The media sideshow as the Democratic convention officially begins today is Teresa Heinz Kerry’s tussle with a journalist, as anyone who watched morning television well knows. “Shove it,” she reportedly told a scribe from a right-wing newspaper from her hometown of Pittsburgh who asked her to clarify remarks she made earlier during a speech to Pennsylvania delegates.
“We have to turn back some of the creeping, un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits that are coming into some of our politics,” she told the delegates. When the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial writer asked her to clarify what she meant by “un-American activities,” she said she never used that phrase, but he didn’t relent. Heinz Kerry walked away, but then returned: “You said something I didn’t say, now shove it,” she said, pointing her finger at him.
The whole story isn’t on the videotape. There’s a history between Heinz Kerry and the Tribune-Review, a newspaper published by the right-wing donor Richard Mellon Scaife. As the Kerry campaign put it in a statement: “It was a moment of extreme frustration aimed at a right wing rag that has consistently and almost purposefully misrepresented the facts when reporting on Mrs. Heinz Kerry.”
Two examples: Scaife’s charities funded the authors of a study purporting to link Heinz Kerry to a San Francisco group with supposedly “radical” views and accused her foundation of “laundering” donations to radical groups. This report was covered by Scaife’s newspaper without mentioning that he helped fund it. And the report itself was bogus, considered urban legend by the folks at Snopes, and was only covered on the opinion pages of conservative newspapers.
Then there was the report that Heinz Kerry’s estate is designated as farmland, and thus assessed at a lower tax rate than her real estate spread deserves. But this story, too, has little merit. Heinz Kerry actually wrote a letter to the county chief executive in 2002 asking to pay more taxes because she thought her property was being underassessed. (Scaife was also a behind-the-scenes figure in Whitewater, with close ties to Ken Starr. It should be no surprise that his newspaper also covered the going-nowhere investigation he supported with a heavy bias against the Clintons.)
So clearly Heinz Kerry expects hostile coverage from this newspaper, and her reaction was a product of that expectation. Democrats including Sen. Hillary Clinton jumped to Teresa’s defense: “‘She is expressing herself honestly and openly,’ Mrs. Clinton told CNN this morning. Asked if such a remark would turn off voters, Mrs. Clinton said: ‘I don’t think that it will. I think a lot of Americans are going to say, ‘Good for you! You go, girl!’ And that certainly is how I feel about it.’”