November 1, 2014/Press Releases

The Evidence is Clear – Charlie Baker Made Up Story About Fisherman During Emotional Moment at Debate

For Immediate Release
November 1, 2014

Contact: Pat Beaudry
Phone: 617.939.0800

Media Reports Debunk Major Details in Story, Show Fisherman is Not from New Bedford, Story was 5 Years Old, and There Were No Football Scholarships

BOSTON – Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Fenlon today said based on recent reporting by the media, it’s very clear Charlie Baker made up key details of the fisherman story that got him so emotional at last Tuesday night’s debate. Fenlon pointed to stories in the Boston Globe and New Bedford Standard Times, and Baker’s own walking back of the details, that prove the story is five years old – not from the 2014 campaign – that the fisherman and his family are not from New Bedford, and people familiar with New Bedford athletics are on the records saying that no brothers who played football at New Bedford High School gave up football scholarships to go into fishing.

“It’s clear from the media investigation, and Baker’s own walking back of parts of the story, that Charlie Baker made up key details of the story that caused him to break down and cry at the debate,” said Fenlon. “In addition to deceiving the people of Massachusetts at the debate, over the past few days Baker has repeatedly said the story is true – repeating the deception over and over again. It turns out that almost every detail Baker spoke about at the debate is false: the story was five years old, not recent, the family was not from New Bedford, and there were no football scholarships for two brothers from New Bedford High School that they passed up. Charlie Baker owes the fishing industry, the people of New Bedford, and all voters in Massachusetts a full explanation of why he made up key details of this story, and he owes all of them an apology.”

Fenlon also criticized Baker for blaming the fisherman for making up the story, and for making up details that perpetuated negative stereotypes of fishing families. New Bedford Mayor John Mitchell leveled the same criticisms at Baker yesterday.

“Instead of taking responsibility for making up these details, Charlie Baker decided to blame the fisherman for embellishing his own personal story. Charlie should be ashamed of that,” said Fenlon. “That’s just not right, and clearly not the type of leadership we need in our next Governor. Additionally, Baker made up details of the story – details even he admits are false now – that perpetuate a very negative stereotype of fishing families, and one that is clearly not representative of the hard work and value these families and all families in Massachusetts place on education.”


On Tuesday, October 28, Charlie Baker broke down while telling a story in response to a debate question about the last time he cried, a full transcript of Baker’s response is below:
Baker: Um, so, I got asked the other day–and I may not make it through this story–I got asked the other day if, um, to tell somebody some interesting stories of people I’d met over the course of the campaign and I told a story about a fisherman that I met in New Bedford down on the docks who was coming off the boat–he’s a big huge man, completely soaked in sweat and saltwater and I said I wanted to talk to him about the business and the industry. And, um, he kind of looked at me and started to cry. And so I gave him a hug. He was a big, huge, guy. It was like hugging a mountain. And he shook for a while and then we started talking about the business and the industry and the federal government. And, and then he said, “See those two kids up there?” And he pointed to these two boys on the boat. And he said, “Those are my sons.” And then he said, um [pause] “They were both spectacular football players at New Bedford High School who were given college scholarships to go play football, and I told them ‘no.’ You’re going to be fishermen. I was a fisherman. My brothers were fishermen. My father was a fisherman. You’re going to be fishermen. And I ruined their lives.” [pause] And you hear those kinds of stories every day. And it’s a big part of why people–like you and me, I believe–get into public service. Because we want to help people like that. (WCVB, 10/28/2014)

Almost immediately, questions about the story began to emerge. Scattered reports indicated that Baker had told the story previously, despite the general impression that he had been talking about a recent experience. One of the articles cited was written by now-Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory in 2010. Here is an excerpt from the story:

[Baker] also talked about a sweaty and solemn fisherman who described his job as a “cancer’’ and regretted bringing his two sons into a vocation that was heading toward death.” (“Learning curve,” Boston Globe, 10/27/2010)

The day after the debate, October 29, Baker’s campaign acknowledged that the encounter actually took place in 2009 or 2010.
The encounter with a fisherman that a choked-up Charlie Baker recounted during the signature moment of Tuesday’s debate in fact occurred in 2009, during Baker’s last run for governor, the campaign acknowledged Wednesday.
In retelling the story in the televised debate, Baker did not mention that the encounter that left him struggling with emotion had occurred so long ago. …

Baker on at least two occasions spoke about what appeared to be the same fisherman on the campaign trail during his 2010 gubernatorial run. He used the story in one case to issue a tough, fist-pounding critique of federal regulations objectionable to the commercial fishing industry, appearing more angry than sad. In both cases, he left out some of the most poignant details from Tuesday night’s rendition. (“Baker’s moving talk with fisherman was in 2009,” Boston Globe, 10/29/2014)

