Here we go again
Sometimes an unusually silly column shows up as a harbinger of shallow journalism ahead. Today's example appears under the byline of Joan Vennocchi, psychobabbling about John Kerry in the Boston Globe. Here again is the kind of political writing that marred the 2000 presidential race: mystifying speculation about personality, gossip tarted up as analysis, a laserlike focus on the irrelevant, and a deep abhorrence of real issues.
In a preview of Republican spin, Vennocchi tells readers that Kerry "doesn't know who he is." Why would she say that? His grandmother was Jewish and his grandfather, who immigrated from Austria, changed the family name from Kohn to Kerry. Kerry learned these facts about his family background late in life. He has known about his grandmother's Jewish origins for almost 20 years. But to Vennocchi, "confusion about his heritage mirrors a larger confusion about his essence." His "essence"? Is she writing astrology? Where did the editors go?
Her column insinuates that the senator concealed his grandmother's Jewish origins from his constituents. "None of this is part of Kerry's local political persona. It comes as a surprise ..." and so on. But scroll down a few paragraphs and it becomes clear that he mentioned his grandmother's conversion on television with John McLaughlin nine years ago.
Massachusetts voters have known Kerry for 30 years. He has a strong progressive voting record and has stood up more than once against severe political pressures, notably in his investigations of crooked international banking and aid to the Nicaraguan contras. Vennocchi skips all that, along with Kerry's personal history in the Navy and the antiwar movement -- the experiences that taught him a lot about "who he is." She frets that someone might think he's really Irish! She worries about pinning down "his personal roots," as if endorsing the primitive, somewhat offensive notion that the most important thing about any American is ethnic background. Besides, it's far less intellectually challenging to write gossip about Kerry's background than to engage with his candidacy for the nation's highest office.
Readers who would like to understand more about Kerry's politics as well as his personality are advised to look up the New Yorker profile of last Dec. 2 by Joe Klein -- an unvarnished but fair-minded profile by a serious journalist who has covered Kerry since the early '70s, when Klein worked for an alternative weekly in Cambridge.
[10:54 a.m. PST, Feb. 4, 2003]