Imagine How the Media Would Cover the Divorced Rich Republican Presidential Candidates, If They Were Democrats

McCain names his pets after fashion accesories, Giuliani <i>loves</i> the opera, and Romney sees himself as qualified for a top CEO job -- the top GOP presidential field is loaded with unabashed high rollers.
Imagine how the media would react if a multimillionaire, East Coast, big-city, thrice-married presidential candidate who was a progressive Democrat said his most recent music purchase was opera, his favorite fitness activity, golf, and added that he doesn't drive -- he navigates.

Or if a progressive Democratic candidate who had launched his political career by marrying into a wealthy and politically connected family, and then promptly ran for Congress, revealed that he has pet turtles named "Cuff" and "Link."

Or if a progressive Democratic candidate who was the son of a governor, who has a net worth of around $200 million, whose own campaign staff was concerned he is seen as not tough enough and that his hair looks too perfect ... imagine if such a candidate said that if he weren't running for office, he'd probably be chief executive of an auto company and that his staff boasted that the difference between him and the president is "intelligence."

The media would have an absolute field day, yammering endlessly about how the candidate is too "soft" and is an elitist, an arrogant know-it-all with a misguided sense of entitlement who is hopelessly out of touch with the rugged regular-folk who live in Michigan and enjoy NASCAR and country music and drive pickups. There would be a real danger of Chris Matthews literally exploding on live television, unable to contain his incredulity that such a clueless candidate could possibly think a Pennsylvania steelworker would care what he has to say. (Then, with the Klieg lights turned off, Matthews would head off to one of the glitzy balls that he frequents, maintaining his place on Washington Life's "Social List" -- or perhaps he'd take a quick trip to relax by the pool of his vacation home nestled among the dunes of Nantucket. Railing against cultural elites on behalf of the Working Man is tiring, after all.)

But when the three leading (for now) Republican presidential candidates reveal their fondness for opera (Giuliani), have their pets named after fashion accessories (McCain), and boast that if they weren't running for president, they'd probably be running an auto company (Romney), it passes without notice.

So when longtime lobbyist and Hollywood actor Fred Thompson -- a man who once rented a red pickup truck in order to campaign in Tennessee as a man of the people -- indicated this week that he would seek the Republican presidential nomination, we knew how the media would describe him: Authentic. Folksy.

Let's back up a moment: Thompson didn't evendrive the rented pickup, as The Washington Monthly reported in 1996:

Finishinghis talk, Thompson shakes a few hands, then walks out with the rest of the crowd to the red pickup truck he made famous during his 1994 Senate campaign. My friend stands talking with her colleagues as the senator is driven away by a blond, all-American staffer. A few minutes later, my friend gets into her car to head home. As she pulls up to the stop sign at the parking lot exit, rolling up to the intersection is Senator Thompson, now behind the wheel of a sweet silver luxury sedan. He gives my friend a slight nod as he drives past. Turning onto the main road, my friend passes the school's small, side parking area. Lo and behold: There sits the abandoned red pickup, along with the all-American staffer.
The pickup was, literally, a rented prop designed to help a wealthy actor/Washington lobbyist/trial lawyer play the role of salt-of-the-earth populist.

But Chris Matthews and the Beltway pundit crowd don't encounter many actual working-class voters as they stroll the dunes of Nantucket. A wealthy lobbyist/actor who rents a red pickup truck to play the role of a regular guy strikes them as "authentic" and "folksy." Mark Halperin wrote this week that Thompson won his first Senate race "after driving his trademark red pickup truck all over Tennessee."

It wasn't "his" and he
didn't "drive" it, of course, but the illusion of authenticity is all that matters to the pundit class. Thus a wealthy lobbyist in a rented pickup is folksy and authentic. (A Nexis search for "Fred Thompson and (Thompson w/20 folksy)" returns 40 hits since January 1. Several mention the red pickup; only Wonkette bothered to mention it was rented. The Washington Post assured readers that "[t]he signature red pickup truck from Thompson's Senate campaigns will be dusted off.")

On May 30’s episode ofHardball, Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan swooned over Thompson:

MATTHEWS: I like the fact of how he responded the other day to Michael Moore. He's got a cigar. Of course, he can't light cigars in his home. Nobody can with their wives around. But he sat there with the cigar. But it was refreshing to me to see a politician with a cigar.


Well, you're right. There's this great naturalness to this fellow, and he was not -- he's not programmed in any way and he's fresh as he can be. I think he moves right into the front tier.


