A rich man in a poor man’s shirt – Media Matters


Imagine how the media would react if a multimillionaire, East Coast, big-city, thrice-married presidential candidate who was a progressive Democrat said his most recent music purchase was opera, his favorite fitness activity, golf, and added that he doesn’t drive — he navigates.

Or if a progressive Democratic candidate who had launched his political career by marrying into a wealthy and politically connected family, then promptly running for Congress, revealed that he has pet turtles named “Cuff” and “Link.”

Or if a progressive Democratic candidate who was the son of a governor, who has a net worth of around $200 million, whose own campaign staff was concerned he is seen as not tough enough and that his hair looks too perfect … imagine if such a candidate said that if he weren’t running for office, he’d probably be chief executive of an auto company and whose staff boasted that the difference between him and the president is “intelligence.”

The media would have an absolute field day, yammering endlessly about how the candidate is too “soft” and is an elitist, an arrogant know-it-all with a misguided sense of entitlement who is hopelessly out of touch with the rugged regular-folk who live in Michigan and enjoy NASCAR and country music and drive pickups. There would be a real danger of Chris Matthews literally exploding on live television, unable to contain his incredulity that such a clueless candidate could possibly think a Pennsylvania steelworker would care what he has to say. (Then, with the Klieg lights turned off, Matthews would head off to one of the glitzy balls that he frequents, maintaining his place on Washington Life‘s “Social List” — or perhaps he’d take a quick trip to relax by the pool of his vacation home nestled among the dunes of Nantucket. Railing against cultural elites on behalf of the Working Man is tiring, after all.)

But when the three leading (for now) Republican presidential candidates reveal their fondness for opera (Giuliani), have their pets named after fashion accessories (McCain), and boast that if they weren’t running for president, they’d probably be running an auto company (Romney), it passes without notice.

So when longtime lobbyist and Hollywood actor Fred Thompson — a man who once rented a red pickup truck in order to campaign in Tennessee as a man of the people — indicated this week that he would seek the Republican presidential nomination, we knew how the media would describe him: Authentic. Folksy.

Let’s back up a moment: Thompson didn’t even drive the rented pickup, as The Washington Monthly reported in 1996:

Finishing his talk, Thompson shakes a few hands, then walks out with the rest of the crowd to the red pickup truck he made famous during his 1994 Senate campaign. My friend stands talking with her colleagues as the senator is driven away by a blond, all-American staffer. A few minutes later, my friend gets into her car to head home. As she pulls up to the stop sign at the parking lot exit, rolling up to the intersection is Senator Thompson, now behind the wheel of a sweet silver luxury sedan. He gives my friend a slight nod as he drives past. Turning onto the main road, my friend passes the school’s small, side parking area. Lo and behold: There sits the abandoned red pickup, along with the all-American staffer.

The pickup was, literally, a rented prop designed to help a wealthy actor/Washington lobbyist/trial lawyer play the role of salt-of-the-earth populist.

But Chris Matthews and the Beltway pundit crowd don’t encounter many actual working-class voters as they stroll the dunes of Nantucket. A wealthy lobbyist/actor who rents a red pickup truck to play the role of a regular guy strikes them as “authentic” and “folksy.” Mark Halperin wrote this week that Thompson won his first Senate race “after driving his trademark red pickup truck all over Tennessee.”

It wasn’t “his” and he didn’t “drive” it, of course, but the illusion of authenticity is all that matters to the pundit class. Thus a wealthy lobbyist in a rented pickup is folksy and authentic. (A Nexis search for “Fred Thompson and (Thompson w/20 folksy)” returns 40 hits since January 1. Several mention the red pickup; only Wonkette bothered to mention it was rented. The Washington Post assured readers that “[t]he signature red pickup truck from Thompson’s Senate campaigns will be dusted off.”)

