Maybe democracy will have the last say. Given the power of impressions, however, the media has effectively "taken Edwards apart" in two pictures. (This should not be surprising, though, as any candidate that trends left and threatens to play outside the establishment rules is probably doomed to the same fate.)
On first go around, Edwards was feminized and sissified. On a slow simmer for years, that stage really got hot in early March after Ann Coulter publicly called Edwards a "faggot." It culminated in late April, however, when Adam Nagourney, Maureen Dowd (viewable via johnedwards.com) and Howard Kurtz, within the same week, not only jumped all over JE's pricey Beverly Hills haircut, but seemed to relished the opportunity to revive what Nagourney termed the "Breck Girl sobriquet" with all three journalists plugging (read: blessing) the infamous, Edwards-slandering "I Feel Pretty" You Tube video.
Hence, picture #1.
Phase two crystallized this past weekend with the publication of the NYT Magazine, above.
In the cover story, Matt Bai spends an impressive 7,827 words intimating that John Edwards is a filthy-rich hypocrite who is playing the poverty issue for political advantage. "Writes Bai: "Whenever you wrap yourself in the mantle of morality and conviction ... even the smallest hypocrisy can leave an indelible stain."
Bai goes to work constructing a "glass house" for the candidate. For example, he pushes hard on the fact that Edwards worked for a hedge fund company (those outfits "preying on the poor") after the 2004 election. Bai then almost literally guides a rock through the window, hitting Edwards for building "the largest home in the county" (which, if you don't look carefully, reads like "country.") And, leaving no stone unturned, he also rehashes the haircut business, emphasizing the clip took place in the uppercrust bastion of a hotel room. Mostly telegraphing his own enmity, Bai notes: "... Edwards tries so hard to establish his affinity for the common man that it makes you wince."
But what really hangs the frame around Edwards, and his concern over poverty, is that cover -- our picture #2.
There is Johnny boy, backlit in the color of Benjamins, posed with his hands at his sides like an Everyman, but somehow a bit suspect, a little too tight perhaps. The expression may well be explainable, however, not just by the writer/interviewer's long knife, but the way the cover -- banishing the candidate's name -- makes Edwards less a spokesman for the income gap, then its poster boy.
(Update 5:46 EST: The above image is from the NY Times website which, as the on-line "paper" of record, is what this blogger primarily consumes. To clarify, however, I'm told that the "dead tree" cover did, in fact, include Edwards' name. Named or not named, however, the overriding point of the visual -- that Edwards is being held out by The Times to personify the income gap -- remains the same.)
Update 2: 6/16/07 6 AM EST: In deference to a private email exchange with an editor from the NYT, I believe it worthwhile to add the following comments to my post: Mr. Bai is perfectly within bounds to raise inconsistencies in Mr. Edwards' poverty policies. By suggesting, as the article does, however, that Mr. Edwards' commitment to the poverty issue is politically motivated is to call into question the candidate's character and integrity. It is in this context that the references to hair cuts and home size is particularly toxic. I also don't accept Mr. Bai's assumption that, as a champion of the poor, anything that suggests hypocrisy on Mr. Edwards' part leaves "an indelible stain." According to those standards, one could extract inconsistencies and conflicts out of the personal life of any politician, and then hold it against him or her on almost any issue with a moral dimension. To the extent this tactic/approach is being applied here specifically to Mr. Edwards suggests that the so-called "stain" is primarily media-driven.
For more of the visual, visit BAGnewsNotes.com.
(image: unattributed. New York Times Magazine. Cover. 6/10/2007. nytimes.com)
Follow Michael Shaw on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bagnewsnotes