I can tell you, as a reporter, covering him back when he ran against Jim Cooper in that uphill race in Tennessee -- I called him up. I said -- I was doing like a column then -- and I said, "Can I see you?" He didn't have a title then. "Can I see you, Fred?" He says, "Yeah." He said, "Where do you want to meet for breakfast?" He says, "Where are you staying?" I said, "At this hotel." I was staying at, like, a three-star hotel. He says, "OK, I'll meet you there for breakfast." No flacks, no staff, no pomposity. He shows up. ... He seems like the real thing to me.
Matthews had previously gushed over Thompson's "movie star" looks and "daddy" image as well.'s Glenn Greenwald details more media fawning over Fred Thompson:

[T]he illusion of manliness cliches, tough guy poses, and empty gestures of "cultural conservatism" are what the Republican base seeks, and media simpletons like [Newsweek's Howard] Fineman, Halperin and Matthews eat it all up just as hungrily. That's how twice-and-thrice-divorced and draft-avoiding individuals like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh become media symbols of the Christian "values voters" and "tough guy," "tough-on-defense" stalwarts.

And it's how a life-long Beltway lobbyist and lawyer who avoided Vietnam, standing next to his twenty-five-years-younger second wife, is held up by our media stars as a Regular-Guy-Baptist symbol of piety and a no-nonsense, tough-guy, super-masculine warrior who will protect us all.
Read the rest here.

And what of another wealthy Southerner who used to be a trial lawyer? One who doesn't rent props to hide his good fortune? The pundits channel Holden Caulfield and declare John Edwards to be a big phony. Just this week, Bill O'Reilly ("I have no respect for him. He's a phony and is in the tank for special interest to damage this country. Edwards is going nowhere, but deserves to be called out."), Dennis Miller, and Tucker Carlson described Edwards as "phony."

The rich trial lawyer/lobbyist who rents a red pickup, not to drive, but to use as a prop? The media tell us he's folksy and authentic. And the rich former trial lawyer who doesn't hide his good fortune? He's a phony.

If you don't think that makes any sense, think about the apparent rationale that leads journalists to conclude that Edwards is a phony: his policy proposals to fight poverty. He's rich and wants to fight poverty, so they say he's a phony hypocrite. As we have explained, that simply isn't what "hypocrite" means -- it isn't as if Edwards is running around saying everybody should be poor, then going home at night and swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. That would be hypocrisy -- and that isn't what Edwards advocates at all. He wants to combat poverty. Hypocrisy is generally considered one of the most damaging qualities a politician can exhibit. Political reporters certainly behave as though that is the case. And yet they demonstrate an absolutely stunning lack of understanding of what hypocrisy actually is.

And because they can't take 15 seconds to visit, the media obsess over Edwards' wealth. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Carla Marinucci wrote last week:

Democrat John Edwards has eloquently established his credentials as an advocate for the poor with a presidential campaign focused on the devastating effects of poverty in America. But the former North Carolina senator's populist drive has hit a series of troubling land mines: a pair of $400 haircuts, a $500,000 paycheck from a hedge fund, and now a $55,000 payday for a speech on poverty to students at UC Davis.

The problem now facing the Democratic presidential candidate is whether the pileup of headlines, including the latest regarding hefty fees from university speeches reported Monday by The Chronicle, threatens to obliterate Edwards' dominant campaign theme.
This was, to be kind, a bit disingenuous. Perhaps Marinucci was too modest to mention it, but that report by the Chronicle about Edwards' "hefty fees
from university speeches" was written by ... Carla Marinucci. So we have a reporter who writes an article about a candidate, then two days later writes that "the pileup of headlines ... threatens to obliterate" the candidate's message -- without mentioning that she was responsible for one of those headlines that she uses as an example.

Marinucci, continuing directly, wrote:
The former senator, who has been portrayed as the champion of the poor and the son of a humble mill worker, now faces the possibility that voters will have a different image: that of a millionaire trial lawyer who talks one way and lives another.
But Marinucci didn't indicate a single way in which Edwards "talks one way and lives another." Presumably, she's talking about the (not really) hypocrisy of being wealthy while fighting poverty. Later, Marinucci seemed to equate Edwards "problem" with Al Gore's 2000 campaign:

Former Vice President Al Gore regularly was the subject of stories suggesting he was an exaggerator and often fudged facts; the theme became so prevalent that opponents accused him of boasting that he "invented the Internet'' -- a statement he never made.
Marinucci's statement that Gore's "opponents accused him of boasting that he 'invented the Internet' " conveniently whitewashed the role the media played in that smear against Gore. It wasn't just Gore's opponents who falsely accused him of boasting that he invented the Internet, it was the media as well. Indeed, Carla Marinucci was a frequent participant in the smear, both by writing it in her own words and by uncritically quoting Republican attacks on Gore:
Marinucci, 5/10/99: "Vice President Al Gore has visited Silicon Valley dozens of times. He has raised millions of dollars from technology leaders. He has been such a presence on high-tech issues that he recently took credit for 'creating the Internet.' [...] 'We know that Al Gore invented the Internet,' said [Republican presidential candidate John] Kasich, in a not-so-subtle dig at the vice president's self-proclaimed tech leadership. 'What we can offer is to keep the government's mitts off this town.' "

Marinucci, 5/20/99: "'Well, it's true I did not invent the Internet,' said [Republican presidential candidate Dan] Quayle, in a dig at Vice President Al Gore, who recently made the claim after he was asked about technology. 'But I did invent spellcheck.' "

Marinucci, 6/16/99: "[Democratic presidential candidate Bill] Bradley's connections with real people included their questions ('How's it going down in Silicon Valley?'), comments ('You know that Gore invented the Internet') and more questions ('Who are you again?')."