On Hardball last night, Chris Matthews and Pat Buchanan swooned over Thompson:

MATTHEWS: I like the fact of how he responded the other day to Michael Moore. He’s got a cigar. Of course, he can’t light cigars in his home. Nobody can with their wives around. But he sat there with the cigar. But it was refreshing to me to see a politician with a cigar.

[…]

BUCHANAN: Well, you’re right. There’s this great naturalness to this fellow, and he was not — he’s not programmed in any way and he’s fresh as he can be. I think he moves right into the front tier.

[…]

MATTHEWS: I can tell you, as a reporter, covering him back when he ran against Jim Cooper in that uphill race in Tennessee — I called him up. I said — I was doing like a column then — and I said, “Can I see you?” He didn’t have a title then. “Can I see you, Fred?” He says, “Yeah.” He said, “Where do you want to meet for breakfast?” He says, “Where are you staying?” I said, “At this hotel.” I was staying at, like, a three-star hotel. He says, “OK, I’ll meet you there for breakfast.” No flacks, no staff, no pomposity. He shows up. … He seems like the real thing to me.

Matthews previously gushed over Thompson’s “movie star” looks and “daddy” image.

Salon.com‘s Glenn Greenwald details more media fawning over Fred Thompson:

[T]he illusion of manliness cliches, tough guy poses, and empty gestures of “cultural conservatism” are what the Republican base seeks, and media simpletons like [Newsweek‘s Howard] Fineman, Halperin and Matthews eat it all up just as hungrily. That’s how twice-and-thrice-divorced and draft-avoiding individuals like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh become media symbols of the Christian “values voters” and “tough guy,” “tough-on-defense” stalwarts.

And it’s how a life-long Beltway lobbyist and lawyer who avoided Vietnam, standing next to his twenty-five-years-younger second wife, is held up by our media stars as a Regular-Guy-Baptist symbol of piety and a no-nonsense, tough-guy, super-masculine warrior who will protect us all.

Read the rest here.

And what of another wealthy Southerner who used to be a trial lawyer? One who doesn’t rent props to hide his good fortune? The pundits channel Holden Caulfield and declare John Edwards to be a big phony. Just this week, Bill O’Reilly (“I have no respect for him. He’s a phony and is in the tank for special interest to damage this country. Edwards is going nowhere, but deserves to be called out.”), Dennis Miller, and Tucker Carlson (“Is Edwards an appalling phony, I guess is my question?”) described Edwards as “phony.”

The rich trial lawyer/lobbyist who rents a red pickup, not to drive, but to use as a prop? The media tell us he’s folksy and authentic. And the rich former trial lawyer who doesn’t hide his good fortune? He’s a phony.

If you don’t think that makes any sense, think about the apparent rationale that leads journalists to conclude that Edwards is a phony: his policy proposals to fight poverty. He’s rich and wants to fight poverty, so they say he’s a phony hypocrite. As we have explained, that simply isn’t what “hypocrite” means — it isn’t as if Edwards is running around saying everybody should be poor, then going home at night and swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. That would be hypocrisy — and that isn’t what Edwards advocates at all. He wants to combat poverty. Hypocrisy is generally considered one of the most damaging qualities a politician can exhibit. Political reporters certainly behave as though that is the case. And yet they demonstrate an absolutely stunning lack of understanding of what hypocrisy actually is.

And because they can’t take 15 seconds to visit Dictionary.com, the media obsess over Edwards’ wealth. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Carla Marinucci wrote last week:

Democrat John Edwards has eloquently established his credentials as an advocate for the poor with a presidential campaign focused on the devastating effects of poverty in America. But the former North Carolina senator’s populist drive has hit a series of troubling land mines: a pair of $400 haircuts, a $500,000 paycheck from a hedge fund, and now a $55,000 payday for a speech on poverty to students at UC Davis.

The problem now facing the Democratic presidential candidate is whether the pileup of headlines, including the latest regarding hefty fees from university speeches reported Monday by The Chronicle, threatens to obliterate Edwards’ dominant campaign theme.

Read the rest of the article here

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