It's no surprise that a hatchet man for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has trouble relating to a strong-willed woman like Teresa Heinz Kerry: Trib publisher Richard Mellon Scaife, after all, once called a female reporter a "fucking Communist cunt." But what's the rest of the media's excuse for its coverage of the shove heard 'round the world?
By now, you probably know that after giving a speech decrying the lack of civility in politics last week, Heinz Kerry accosted a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial writer, Colin McNickle. McNickle asked her what she meant by the phrase "un-American activities," a phrase Heinz Kerry hadn't used. (She'd used the first word.) "You're from the Tribune Review?" Heinz Kerry snapped. "That's understandable. You said something I didn't say. Now shove it."
The remarks sent McNickle into a veritable tizzy. Heinz Kerry's remarks were "outrageous," he told the New York Daily News. Then he primly added, "I'm a little uncomfortable with all this attention. I'm here to report the news, not to make it."
How uncomfortable was he? Over the next couple days, McNickle mentioned the incident 10 times in online dispatches he filed on the Trib's Web site. And he shunned "making the news" so much that he gave interviews to right-wing forums like National Review Online, where he faced hardball questions like "Has anyone from the Kerry camp apologized?"
A better question, one no one asked, is whether McNickle has ever apologized to the Kerry camp. You'd never know it from all the brouhaha, but Heinz Kerry might have good reason to be ticked at the Trib.
As Max Blumenthal points out in a piece on Alternet.org, Trib columnists have falsely claimed that John Kerry had an affair and derisively referred to him as "Mr. Teresa Heinz." (Being married to a strong woman, see, makes you less of a man.) More recently, a Trib editorial raised warnings that Heinz Kerry and her foundations once owned stock in Enron, whose CEO Ken Lay was a prominent Bush supporter. "If John Kerry really wants voters to think that Bush and Lay were thick as thieves...why would voters think differently of the senator's wife?" the July 13 editorial asked. Gee, maybe because unlike the President, Heinz Kerry doesn't promote Enron-friendly energy policies? Or because Enron's stockholders were the victims?
It's no surprise McNickle hasn't acknowledged this history. What is surprising is that so few other reporters did.
Part of this is election-year mythmaking. Candidates are slapped with shorthand labels that are almost impossible to shake. Back in 2000, George W. Bush was portrayed as dumb but honest, while Al Gore was a smart liar. This year, Heinz Kerry has been tagged as the "pushy broad." Stories confirming such conventional wisdom get a lot of play: Little details -- like whether Gore really claimed to invent the Internet, or what McNickle's paper said about the Kerrys -- tend to get lost.
But Heinz Kerry seems to be held to a higher standard than the politicians. For example, the conventional wisdom (by which I mean something I've heard others say at least five times) is that Dick Cheney is a jerk. And yet when he proved it by telling a U.S. Senator to "fuck yourself," it barely made headlines. Why did the tamer remarks of Heinz Kerry, who isn't even running for office, get more scrutiny?
Well, she told McNickle to "shove it" after a speech decrying incivility in politics. Supposedly that makes her a hypocrite, even if McNickle's editorials were exactly what she'd been complaining about.
But perhaps the bigger problem is that she's a woman. A man who accosted a reporter this way might be called "unyielding," "tough" or even "publisher of the Tribune-Review." All but one of these is a compliment. Women, though, aren't supposed to be so assertive. You could see it on PBS's coverage of Heinz Kerry's speech at the Democratic Convention, as commentators Mark Shields and David Brooks fretted about her "lost opportunity" to discuss John Kerry's "personal" side. God forbid a wife have ideas of her own; what these conventions really need is more mindless pap about what a nice guy the candidate is.
Ironically, Heinz Kerry's speech was about taking women seriously. "My only hope," she said, "is that one day soon...instead of being labeled 'opinionated' [women] will be called smart and well informed, just like men."
Well, maybe not just like men.