August 28, 2007

Candidate Abuse




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Did you happen to notice Sunday’s front page NYT piece, In 2008 Race, Little Ones Go on the Trail With Daddy ? After the read, the pictures and the video, the one thing I can say for certain now is: this campaign is way too long to do anybody any good.

Basically, I felt forced by this article to wear my clinician’s hat throughout.

I don’t know about you, but I found the words and the images decidedly subversive.  Although the Dodd shot is quite playful, on one hand, the fact his daughter is in mischief mode, launching herself back while covering daddy’s mouth, gives the impression (reinforced by the write-up) that 5 year old Grace has had it up to here with all the talking, and that Daddy need be gagged.

(By the way, the first two shots above were scanned from the print edition.  The Dodd shot is on line, but it’s cropped.  Regarding the Obama image, I can’t remember if it was first on the website then taken down, or it only appeared in the print edition.  Perhaps the exclusion can be explained, however, by the way this triangle, frozen in time, seems so cheaply libidinal.)

Overall, the piece sets up a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t form of judgement over whether a presidential candidate should take the kids out of school and on the road, or leave them behind at home.  It would have seemed more honest if the writer just flat-out claimed that running for President (as a parent of younger children) was a form of child abuse.

But then, leave it to The Times to save its most brutal treatment for Edwards, intimating that having kids living on the road is — at least in his case — likely twice as bad as leaving them in school, like Malia Obama, and then never seeing them.

Let me say up front that fatherhood, under the best of conditions, is not so easy — even if you’re aren’t running for President and your wife doesn’t have terminal cancer.  So the fact there is tension between John and Jack Edwards (remember, Jack is the one who drew the famous piece of stage management from Theresa Heinz Kerry) is nothing I feel I can judge.  And in John’s defense (based mostly on the accompanying video), it seems like Jack, who is a boy and does have a lot of energy and apparently a good bit of frustration about his situation, might very well be a handful.  (I haven’t the faintest idea, by the way, how the family has been treating Elizabeth’s illness.)

What really disgusted me, however, was how the Times reporter used her own personal need (to get the story, and thus, to capture the children’s attention) to interject herself between Edwards and his kids, and then turn right around and exploit that tension for her report.  It literally came out like this:

(T)hey [the Edwards children] treated an interviewer the way politicians surely wish they could at times, refusing at first to remove their iPod earphones for a discussion of life on the trail.

“I don’t want to do this,” Jack protested to his father, John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate and former North Carolina senator.

“I don’t care whether you want to do this,” Mr. Edwards replied.

A moment later, Jack hid his face in his hands.

“Mr. Jack, do we need to go in the back and have a conversation?” asked Mr. Edwards, lifting his son’s head.

If the photo and video of the Edwards family feels like fuel for family therapy  — what with John, clearly distracted and a little peeved at Jack, explaining how he keeps the kids with him on the road because he needs it for himself; or, given the description of the kids as friendless (bowling alone or, in Jack’s case, brandishing a toy gun) — I’d say one reason the candidate might be feeling so tense (with Jack taking the opportunity to act, or opt out) is because the family is trapped by New York Times Multimedia as the camera gets deep into the family business.

The backlash is obvious, by the way, when Edwards concludes the video clip by telling Jack that these reporters — although they seem playful and friendly at the back of the bus — are in no way his friends.

So, what about a watch list?

(images: Keith Bedford/NYTimes.  August 2007.  New York Times and

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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