Much ado indeed

August 05, 2004|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON - We now return to our regular programming. The aliens have left. The natives are back. The parking spaces have disappeared again beneath four-wheeled creatures. And the citizens of Boston were rewarded for their good behavior with a free production of the play aptly named Much Ado About Nothing.

Before the entire convention disappears into our attention-deficit-disordered memory hole, allow me to return to the magical moment when push came to "shove it."

Yes, that moment when Teresa Heinz Kerry told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Colin McNickle to take his question and you know what. These two little words were heard more widely than her 22-minute speech, especially since the networks ran NYPD 24/7, The Amazing Race and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit instead.

In case you missed it, the flap began at a meeting when Mrs. Kerry mentioned "un-American traits" creeping into politics. Mr. McNickle then asked her what she meant by "un-American activities." She took offense at his McCarthy spin and then came back and let it rip. And ripple.

This was widely analyzed as evidence of the Teresa-being-Teresa problem. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart wrapped up the commentary this way: "She is a loose cannon. She is a maniac. I've seen it. She has a suit stitched out of Dalmatians."

As Alex Jones, head of the press and politics program at Harvard University, says sardonically, "You never go wrong telling the press to shove it." President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn't exactly lose votes in 2000 after Mr. Bush was overheard calling a New York Times reporter an "asshole."

If my reader e-mails were typical, reactions were split between those ruing Mrs. Kerry's "unbelievably arrogant tone, abrasive attitude and her hostile, offensive remark" and those ruing the treatment of "an independent, powerful and wealthy woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind."

Nevertheless, there was much less ado about the background that led up to the shove. Mr. McNickle, who portrayed himself as "a little uncomfortable with all this attention," said he was here to "report the news, not make it." He added, "All I do is ask the questions."

That's rather charming, if disingenuous. Coming to Boston, the columnist and editorial page editor promoted his adventure into Democratland this way: "What happens when a conservative commentator infiltrates the Democratic National Convention? An outbreak of the truth. It's a dirty job dealing with liberals, but somebody's gotta do it."

Far be it for me to criticize an opinion writer, but Mr. McNickle ain't no David Broder.

And while I wouldn't tarnish a reporter or columnist with the opinions of his publisher, it's notable that the owner of the Tribune-Review is Richard Mellon Scaife. He's that fair-and-balanced guy who never met an anti-Clinton conspiracy theory he didn't fund, including the theory that Vince Foster's death was a murder plot to protect Hillary and Bill Clinton. Mr. McNickle, a sensitive soul, now complains that the "liberals did their best to demonize not only me but the Trib." Can't he imagine any reason for being seen as a demon - at least a troll - on pages that have routinely trashed both Mrs. Kerry and "Mr. Teresa Heinz"?

Demons for sale? How about an anonymous and scurrilous story in the Tribune-Review in 1997 insinuating that a woman had affairs with Bill Clinton and John Kerry - "Far from giving all to Bill, there was still something left over for Sen. John Kerry"? How about attacks last year on Mrs. Kerry on the phony grounds that she funded some violent radicals through the Heinz Foundation?

At some point, heck, a gal could get ticked off.

I'm afraid it's going to be this kind of a season. On Monday, when a heckler yelled, "Four more years," Mrs. Kerry replied, "They want four more years of hell." Her husband quickly (and nervously?) added, "Wasn't Teresa great? She speaks her mind. And she speaks the truth."

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush finally came up with his own re-election gambit. At a stop in Mrs. Kerry's hometown of Pittsburgh, he told the crowd "perhaps the most important reason" to vote for him: "so that Laura will have four more years as first lady." Hmm, do we have a George problem?

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays and Thursdays in The Sun.

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