Richard Berke's Turkey of an Anecdote - July 6, 2004 -

Times Watch for July 7, 2004

Edwards' Liberalism Goes Unmentioned"

John Kerry chose as his running mate fellow senator John Edwards, rated the fourth-most liberal senator for 2003 by National Journal magazine (Kerry himself was #1.) Yet the Times ignores the Democratic ticket's clear liberal slant.

David Halbfinger's favorable lead story notes Edwards voting record is in sync with that of Kerry: "Both voted to authorize Mr. Bush to deploy troops in Iraq. They have voted in favor of abortion rights, gun control, changes in campaign finance laws, stronger environmental standards and the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act. They also voted against impeaching President Bill Clinton and against the Bush tax cuts." As the National Journal noted, "Once Edwards decided to run for president and abandoned his bid for a second Senate term, his record moved dramatically to the left in 2003."

Yet in Wednesday's Times the word "liberal" isn't used once by a reporter to identify Edwards. That's quite a change from the Times' treatment of Dick Cheney in 2000, when the paper made his "extremely conservative record" a running theme of its coverage.

By contrast, the Times fences off criticism of Edwards. Richard Stevenson devotes a separate story to Republican criticism, set off with the headline equivalent of a warning flare: "GOP Opens Intense Attack On the Choice and the Chooser."

Using a sarcastic tone, as if to take the sting out of the Republican charges, Stevenson begins: "Within minutes of Senator John Kerry's announcement of Senator John Edwards as his running mate, President Bush's re-election campaign gave Mr. Edwards a different kind of introduction Tuesday, defining him as an inexperienced, unaccomplished, liberal trial lawyer who had not even been Mr. Kerry's first choice. Also, phony, disingenuous, out of step with American families and a tax scofflaw to boot, to choose from a long list of criticisms that the Kerry campaign disputed in general and specific".Republicans said the quick, intense assault was the leading edge of an effort by the Bush campaign to keep the Democrats from establishing Mr. Edwards as a Southern moderate who could help Mr. Kerry among swing voters in the battleground Northern and Midwestern states". Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Mr. Bush said he welcomed Mr. Edwards to the race and was looking forward to 'a good, spirited contest.' On Tuesday, at least, 'spirited' appeared to mean having the Republican National Committee throw at Mr. Edwards 23 pages of research covering everything from his votes on gun control legislation to late payment of property taxes on his Georgetown home."

In his lead story, David Halbfinger makes Republican criticism of Edwards' record come off as underhanded spycraft: "Republicans circulated a 23-page, 16,000 word dossier on Tuesday that depicted Mr. Edwards as an unaccomplished, inexperienced, disingenuous liberal."

Campaign specialist Adam Nagourney's front-page story on the Edwards selection ("A Partner With Contrasts That Complement-Campaign Strengths Where Kerry's Weak") begins jauntily, arguing that Kerry's move is a sign of confidence.

"In John Edwards," Nagourney writes, "Senator John Kerry selected a running mate who embodies the very attributes that some Democrats worry that Mr. Kerry lacks: a vigorous campaign presence, an engaging personal manner and a crisp message that stirred Democrats from Iowa to New Hampshire. Mr. Kerry even took a risk or two in compensating for his own shortcomings, embracing a trial lawyer who has less governmental experience than any other major vice-presidential candidate in at least 20 years. As a result, many Democrats said Tuesday, this highest-profile decision of Mr. Kerry's public life was as instructive about the party's presumed presidential candidate as it was about Mr. Edwards. It was the move of a candidate who is proving to be methodical, discreet, coolly pragmatic and exceedingly self-assured; one who is so intensely focused on victory as to be presumably unruffled by the unflattering stylistic contrasts that will surely be drawn whenever he and Mr. Edwards share a stage."

"But Cheney in 2000 "Dogged" by "Extremely Conservative" Votes

That's quite a change from how Nagourney and former political reporter (now restaurant critic) Frank Bruni covered Bush's selection of Dick Cheney to be his running mate.

