Cable news networks obsess over Teresa Heinz Kerry comment; downplay Tribune-Review 's right-wing history

On July 26, the cable news networks devoted extensive air time to Teresa Heinz Kerry's exchange with an employee of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a conservative daily newspaper owned by Richard Mellon Scaife (known as the “Funding Father of the Right” ), who paid for the controversial anti-Clinton Arkansas Project.

While the cable networks did numerous stories on the incident between Heinz Kerry and the Tribune-Review employee, they didn't spend much time explaining why Heinz Kerry doesn't like the paper or the fact that Colin McNickle, the journalist who had the exchange with Heinz Kerry, is the newspaper's editorial page editor and has penned columns attacking the Kerry-Edwards '04 ticket. For example, in a July 18 column, McNickle accused Senators John Kerry and John Edwards of being “two Johns pimping for a populism that can only perpetuate poverty.” In a 2002 column, titled "We need more Ann Coulters," McNickle wrote, "[W]e need more Ann Coulters. And we need them to ratchet it up and throw more stones." His reporting from the 2004 Democratic National Convention was advertised by the Tribune-Review as follows: "It's a dirty job dealing with liberals, but somebody's gotta do it."

On News from CNN, for example, anchor Wolf Blitzer noted, “There is a long history between her and that newspaper in Pittsburgh as a lot of us who cover politics fully understand.” Blitzer didn't bother explaining that “history.” He did note later in the day -- after repeated CNN reports of the incident that failed to do any more that identify the Tribune-Review as “conservative” -- that the Tribune-Review is owned by Scaife, “who has donated millions to conservative causes.” But if cable news networks had bothered to address the Tribune-Review's “history,” viewers might have had a better understanding for Heinz Kerry's unhappiness with the paper, which her spokeswoman identified as a “right-wing rag.”

In the mid-1990s, Scaife used the Tribune-Review to promote the utterly unfounded theory that deputy Clinton White House counsel Vince Foster was murdered and other bizarre anti-Clinton conspiracy theories. According to a May 2, 1999, article in The Washington Post, Scaife “personally hired” right-wing journalist Christopher Ruddy “to write about Foster's death for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. ... Ruddy's stories about Foster's death -- most of them challenging the suicide theory, without offering an alternative explanation -- began to appear in January 1995.” Scaife hired Ruddy only after he was fired as an investigative reporter for Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, because, Ruddy said, the Post “refused to support further [Vince] Foster projects,” as ABC News reporter Chris Bury reported on Nightline on July 18, 1995.

In more recent years, the Tribune-Review has turned its attention to Senator John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. “Why would a small Pennsylvania paper take aim at a New England politician?” asked Robert Neuwirth, formerly associate editor of Editor & Publisher, in a February 1998 column for In These Times:

The answer is Richard Mellon Scaife. ... Kerry is one of Scaife's favorite targets because he is married to Teresa Heinz, widow of John Heinz, the late Republican senator from Pennsylvania and heir to the enormous ketchup fortune. Scaife is apparently outraged that Kerry walked off with Theresa's [sic: Teresa's] heart -- and her millions (the Tribune-Review once derided Kerry as 'Mr. Teresa Heinz').

In December 2003, the Tribune-Review published a commentary by Tom Randall, senior partner with the consulting firm Winningreen LLC; Randall co-authored a longer version of the commentary, which was published as a report by the right-wing Capital Research Center. The headline on Randall's Tribune-Review commentary accused Heinz Kerry -- by way of the Heinz Endowments (of which she is chair) -- of “team[ing] up with a secretive left-wing group.” As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out, the Tribune Review failed to “mention that Scaife's charities gave $260,000 to Capital Research in 2002.”

While Randall attacked what he called the Tides Foundation's “secret funneling of cash from private foundations” (specifically the Heinz Endowments) “to extreme left-wing activist groups,” in reality, as a statement released by the Heinz Endowments maintained, "[B]y legally binding contract, every penny of Heinz's support to Tides has been explicitly directed to specific projects in Pennsylvania" -- not to the “extreme left-wing” groups Randall cited.

According to a March 11 statement released by the Tides Foundation, these grants were used for environmental protection or education projects. The Nation's media columnist, Eric Alterman, has also debunked the alleged ties between Heinz Kerry and these so-called leftist groups.

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