Nineteen years ago tonight, the liberal media were in full swoon over Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (yes, that John Kerry!) as if he were some kind of a political champion. TV reporters enthusiastically applauded his middling performance at the 2004 Democratic Convention with the hope that their effusive praise might propel the liberal Massachusetts Senator into the White House.
Kerry began his July 29, 2004 acceptance speech with a heavy-handed reference to his time as a U.S. Navy Lieutenant during the Vietnam War three decades earlier. “I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty!” Kerry bellowed as he saluted the Democratic delegates.
The media loved it. “I have never seen the man speak so well,” Time’s Joe Klein gushed on CNN.
“This is the best speech I have ever heard John Kerry make,” CBS’s Bob Schieffer echoed. “I listened to a lot of speeches back there in the primary. This was the best.”
The always-weird Dan Rather proclaimed that Kerry’s speech was greeted by “an almost literal thunder inside the hall, shaking the Fleet Center in a way that it seldom shakes, if ever, even during a Celtics basketball playoff game or a Bruins hockey playoff game. These Democrats, as the speech built, having what amounted to maybe a three-thousand-gallon attack about every three minutes, united in a way the Democratic Party has not been for about half a century.”
“John Kerry went out there and he went right into the teeth of Republican issues,” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos suggested the next day on Good Morning America. “I mean, it was the political equivalent of turning toward enemy fire and charging the hill.”
“When he stood up and said, ‘John Kerry, reporting for duty,’ you could feel the whole room say, ‘Yes!’ Because they realize that in the post-September 11 world, the Democrats cannot yield on the issue of defense or terrorism or values,” Tim Russert beamed on NBC’s Today.
Then-CBS correspondent Byron Pitts was the most pro-Kerry of all of the reporters covering that year’s campaign. He readily repeated the Democratic campaign’s emotional talking points in ways even other liberal reporters might consider embarrassing. “For Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, tonight’s acceptance of the Democratic nomination is more than merely a day — it’s his destiny,” Pitts intoned on The Early Show a few hours before Kerry spoke.
Later in that same report, Pitts cast the career politician in heroic terms: “The day before his speech, Kerry crossed Boston Harbor with some of his crew mates from Vietnam, his band of brothers. They have one battle left. But tonight the loner will stand alone here in his hometown one more time and look to do what John F. Kerry has nearly always done — find a way to win.”
That night, during CBS’s live coverage following Kerry’s speech, Pitts attempted to humanize the pompous and pedantic Senator: “It was four years ago during the Democratic convention, not far from where we stand tonight, that John Kerry stood near his father on his deathbed. Earlier, as the family was preparing to leave John Kerry’s home in Boston, I’m told he whispered to his sister, ‘Remember the words of our mother on her deathbed when she said, ‘John,’ knowing he would run for President some day, ‘remember, John, integrity, that’s what matters.’ Tonight, John Kerry tried to show that integrity.”
[That clip was so egregious, it “won” Pitt the “John Kerry Suck Up Award” at the Media Research Center’s 2005 DisHonors Awards.]
The media’s praise that week wasn’t limited to Kerry. “People talk about John Edwards being the sexiest politician in America. I think Teresa Heinz may be the sexiest spouse of a national candidate in my memory,” then-Wall Street Journal reporter John Harwood blurted on CNN’s NewsNight on July 27. “She comes across pretty strong, soulful, tender even, in a way.”
“I think the real breakout tonight is [then-Illinois Senate candidate Barack] Obama. I mean, Teresa is a fascinating story, but Obama is a rock star!” a giddy NBC’s Andrea Mitchell exclaimed after Obama’s keynote speech on July 27. Thus began the national media’s long love affair with the future 44th President.
Reporters also adored Kerry’s yet-to-be-disgraced running mate, North Carolina Senator John Edwards. “Somewhere along the way, the redneck son of a mill worker from rural North Carolina morphed into an almost-perfect candidate,” Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe fawned in a “Web-exclusive” commentary posted July 14 on his magazine’s Web site. “He loves the crowd, and the crowd loves him. He smiles at the crowd, and they smile at him. He speaks to the crowd, and they speak to him.”
“Humor from the boss, humanity from his running mate,” CBS’s Pitts reliably pitched in a July 7 Evening News story about “the Democratic Party’s new dream team....Team Kerry touched and tickled their way to Ohio, their first stop in a six-state, five-day swing through battleground states....”
What could explain all of this promotional fluff? Earlier that month, Wolffe’s Newsweek colleague Evan Thomas, acknowledged on the political discussion show Inside Washington that “The [establishment] media, I think, wants Kerry to win....They’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all. There’s going to be this glow about them that some, is going to be worth, collectively, the two of them, that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points.”
[Three months later, on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Thomas downgraded his prediction, saying “maybe” the media’s liberal bias would be worth five points to the Democratic ticket.]
And at the Democratic Convention itself, New York Times reporter John Tierney surveyed 153 journalists at a press party. “When asked who would be a better President, the journalists from outside the Beltway picked Mr. Kerry 3-to-1, and the ones from Washington favored him 12-to-1,” Tierney disclosed in an August 1 “Political Points” compendium.
Reporters might not have actually believed Kerry and Edwards were the dreamiest dynamic duo ever to head a national political ticket. But their unembarrassed positive coverage made it clear that they weren’t going to do anything to hurt their chances of booting George W. Bush and Dick Cheney out of the White House that November.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.