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Sun of a Media Worker

A look at the loving treatment the press has given John Edwards.

8:00 AM, Jul 8, 2004 • By PAUL CHESSER
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When Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina suspended his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in March, my Carolina Journal colleagues and I engaged in a Wall Street Journal-inspired "bye-ku" competition in remembrance of his campaign. His "Two Americas" and "son of a mill worker" themes were popular targets, but so was the media love:

The "Breck Girl," still coiffed,

Reluctantly exits race

Raleigh's news rag sad.


Big teeth and coiffed hair

Touchy-feely Marxism

Of course the press swooned.

His other home-town paper, the News & Observer, was less jaded. After all, they had stoked the Edwards-for-president fervor, so his withdrawal met with commensurate gloom. But the announcement on Tuesday that Edwards will run as vice president with John Kerry restored the News & Observer editorial board's faith yesterday, as they gushed that Edwards "appealed to voters with a positive, forward-looking campaign" and that "one reason Edwards seems to hit home with [working families] is that his message has been a positive one." "Edwards's response to [opponents]," they beamed, "generally has been to stick to his positive themes."

Looks like the endorsement has already been written.

EXPECT MUCH OF THE SAME from the national media. Like the Raleigh paper, the major press and broadcast outlets like to think that Edwards is right where they believe they are: in the middle. Look for reporters to use terms, as they have in the past, such as "moderate," "middle-class," "populist," "small-town appeal," "working families," "common," and "folksy" in articles describing Edwards. Oh, and "mill," too--they love those downtrodden factory origins.

For such an average, middling guy, Edwards possesses the pizzazz that the media has wanted from the Kerry campaign. Journalists use descriptions that include "fresh-faced," "vigorous," "engaging," "crisp," "charismatic," "eloquent," "uplifting," "appealing," and "youthful." It sounds like a focus-group dream. John Edwards: He's Mountain Dew, chicken Caesar salad, and raspberry sorbet all rolled into one.

Need a role model? Edwards is your man. He was the first in his family to attend college--as reporters are fond to repeat--and is the son of the now-most famous, yet unnamed small-town mill worker in the world. Biographical articles about Wallace Edwards's son have characterized him as "overachieving," because he overcame an alleged disadvantage by coming from a blue-collar small town.

Meanwhile, in the coming months criticisms of Edwards's inexperience will likely be relegated to a single short paragraph or two, and attributed to a Republican. Almost all other unfavorable adjectives will also be attached to his political opponents. Don't expect an "objective" challenge to Edwards's lack of "gravitas."

Edwards's opponents will also be the ones who apply the "liberal" label, rather than reporters, although the Boston Globe bucked this tendency yesterday in an analysis of his record.

"Edwards's brief Senate record reflects a lawmaker whose legislative agenda is similarly liberal to Kerry's and strikingly different from those of other Southern Democrats," the Globe reported. "Edwards is ranked the fourth-most liberal member of the Senate (Kerry is first) by the nonpartisan magazine National Journal."

The newspaper also reported that Edwards received a zero rating from two national social conservative groups while earning strong praise from a liberal environmentalist group. The Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog organization, reported last year that the senator received a 12 percent approval rating from the American Conservative Union and in 2001 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.

Don't expect that to be talked about much between now and November.

"EFFORTS WILL BE MADE, of course, to paint [Edwards] as a liberal and to assign to him the anchors that Republican opponents try to attach to Democrats," the News & Observer explained.

Over the next several months, we should expect an equally strenuous effort to be made on Edwards's behalf by the media.

Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina
, published by the John Locke Foundation.