July 7, 2007

Update From Breck World (or: Who's Wearing John's Pants?)


In the latest attack on John Edwards’ masculinity, the NYT hits on the theme that Edwards is overshadowed by his wife.

Looking at the visuals in the “Elizabeth Edwards update” in last Sunday’s on-line edition, the lead shot features Mrs. Edwards giving a stump speech before a large crowd in Kentucky.  The second image (above) foregrounds Mrs. Edwards while Johnny, a distant blur, addresses a puny audience of what looks like a reporter, a couple of photographers, and a guy watching the door.  At the same time, Mrs. Edwards, looking like the brains behind the operation, is dictating to a campaign aide.

Of course, one could argue this is simply a respectful article about the influence of a competent and involved spouse.  (Not that I recall many articles about the seemingly just-as-influential Michele Obama’s impact on Barack, or articles making a point of Bill Clinton’s strategic influence on Team Hillary … but maybe I missed them, or maybe Elizabeth is just that much more competent than the others.)

In the “tone department,” I’ve also been interested lately in Adam Nagourney’s use of the “o” word.  Noting the impact of Mrs. Edwards’ confrontation with Ann Coulter, for example, he writes:

It also made Mrs. Edwards the sympathetic face of the Edwards campaign, for a few days overshadowing the candidate himself.

Funny how both photos in question emphasize Mrs. Edwards in the leading role.  In the linked shot, we see Elizabeth in a dramatic and intimate situation, encircled by an audience paying rapt attention.  Comparing the two pics (the flag backdrop in both backgrounds helping set up the parallel), we see Mrs. Edwards dramatically outdrawing her husband who is set way back behind a podium.  And, in the second shot, we are shown Mrs. Edwards in a real power position, hand to her chin, giving orders, while talking over a fuzzy little margin-hugging John.

It might have made less of of this if the exact same theme hadn’t presented itself in Mr. Nagourney’s last John Edwards story published on June 18th.  In that piece (right after Nagorney asked Edwards how he felt about his candidacy being overshadowed by those of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton), the story gets into the “Breck factor” and, again, turns to the John/Elizabeth relationship — and power balance.

The story (descriptively mirroring an accompanying video) plays up Mrs. Elizabeth holding the floor in front of an Iowa audience, John standing beside her, sarcastically making light of the haircut business.  Then, dovetailing the photo above, the story and video highlight Mrs. Edwards interjecting herself into her husband’s interview to more firmly emphasize his difference with Clinton over whether America is safer since 9/11.

On one level, it’s all innocent and complimentary to an involved, capable and ailing spouse.  Underneath, however, its just more to do with who’s wearing the pants.

(image: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times.  New York. June 2007.  nytimes.com. caption: Mrs. Edwards talked with a campaign aide in June as her husband answered reporters’ questions after a speech in New York on terrorism.)

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Michael Shaw
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