Marinucci, 6/18/99: "'Gore does have an advantage over me -- I did not invent the Internet,' quipped [Republican presidential candidate John] McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, referring to a statement the vice president made during a recent TV interview."

Marinucci, 6/19/99: "McCain also tried to make the case that Gore -- who has made 55 trips to California and numerous fund-raising and political stops in Silicon Valley -- doesn't have a lock on the hearts of high-tech leaders. 'Although I didn't invent the Internet,' he said, in a dig at a remark Gore made during a recent interview, 'I have a keen appreciation for the incredible impact that this is having on America and the world.' "

Marinucci, 6/30/99: "In a clear dig at Vice President Gore, the Democratic front-runner who once took credit for creating the Internet and has pledged to 'keep the prosperity going,' Bush said that Democrats 'no more invented prosperity than they invented the Internet.' "

Marinucci, 11/8/99: "'(This) is not your father's Republican Party,' said the [Republican National] committee's deputy chief of staff, Larry Purpuro, who said [then-RNC chair Jim] Nicholson is now mulling plans to open an Palo Alto office for the party's Silicon Valley interests. 'Al Gore may have invented the Internet -- but Republicans are making it work.' "

Marinucci, 9/21/00: "'AlGore just can't talk straight,' said California GOP Chairman John McGraw in a statement. '= He claims he invented the Internet (and) inspired Love Story, and his latest whopper takes the cake,' he said. 'Time and time again, Gore proves he'll say or do anything to get elected.' One Sunnyvale GOP protester echoed the sentiment with a sign: Internet inventor, doggy drugs: what's next?' "
But now Carla Marinucci claims it was merely Gore's opponents who lied about him. In fact, Carla Marinucci lied about Al Gore, and Carla Marinucci uncritically quoted Republicans doing so without telling her readers the truth. Carla Marinucci and countless other journalists like her.

And now Carla Marinucci writes articles that equate media coverage of John Edwards with what she acknowledges were false claims about Al Gore (though she doesn't acknowledge her own role in those false claims) ... even while she herself writes articles that contribute to that coverage of Edwards ... and, though she equates the coverage of Edwards with the false attacks on Gore, she doesn't suggest that there is something wrong with the coverage of Edwards, but with Edwards himself.

And while repeatedly suggesting that Edwards' wealth in some way conflicts with his policy proposals -- and that headlines about the purported conflict threaten to "obliterate" his campaign theme -- what has Marinucci told her readers about what, exactly, Edwards proposes to do about poverty? Not a damn thing. She hasn't written a single word this year about Edwards' actual poverty proposals. Just about how "headlines" (on pieces she wrote, by the way) about his wealth threaten to overshadow his policy message.

And just as they portray wealthy conservative candidates who rent pickup trucks to fit in with rural Tennesseans as folksy and authentic while declaring Edwards a phony hypocrite, the media largely ignore the wealth of conservative candidates when writing about their policies, even though they frequently manage to work a reference or 12 to Edwards' wealth into stories about his policy positions.

Take Rudy Giuliani, for example. The media suggest in their coverage of Edwards that the candidates' personal finances are a relevant and important part of news reports about their policy proposals. This week, the Associated Press reported that Giuliani "blasted [Hillary] Clinton's proposal -- which she had pitched Tuesday in New Hampshire -- to let President Bush's tax cuts for top earners expire while citing his own support for eliminating the estate tax and reducing the capital gains tax."

Now, Rudy Giuliani is a very wealthy man. His tax policy proposals -- extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, eliminating the estate tax, and reducing the capital gains tax -- would save himself money. Perhaps a great deal of money. Yet Giuliani's wealth wasn't mentioned in the AP article. He is proposing policies that would line his own pockets, and the pockets of very few other people. Yet the media make no effort to estimate how much he would personally profit from his proposals. Nor do they even mention the fact that, as a very wealthy man, he would profit at all.

Yet John Edwards proposes raising taxes on himself and very few others, and the media treat it as scandalous hypocrisy.

Coming from a group of people who think a lobbyist in a rented pickup demonstrates folksy authenticity, this nonsensical approach to the candidates' finances and policies perhaps shouldn't surprise us. But it should trouble us.
Jamison Foser is Managing Director at Media Matters for America.
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