The Media Get Their Man
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 6, 2004; 9:47 AM
The New York Post was wrong, spectacularly wrong.
Andrea Mitchell and some of the other pundits were right.
The press was collectively willing John Kerry to pick John Edwards, and got its wish when word leaked at 7:30 this morning.
Which gives today's New York Post cover instant Dewey-Truman status, thanks to this lead: "John Kerry has chosen Rep. Richard Gephardt, the veteran congressman from Missouri, to be his running mate, The Post has learned."
(Maybe the paper figured it would get oodles of publicity whether it was right or wrong.)
The television chatter has been upbeat, in keeping with the media-industrial complex's conclusion that the North Carolina senator, the last man standing in the Democratic primaries, should get the nod.
Young, exciting, charismatic and so on. Had it been Gephardt, you would have heard a faint groan, since veteran Missouri congressman was viewed by journalists as yesterday's news, too much of a snooze.
NBC's Mitchell went out on a bit of a limb at 7 a.m. on "Today" by saying that Kerry was "very likely to pick John Edwards," though she added the caveat that he could change his mind.
Indeed, you get the impression that Kerry came to the decision with a bit of reluctance, given his past disparagement of the first-termer's lack of experience.
Mitchell had definitive word of the Edwards pick on NBC, followed soon afterwards by ABC, CNN, CBS and Fox. Before long, "Fox & Friends" anchor Steve Doocy was saying: "A lot of people in this country just don't like attorneys, especially trial attorneys."
"The guy has no shortage of charisma," Harry Smith said on CBS's "Early Show."
CNN's Jeff Greenfield said that "this was a choice that to some extent was probably imposed on Kerry by voters in the Democratic primaries." He also held up the soon-to-be-a-collector's-item New York Post cover.
On ABC's "Good Morning America," George Stephanopoulos played a clip from Kerry in the primaries that you're likely to see a time or two, saying that when he came back from Vietnam in 1969, "I'm not sure John Edwards was out of diapers then yet or not."
But Stephanopoulos, in a nice turn of phrase, said Edwards could help Kerry close "the charm gap."
Within minutes, though, the assorted anchors and correspondents recalled that a man who's been in public life for just six years might have some weaknesses.
"The big question for John Edwards," the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood declared on MSNBC, "is going to be answering the question, is he ready to be president?"
Fox's E.D. Hill cited concern that Edwards "could overshadow Kerry."
Greenfield noted that despite his southern roots, Edwards only "makes North Carolina marginally more competitive." His CNN colleague Jack Cafferty grumbled that both tickets now had "nothing but four rich white guys."
But Bill Schneider, using Edwards's preferred shorthand, reminded viewers that he is the "son of a mill worker" who "clearly had a common touch," perhaps the party's best empathizer since Bill Clinton.
On Fox, Dick Morris continued to voice his obsession with the Clintons, saying Kerry's choice "is a real threat to Hillary" -- because after two terms Edwards would be well positioned for the White House in 2012. Talk about taking the long view!
The Republicans, not surprisingly, were ready. The Bush camp e-mailed reporters the text of an ad called "First Choice" -- a not-so-subtle reminder that the Arizona Republican was the man Kerry wanted most.
McCain praises President Bush in the ad, calling terrorism "the great test of our generation, and he has led with great moral clarity and firm resolve."
The RNC was ready with a "Who Is John Edwards?" attack, calling him "a disingenuous, unaccomplished liberal and friend to personal injury trial lawyers."
By the time Kerry emerged to the strains of Bruce Springsteen at a 9 a.m. Pittsburgh rally, every television viewer knew what he was about to say (except perhaps for those just getting up on the West Coast). But the Kerry camp can pat itself on the back for keeping the secret until shortly before the candidate was praising Edwards before a cheering throng for his "guts and determination and political skill."
It was the briefest opening remarks I've ever seen Kerry deliver. He didn't bury the lead.
At that moment, the New York Post was keeping its Gephardt banner story up, but a right-hand column of AP "breaking news" said Kerry had picked Edwards.
Some quickie reaction from the blogosphere, beginning with InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds:
"Though I personally would have preferred Gephardt, who's stronger on the war, Edwards is a good choice for Kerry -- and it speaks well of Kerry that he didn't succumb to fears that the more-personable Edwards would overshadow him."
National Review's Jonah Goldberg says it's a good choice -- kind of:
"Gephardt was not the candidate for change.
"Edwards is. He's high energy. He hasn't been too infected with Potomac fever and Senatoritis. His stump schtick plays well with the populist forces in the Democratic Party and he's pretty (no serious person I know thinks Edward would have ever gotten into politics if he'd been burnt by acid as a teenager).
"The downside: Edwards is among the worst choices possible if the issue this fall is national security and terrorism. He's not very sharp on foreign affairs. He has very little experience (Please, stop citing junkets to Afghanistan as a qualification!). If the Bush campaign can really make this election about national security, Edwards may not become a full-blown liability, but he might not make much of an asset either."
© 2004 washingtonpost.com