Also on October 29, the New Bedford Standard Times wrote a story openly questioning the validity of Baker’s story. The paper wrote:
The day after Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker emotionally recounted the story of a New Bedford fisherman in a televised debate, people intimately involved with the city’s fishing industry and high school athletics say they don’t know of a family that fits Baker’s description. …
Baker declined to talk with The Standard-Times on Wednesday, but he gave an interview to The Associated Press in which he said he met the fisherman in New Bedford in 2009 or 2010. He insisted the man told him that his sons went to New Bedford High School, were “spectacular football players” and received scholarships. He reiterated his comments at the debate that the man told him he ruined his sons’ lives because he insisted they become fishermen.
Baker’s campaign declined to provide the name of the fisherman. “I won’t be able to do that. I am very sorry,” wrote Baker spokesman Tim Buckley in an email to The Standard-Times. Buckley did, however, provide a link to an Oct. 27, 2010, Brian McGrory column in the Boston Globe recounting the story of a fisherman with two sons, but it made no mention of New Bedford, football or lost scholarships. McGrory, now the editor of the Globe, did not return a request for comment.
In an email to The Standard-Times, Jim Conroy, another Baker spokesman, wrote that Baker’s answer to the question about the last time he cried described a recent recounting of a 2010 conversation when he ran against Deval Patrick for governor. “We’re not going respond to other folks’ recollection,” said Conroy. Instead, he provided a link to a 2010 video of Baker at the New Bedford port talking to fishermen but that includes nothing about the fisherman with the sons playing football he referenced in the debate. Conroy suggested the names of several people who accompanied Baker on that trip but he said they were not present during the conversation with the fisherman.” 
(“Questions surface about Charlie Baker’s story about a New Bedford fisherman,” New Bedford Standard Times, 10/29/2014)

On Thursday, the New Bedford Standard Times wrote another story after the Baker campaign acknowledged that “the fisherman in Charlie Baker’s tearful story at a gubernatorial debate might not have been from New Bedford and his sons might not have won scholarships.”
“It is entirely possible that Charlie could’ve been mistaken about (New Bedford) and that the fisherman could’ve lived in a surrounding community, but the conversation did happen in New Bedford,” said Jim Conroy, a spokesman for Baker’s campaign. “What Charlie vividly remembers is that he had a conversation with a fisherman in New Bedford, a legacy fisherman, about his sons who were gifted athletes making a decision not to go to college but to join the industry. … Conroy also said it was possible that the brothers may not have had a scholarship and that the fisherman – whom the campaign said they cannot identify – may have embellished the story or that Baker himself may have been incorrect about that detail.” (“Baker campaign admits fisherman might not be from New Bedford,” New Bedford Standard Times, 10/30/2014)

The Boston Globe also reported on the revelations from the Baker campaign, writing:
Republican Charlie Baker, questioned by Democrat Martha Coakley’s campaign about a fisherman’s story that caused him to tear up during a debate earlier this week, said Thursday that he may have gotten some details of the story wrong.
“There may be a detail or two that I got wrong but, obviously, the image and the message from him has stayed with me for a very long time,” the Republican candidate for governor told reporters after greeting supporters at Morin’s Diner in Attleboro. 
(“Baker says he may have gotten some details of fisherman story wrong,” Boston Globe, 10/30/2014)

It is also possible that the sons in the story may not have had athletic scholarships at all, Conroy said, the result of an embellishment in the fisherman’s telling or of Baker’s own mishearing. Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, a handful of likely candidates materialized for the role of the fisherman Baker had described: a “big huge man, completely soaked in sweat and salt water,” with two boys who had turned down scholarships to join the family business. But all those fisherman denied sharing a tearful embrace with Baker, or declined to speak about the matter.
Ron Smolowitz, who helped lead the December 2009 tour during which Baker has said the exchange with the fisherman took place, said he did not witness the conversation. But he said that Baker spoke to many fishermen that day, and he added that he does not doubt the story. Smolowitz appears in a campaign video produced at the event; the gigantic fisherman does not.
Smolowitz said he and several fishermen he spoke with believed the description best matched a man who fishes out of South Boston and whose sons were wrestling standouts in Stoughton.
One son wrestled collegiately at Ohio State and Binghamton universities and is now a mixed martial arts fighter who was featured on a cable reality show called “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Boat registrations obtained by the Globe from the Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs list the man as 6 feet 2 inches tall and 300 pounds, fitting the physical description Baker supplied during the debate.