BOSTON-For an intelligent, outspoken woman in politics who finds herself buffeted by the whims and moods of the national press corps, there is always a choice of descriptive phrases. When she chooses her words with caution, she may be “perfectly poised” but risks being dismissed as “overly scripted.” If she speaks her mind, she could be praised as “refreshingly candid,” but will more likely be denounced as “out of control.”
This is a rigged journalistic game, played most ferociously by reporters and pundits who are adhering studiously to their own predetermined narratives.
In the case of Teresa Heinz Kerry, many in the media determined that she was trouble long before they even had a glimpse of her. Smart and dedicated, wealthy and opinionated, globally conscious and foreign-born, Ms. Heinz Kerry isn’t the typical political spouse our parochial press is accustomed to covering. So they were waiting for her to say something like what she said on July 25, after a reception for Democratic delegates from her home state of Pennsylvania.
That was when she told an editorial writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to “shove it.”
Now the use of such direct language by a politician’s wife is no doubt shocking to the sensibilities of most journalists, especially the older male contingent. It’s one thing for the Republican Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates to berate a reporter as an “asshole” when they think nobody is listening, as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did four years ago, or for the Vice President to growl “Go fuck yourself” on the Senate floor, as Mr. Cheney did a few weeks ago. Boys will be boys, even into late middle age, but girls must ever remain passive and demure.
“Who’s in charge of keeping her on message?” demanded David Broder of The Washington Post. Surely that’s a fair question for a campaign that doesn’t want the spouse creating distractions for the candidate. But it is also fair to ask why she rounded on the man from the Tribune-Review.
The innocuously named newspaper has long served as the weapon of Richard Mellon Scaife, its founder and publisher. His name is now synonymous with the campaign of hate and calumny focused on the Clintons during the 1990’s, but to Ms. Heinz Kerry, his methods were familiar long before he achieved any national notoriety. During the decades of her marriage to the late Senator H. John Heinz III, she knew Mr. Scaife as part of the rarefied circle of very rich local families whose names adorn museum galleries and university buildings.
Although both men were Republicans, Heinz tended to be moderate and occasionally even liberal, while Mr. Scaife was increasingly conservative, attracted to conspiracy theories and aggressive extremism. Years before her first husband’s death in 1991, Teresa Heinz came to feel that Mr. Scaife had misused his newspaper to punish her and her husband for dissenting from right-wing Republican orthodoxy. Since her marriage to John Kerry in 1995, the hostility of the Scaife press and the outfits funded by Scaife foundations toward her has been nothing short of vicious.
A few days after the Massachusetts Senator and his wife celebrated their second Christmas together, the Tribune-Review ran a column suggesting that Mr. Kerry had been enjoying a “very private” relationship with another woman. There was no byline on the story and no evidence to support the salacious insinuation. There was nothing to it, in fact, except pure malice.
When fresh accusations about her husband’s fidelity erupted earlier this year in the right-wing press, Ms. Heinz Kerry could scarcely have been surprised that the smear’s most eager purveyors included Internet sites financed by Mr. Scaife and his family foundations. Those “news sources” have also impugned Mr. Kerry’s patriotism, maligned his military service and distorted his voting record. They happen to be operated by the same discredited scribblers who once tried to convince America that Bill and Hillary Clinton were murderers and drug smugglers.
Meanwhile, Ms. Kerry herself is hardly exempt from the angry fantasies emanating from Mr. Scaife’s strange universe. Last spring, a Scaife-funded “research group” sent out a study that accused her of covertly financing violent radicals of various kinds, including Islamists, through the straitlaced Heinz foundations that she controls. There was absolutely no basis for that tale-as the right-wing sleuths could have learned by making a single phone call. The Heinz money they had “traced” through a San Francisco group had actually gone in its entirety to support anti-pollution projects in Pennsylvania.
Those are only a few brief examples among dozens. The Scaife disinformation conglomerate has churned out nastiness about Ms. Heinz Kerry by the carload for years, and finally she talked back. The guy she scorched last Sunday was meant to take that message back to his boss in Pittsburgh-a man who has deserved the brunt of such refreshing candor for a long, long time.