Even though it's unlikely that this nasty, fraught election summer will include a "silly season," I want to play a game. To better expose the increasingly frightening dishonesty of our media, I want to pretend that John Kerry and John Edwards are Republican senators running for the White House against an incumbent Democratic administration.
Let's begin by flipping the candidate biographies from Left to Right:
A four-term senator, GOP hard-liner John Kerry likes to invoke his tour of duty as a naval officer on a patrol boat during the Vietnam War as his core qualification for the presidency. Indeed, this Boston Brahmin who attended Swiss finishing school may be said to wear his four months inside Vietnam like Teflon armor to deflect all political sallies against his ultra-conservative Senate voting record. But questions about his Vietnam service remain.
While this Republican fat cat -- Kerry's wife Thereza Heinz Kerry controls between $900 million and $3.2 billion (millions of which flow to extreme right-wing causes) -- surrounds himself with a small cadre of former crew members at campaign appearances, about 200 of John Kerry's former Vietnam War swift boat veterans, including 17 out of 24 officers in his division, have signed a public letter stating that John Kerry, the Republican nominee for president, is unfit to be commander-in-chief.
OK. First, ask yourself whether your favorite newshour has ever aired the real-life provocative story of the anti-Kerry swift boat veterans. Given the importance Kerry accords his Vietnam experience, the censure by so many former comrades opens a crucial chapter in the Kerry biography that voters need to hear about. No dice? Wouldn't the media be all over the story if John Kerry were a Republican? Imagine the 24-7, blood-in-the-water feeding frenzy that 200 Air National Guard veterans could trigger by writing the same kind of public letter calling George W. Bush unfit to be president. That's the game.
For further fun, picture the dense, grey broadsheets The New York Times would fill to explain the web of Thereza Heinz Kerry's political philanthropy if it served beneficiaries as insane-right as MoveOn.org (one of Thereza's actual beneficiaries) is lunatic-left. Personally, I wonder about the propriety of Heinz Kerry money flowing to political advocacy groups that spew filth at her husband's political opponent. Big Media don't.
To play on, imagine how curious the media would become if Laura Bush were a right-wing billionairess who not only spread her dollars around "ultra-conservative" organizations working to destroy the Democratic ticket, but also refused, a la the real Mrs. Kerry, to release her tax returns. That might make a headline or two -- or two hundred.
Then there's John Edwards, who, in our game, is the Republican son of a millworker:
GOP veep nominee John Edwards entered politics in 1998 after amassing a fortune as a trial lawyer specializing in medical malpractice cases involving babies born with cerebral palsy -- a legal specialty now associated with junk science. In the case that established his reputation, Edwards stood before a North Carolina jury and closed his case in the voice of an unborn baby girl.
"She speaks to you through me," the future Republican star said. "And I have to tell you right now -- I didn't plan to talk about this -- right now I feel her. I feel her presence. She's inside me, and she's talking to you. ... She said at 3:00, 'I'm fine.' She said at 4:00, 'I'm having a little trouble, but I'm doing OK.' 5:00, she said, 'I'm having problems.' At 5:30, she said, 'I need out.'"
I can just hear the Kerry campaign now, telling us Edwards' real-life channeling experience makes him eminently qualified to attend state funerals. But what about the astounding detail that Edwards, self-touting savior of us little people, avoided paying $600,000 in Medicare taxes even as he was attacking tax shelters that shortchange Medicare on the campaign trail?
This story gets a big media yawn. Somehow, I don't think reporters would fall asleep at the keyboard if the politician doing the $600,000 tax-dodge were a Republican named Dick Cheney.
Such stories, of course, are just the tip of the tip, which means this is a game without an ending. But it does have a point. "The media ... wants Kerry to win," Newsweek's assistant managing editor Evan Thomas said recently. "They're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and there's going to be this glow about them ... that's going to be worth maybe 15 points."
There's honesty about dishonesty for you. But doesn't it make you want to take your marbles and go home?