June 27, 2006

The Latest NYT Democratic Swamp Creature: RFK Jr.


By fronting this profile on Sunday’s Style section, the NYT could both swipe at another prominent Dem, and exploit his celebrity at the same time.

Playing on environmental activist RFK Jr.’s penchant for outdoor adventure, including challenging sports like rafting and waterskiing, The Times framed Kennedy as a “danger seeker” and an agitator for having recently questioned the legitimacy of the 2004 presidential election in an extensive Rolling Stone magazine feature.

Simultaneously, The Times cast Mr. Kennedy as an eccentric for his involvement in the environmental movement.  In cheapening his ecological commitment, the article cites an incident in which nine year old RFK Jr. presented President Kennedy with a dead salamander

Now 52, Mr. Kennedy, is one of the country’s most prominent environmental lawyers and advocates. Clearly he was traumatized by his youthful act of environmental insensitivity and vowed as an adult to become a fervent protector of all the planet’s salamanders.

You don’t have to read too deeply to find the slant in the lead photo (which ran a full page wide and a half page tall, mind you),  If you can’t make out the Golden Gate bridge, the caption identifies the location as San Francisco.  How much more blatant can you could you get, however, than to identify Kennedy with dangerousness; accuse him of being on a crusade; label him as being “out on a limb”;  then pose him standing on an edge, alongside rough rocks, in the city most known for the radical fringe?

I didn’t mention the rest of the caption, though.  It notes that Kennedy:  “Long an advocate for the earth’s waterways, has now ventured into deep waters with accusations of election fraud….”  [Italics mine.]

But, that wasn’t the only photo applying a nature metaphor to attack Kennedy over the Rolling Stone story.  Squeezing all the mileage they could out of the Kennedy mystique, The Times ran still another photo of RFK Jr. in Sunday’s front page table of contents.

In comparison, the metaphor in this caption makes the previous one almost deferential:


(images: Eros Hoagland for The New York Times.  June 25, 2006.  Sunday Style.  p. 1)

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Michael Shaw
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