Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Gasp! She dissed Nixon! The media template has been established: Teresa Heinz Kerry is outspoken and controversial. And nothing can change that -- not even sitting down for an interview with the New York Times' John Tierney and saying little of note.

Here's how Tierney's piece opens:

Even with two aides monitoring the interview, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the first Democrat to generate serious buzz in the presidential campaign, could not resist being candid when she was asked the other day her opinion of a warning issued by Richard M. Nixon in 1992. "If the wife comes through as being too strong and too intelligent," Nixon had said, referring to a newcomer named Hillary, "it makes the husband look like a wimp."

Ms. Heinz Kerry, the wife of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and one of the nation's leading philanthropists, promptly fired back at Nixon, leaving his wife as collateral damage. Saying that the former president had "personal quirks," she referred to his marriage to Pat Nixon and said with a shrug, "Well, we know Richard Nixon wasn't too much in contact with how women should be."

Casually insulting a dead president and first lady was probably not the message her aides had hoped for in the interview on Friday afternoon at the Pierre Hotel in New York. But then, ever since Mr. Kerry was discussed as a possible presidential candidate, he has often been overshadowed by his wife's frank comments about everything from her marriages past and present, her prenuptial agreement with Mr. Kerry, her botox treatments and the Bush adviser who accused her husband of looking French. As the Kerry campaign gets under way, she is being described as either its greatest strength or its biggest liability.

In other words, what Heinz gave Tierney were some exceedingly ordinary observations about Richard Nixon, our most despised former president, and how he related to women. But these comments must be made to fit the template, so Tierney writes that she "[c]asually insult[ed] a dead president and first lady." Really? Is that how any sane person would read this?

And, as the end of Tierney's opening suggests, what is to follow is all rehash. Yet this substance-free profile made the front page.

Okay, I like his line about Heinz being "the first Democrat to generate serious buzz in the presidential campaign."

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