Why has the Times turned so aggressively on Caroline Kennedy? What began as a swooning love affair has turned into near-daily diatribes about her lack of passion, her reticence, and her failure to live up to the abstract expectations that have guided its coverage of her candidacy.
Today's story, "For Kennedy, Self-Promotion Is Unfamiliar," by Nicholas Confessore and Jeremy W. Peters, sinks to a new low in placing impossible demands on Kennedy, an admitted political novice. At one point it actually holds her accountable for not reacting more audibly to the sight of Kennedy family photos at a political meeting in Rochester:
When Ms. Kennedy visited the Democratic headquarters in Rochester recently, local officials ushered her eagerly into a conference area known as the Kennedy Room, decorated with pictures of her father, her mother, her younger brother, and Ms. Kennedy herself as a little girl. Ms. Kennedy, while polite, did not appear particularly moved.
“She never responded to the pictures,” recalled Robert Duffy, the mayor of Rochester and the meeting’s host. “She looked and perhaps nodded. She never said a word about it.”
What was Kennedy supposed to do? Launch into anecdotes about hiding under the President's desk? Weep uncontrollably at the sight of her dead family's photos? It seems obvious that Kennedy has had to deal with the unexpected presence of family images throughout her life, and has learned to keep her responses private -- as they should be.
But that won't do for the Times. The paper wants her to behave in a manner that conforms more closely to its expectations of her -- that is, more like the charismatic Kennedy image projected by her father. Anything short of that represents a political liability, if not a personal failure:
Others pointed out that Ms. Kennedy was also laboring under a colossal weight of expectations. Some people seem to expect her to be more, well, Kennedyesque — gregarious and extroverted. But Ms. Kennedy’s own political style seems to have more in common with that of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who once held Mrs. Clinton’s seat: cerebral, restrained, wry.
In an age when flamboyant displays of warmth and empathy seem almost like an obligatory feature of campaigning, Ms. Kennedy simply seems to prefer keeping her feelings to herself.
But if that's because Kennedy is campaigning for the vote of only one man -- Governor David Paterson -- then perhaps she should have realized sooner that she should also have been campaigning for Confessore's support. He, David Halbfinger and Jeremy W. Peters have focused their coverage almost exclusively on Kennedy's weaknesses, her failures and her flubs.
In today's story, the reporters go so far as to compare her unfavorably with Hillary Clinton, whose seat she hopes to hold.
"And many described [Kennedy's] approach as striking for someone who is not only seeking a high office, but one held by Hillary Rodham Clinton," they wrote, "who in her own first bid for the Senate never left New Yorkers wondering how badly she wanted the job, and how hard she was willing to work to get it."
That seems to be the crux of the Times's argument against Kennedy: that she doesn't want the job enough, or at least act as though she wants it. That has been a continuing theme in Times stories in recent days, and reappeared yet again as the concluding note in today's story:
Ms. Kennedy’s whirlwind introduction has raised some doubts about her temperament and political hunger. One person who discussed the Senate job with Ms. Kennedy, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity in fear of retribution from her supporters, said that she did not convey a thirst for the job, adding, “It was hard to discern if she wants this or if she’s doing this out of a sense of duty.”
Why do Confessore, Halbfinger and Peters keep pushing the same point? It almost seems as though they want drive Kennedy out of the race, or ruin her chances of getting Paterson's approval -- perhaps to demonstrate the influence of the Times in New York State politics. Or are they just miffed that Kennedy hasn't more fully answered their silly questions about her motives, or their premature questions about financial disclosure?
They, and others, cannot seem to wrap their minds around the fact that Kennedy has not spent the last two decades as a full-time political animal, honing her glad-handing skills and practicing her Kennedyesque charm. Instead she has been busy raising a family, working on causes and writing books. There's a sexist undertone to these articles, implying some sort of character flaw in her lack of an aggressive nature.
“She’s never been aggressive,” Maura Moynihan, a friend and college classmate of Ms. Kennedy’s and the daughter of the senator, told the Times. “She’s never been an egomaniac. She’s never pushed her way before the cameras.” That makes her an unusual kind of Kennedy -- and, perhaps, a welcome one.