Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: Did Critical Media Send Dean Packing?

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: Did Critical Media Send Dean Packing?

Article excerpt

It was August, 2002. Howard Dean, then the Governor of Vermont, sat in his statehouse office in Montpelier, and wondered aloud how long his honeymoon with the national press would last.

"It's the expectation game," he told me and my wife, Joanna, in an interview that was part of a profile we later wrote for E&P. "The press builds you up, and then they cut you down right at the knees. It happens to everyone. And it will happen to me."

And so it did, with a suddenness that shocked most of the media that witnessed it. One moment Dean was on the cover of Time and

Newsweek, the next he was being ridiculed by Jay Leno and David Letterman.

The media at first loved Dean's anti-Beltway, anti-war message. He was a physician who went into politics and solved his state's health care problem. He was a candidate who would reload his rhetoric at every stop on the campaign trail. He was the only Democrat willing to take on George Bush after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq -- because he had nothing to lose.

The news media made an inspection of his Vermont record and turned up balanced budgets, a scandal-free administration, and an impeccable personal life.

But the fawning press missed one character flaw in his political life: a New York City know-it-all attitude. The Vermont reporters who covered him ignored his shoot-from-the-lip remarks. It was just Howard being Howard.

Dean also got used to being treated fairly. Vermont reporters are aggressive, but polite. So Dean was hardly ruffled when Chris Graff, the soft-spoken Associated Press bureau chief in Vermont, asked him in 2002 why he was sealing his government records until 2013. "Well, there are future considerations," Dean responded with a laugh. "We don't want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor."

A joke by a small-state governor with impossible White House dreams. How could a crack like that come back to haunt him?

"He was smiling when he said that," recalled Graff, whose sole purpose of asking the question, he told me last month, was to get Dean on the record. "Anyone who saw the tape on public television knew he was laughing. But that kind of comment doesn't look funny in print."

It certainly didn't. …

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