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Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Real Deal

I'd like to put in a little plug for my hometown paper the LA Times. Several days ago Robin Abcarian wrote the story that Jodi Wilgoren and Nedra Pickler were too busy taking dictation from Karl Rove to investigate and write about:

Candidates Strive to Overcome Privilege

...Indeed, the lives of both candidates, in broad strokes, paint a classic portrait of American privilege. "These people are definitely in the American hereditary upper class," said Gary Boyd Roberts, a Boston genealogist who has traced Bush's and Kerry's lineages and discovered they are distantly related. (Branches of their family trees cross eight times, said Roberts; at the closest point, they are ninth cousins). They are also descended from medieval kings.

How has privilege played out in their lives? Very differently, as it turns out.

Bush, a true social and political aristocrat, has spent much of his life publicly distancing himself from his patrician roots, while quietly availing himself of family connections. "Privilege completely and utterly defines George Bush," said his biographer, Texas journalist Bill Minutaglio. "I don't think it's pejorative to point that out."

Kerry, whose family glory lies in an illustrious and historic past, has worked energetically to secure his place in the upper reaches of American society, and twice married heiresses. "His parents came from modest wealth," said his biographer, historian Douglas Brinkley. "He was always a little cash-poor for the milieu he was running around in. He's like the F. Scott Fitzgerald figure looking into that world with one foot in and one foot out."

The novelist Christopher Buckley, an acerbic social observer who wrote speeches for Bush's father when he was vice president, said of the two political rivals: "Bush set out to distance himself from the world of Eastern establishmentarian privilege…. The funny thing is that Kerry sort of looks more like the guy who was born with the silver spoon, but economically, his circumstances were far less golden. That's the paradox."

Now that's interesting stuff. It required, you know, research and calling people up and asking them questions instead of regurgitating Republican talking points and hurriedly typing up the price of menu items from your expense account spreadsheet. But, in the end you come up with a real story filled with information and insight into the two men who are vying for the office of president.

This piece is not a hit on either men, although it is unflattering to each at times. Neither does it attempt to render a complete psychological protrait of them. What it does is take the campaign talking point that the Bush team is obviously pushing -- that Kerry is Thurston Howell the third while Bush is Wyatt Earp -- and examines the influence privilege, wealth and connections have brought to both men.

I realize that is a lot to ask of a busy journalist for the New York Times. So, I would suggest that we start to treat the Times' political coverage as nothing but party press releases and look elsewhere for journalism. It's out there.

thanks Tommy