surrounding this ugly story is a big ugly story too.