RALEIGH — Do you think we’ll hear the word “gravitas” in the coming days, as the media analyzes Democratic vice presidential nominee-to-be, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards?
Political analysts have said that Edwards’s inexperience as a one-term senator was his weakness, but from the beginning of his presidential candidacy up until now the press has largely dismissed that as a problem. As The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz wrote yesterday, “the media g(o)t their man,” so don’t expect them discredit John Kerry’s running mate with the “g-word” as they did with President Bush four years ago.
Indeed, you need only return to the beginning of last year if you want to know how the media will handle Kerry’s pick throughout this summer and fall. Edwards announced his presidential candidacy on Jan. 2, 2003, and then – as now -- the “experience” factor was quickly dismissed as reporters for the major networks fawned over their Carolina darling.
The Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog organization, noted at the time that the press mostly downplayed Edwards’s liberal credentials and tried to portray him as a moderate. The senator received a 12 percent approval rating from the American Conservative Union and in 2001 he was viewed favorably by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action on 95 percent of their issues.
“That’s the same rating assessed to senators even reporters usually concede are liberals: Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd, Barbara Mikulski, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton,” MRC reported.
The MRC, which exhaustively analyzes network news reports, said in Jan. 2003 that only NBC’s Tim Russert (on “The Today Show”) labeled Edwards as a “progressive liberal.”
Meanwhile, when Time magazine named Edwards as its “Person of the Week,” reporter Jessica Reaves wrote that he had “built a reputation for moderate political views….” The article painted him as a Democrat from conservative Southern states, in the mold of Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson. Similarly, Fox News Channel’s James Rosen identified Edwards as a moderate who “bucked his state’s textile lobby and voted for permanent trade relations with China.”
Now, the mainstream media is continuing with that theme. While in 2000 the networks were more than willing to identify Bush vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney as “conservative,” today Edwards’s liberal record is being rewritten.
According to the MRC, CBS’s Harry Smith yesterday reported that Kerry’s announcement in Pittsburgh was “right down the middle,” and that his choice of Edwards was an appeal to “the swing voters.”
Kurtz, a generally evenhanded reporter, knew that the Edwards pick would be popular with the media.
“The television chatter has been upbeat,” Kurtz wrote in his online column yesterday, “in keeping with the media-industrial complex’s conclusion that the North Carolina senator…should get the nod.
“Young, exciting, charismatic, and so on. Had it been [Richard] Gephardt, you would have heard a faint groan, since the veteran Missouri congressman was viewed by journalists as yesterday’s news, too much of a snooze.”
CNN’s Bill Schneider, Kurtz reported, echoed Edwards’s own stump speech that identified himself as the “son of a mill worker,” who Schneider said “clearly had a common touch.”
Expect a flood of similar sentiment from the “mainstream” media in the coming months.
Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at email@example.com.