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MEDIA
Mitt Romney’s secret tormentor
BY DAN KENNEDY

Who is Ben?

The obvious answer is that he is the author of "Romney Is a Fraud," a nasty — albeit well-researched — weblog that has been pounding away at Governor Mitt Romney since March 28.

But who is he in real life? No one seems to know.

If he had started a Web site, it would be possible at least to do a "whois" search and obtain a little contact information. But Ben was too smart for that. Instead, "Romney Is a Fraud" is published on the Blogspot service of Blogger.com, the leading blogging-software company. It is located at romneyisafraud.blogspot.com.

"We’re very strict about not sharing any personal information," says a spokesman for Blogger.com and its parent company, Google. How strict? He asked that I not use his name, even though he identified himself in response to an inquiry I’d made to Blogger’s media office.

Good for Blogger. After all, among its 1.5 million registered users is the pseudonymous Salam Pax, whose Baghdad-based blog (dearraed.blogspot.com) could have earned him an amputated tongue, or worse, before the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Of course, all Ben risks is being taken off the Romneys’ Christmas-card list. Still, it’s unlikely that his commentary would be quite as freewheeling if he had to put his full name to it.

Much of what Ben writes is so obscure it defies easy summary. But not all of it. In just his second post last March, with the war in Iraq under way, Ben reacted to a photo of Romney in a National Guard jacket by calling him "Ike Romney" and "a Chicken Hawk for all seasons." Romney’s communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, is invariably referred to as "Romney’s loathsome $150,000-a-year spokesman."

On August 14, though, Ben weighed in with an impenetrable item alleging that Romney was planning to ask businesses to provide him with their hiring plans and other "inside information" in his capacity as governor; that among the firms evaluating the information would be the Monitor Group; that the Monitor Group has some sort of affiliation with Bain Capital, which Romney used to run; and that, therefore, Romney stands to benefit personally from a survey supposedly intended to help him and state officials plan the state’s economic future.

"So let us get this straight," Ben sneered. "Romney, who used to run Bain Capital, wants Massachusetts corporations to give proprietary information to The Monitor Group, which may evaluate investments for Bain Capital. Sounds like a win-win situation to us." Really? Sounds like a convoluted leap of logic to me, even though — as is invariably the case — Ben built his argument on publicly available news reports and government documents.

Ben has attracted some notice, but it appears he’s got a way to go. The Boston Herald’s Cosmo Macero — on his weblog (cosmomacero.blogspot.com), not in his column — wrote recently that though he was flattered by Ben’s references to him, "The stuff is brutal. And it’s got me wondering who the heck has got the time for all the research and posting? I think the State House press corps in Boston ought to shake off the rust and get on the case."

Adam Gaffin, who tracks local blogs in the "Boston Common" section of his Boston Online Web site (www.boston-online.com), guesses that Ben might actually be a reporter. "My betting is on somebody in the State House press corps," Gaffin told me by e-mail. "The guy is obsessed with the topic, devours every last story, anywhere, about Romney, has enough background to connect the dots — and he (she?) can write, which I think rules out other possible suspects."

But Craig Sandler, general manager of the State House News Service, says most people on Beacon Hill just aren’t Web-savvy enough to be looking at Ben’s handiwork. Are people talking about it? In a word, no. "We’ve never heard of it, and we’re out and about at the State House all the time. You have to remember, this is not that cyber-friendly an environment," Sandler says. "It is making absolutely no impact whatsoever at the State House, and I can state that categorically."

Still, Sandler was impressed by the depth of the research — and said that if Ben can find a better way of distributing his material, then Romney-administration officials would have a reason to worry.

On the other hand, WLVI-TV (Channel 56) political analyst Jon Keller calls Ben’s work "partisan boilerplate," and says, "It’s not like there’s this void of Romney criticism. On any given day there are people lining up at the State House eager to attack him, and often with fairly good reason."

Interestingly, neither the Democratic nor Republican state committees seemed to be aware of "Romney Is a Fraud" when I called seeking comment. Susan Fenochietti Thomson, executive director of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, had little to say about it. When I asked about suspicions that Ben might be someone working out of her headquarters, she responded, "It is nothing that the party is participating in."

Her Republican counterpart, Dominick Ianno, sounded more amused than angry. "I took a quick, cursory look at the Web site. Hey, you know. I guess this is what the First Amendment is all about, right? It’s not on my ‘favorites’ list," he said.

Well, it’s on mine. Over the top though much of Ben’s criticism may be, he knows his stuff, and he pumps it out practically every day. It’s definitely worth a look.


Issue Date: August 22 - 28, 2003
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