After a few graphs on Cheney's unusual path to the VP slot (he was originally in charge of screening other candidates for the job), Nagourney and Bruni noted in a July 28, 2000, story on Cheney's selection by Bush three days previously: "Mr. Cheney is an immensely respected political veteran, and his selection elicited praise from many Republicans. But the unusual way in which the former defense secretary ended up at Mr. Bush's side at a news conference here on Tuesday to announce the vice-presidential selection has stirred concern among some Republicans. They have noted with alarm the attacks Democrats were able to quickly muster on Mr. Cheney's conservative voting record in Congress, and questioned whether the man in charge of screening the other candidates for the job could possibly have received as thorough a screening himself".Within minutes after Mr. Cheney's selection was announced on Tuesday, Democrats produced a trove of extremely conservative votes from Mr. Cheney's decade in Congress, and the barrage of questions about his record that hit Mr. Cheney and the Bush campaign seemed to take them at least partly by surprise."

While Edwards has so far not been forced to defend his liberal voting record, Times' coverage of the Cheney selection focused intensely on his conservatism.

On July 26, 2000, the day after the Cheney pick was announced, reporter Frank Bruni noted: "In turning to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Bush chose someone whose extremely conservative record from 1979 to 1989, when he represented Wyoming in Congress and reliably cast votes against abortion rights and gun control, was sure to provide Democrats and liberal interest groups with fodder for their assertions that a Bush presidency would tilt sharply toward the right."

Alison Mitchell's July 27 story (featuring the slanted headline, "Voting Record Dogs Cheney As G.O.P. Team Campaigns,") began: "Gov. George W. Bush and his new running mate, Dick Cheney, made a whirlwind visit today to the vice-presidential contender's home state, defending Mr. Cheney's conservative voting record and vowing that the ticket would 'renew America's purpose.'"

On July 28, Mitchell's campaign update (featuring another loaded headline, "Once Again, Cheney Confronts the Questions") began the same way: "Dick Cheney tried today to beat back questions about his conservative voting record, appearing on the morning news programs of all three major networks as the Bush campaign fought to keep from being defined by the second man on the ticket."

" Frank Bruni | Campaign 2000 | Campaign 2004 | Dick Cheney | Sen. John Edwards | Labeling Bias | Adam Nagourney | Richard Stevenson

The "Relentlessly Upbeat" John Edwards?

In an extraordinarily laudatory profile of Kerry pick Sen. John Edwards (he has "the kind of up-from-the-bootstraps tale that makes campaign consultants salivate"), Sheryl Gay Stolberg notes that while running for president Edwards "often talked about what he calls 'the two Americas,' his catchphrase for a nation where education, health insurance, and tax policy are different for the haves and the have-nots. 'We will say no,' the senator told supporters, on the night he came in second place to Mr. Kerry in the Iowa caucuses, 'to kids going hungry, to kids who don't have the clothes to keep them warm, and no forever to any American working full-time and living in poverty. Not in our America!' Mr. Edwards is also known for being relentlessly upbeat, a trait that Ed Turlington, who was general chairman of Mr. Edwards's presidential campaign, said reminded him of Ronald Reagan."

Yep, those images of starving, freezing kids are positively Reaganesque in their optimistic outlook, aren't they?

For the rest of Stolberg's profile of Edwards, click here.

" Campaign 2004 | Sen. John Edwards | Gaffes | Ronald Reagan | Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Media Heroine for Interrupting the President

In the Sunday Week in Review, reporter Richard Stevenson fawns over Carol Coleman, a reporter for Irish TV (granted an interview with President Bush which turned testy) and wonders whether American reporters are, yes, too soft on Bush: "The atmosphere was considerably chillier two weeks ago when Mr. Bush found himself parrying tough questions from another journalist, Carol Coleman of the Irish broadcasting company RTE. Though she had agreed to the White House's request that she submit her questions in advance-a practice that few if any members of the regular White House press corps would ever agree to-she chose not to listen passively as Mr. Bush ran through his stock answers. Instead, she challenged some of his assertions and interrupted him repeatedly with follow-up questions, provoking the presidential ire, making herself something of a heroine in Ireland and setting off a new round in the debate over whether some American reporters are too timid with Mr. Bush."

For the rest of Stevenson on Bush's Irish interview, click here.

" George W. Bush | Ireland | Richard Stevenson

Have I Mentioned Abu Ghraib This Week?

"Noting that George Washington had owned land around Charleston-'I call him George W.,' he said to laughter-he argued that the founders would be happy to see 'a nation which stands strong in the face of violent men.' For Mr. Bush, it was a return to the theme of America as an enforcer of justice, a theme that he has used less often in recent months since the publication of photographs showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American troops." - David Sanger, with Bush in West Virginia, July 5.

" Abu Ghraib | Iraq War | Prisons | David Sanger