Smelly Journalism Dept: Fred Thompson’s Wife

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To those of you who roll your eyes and groan when you hear people go on and on about the biased news media that injects its personal opinions into news stories and peppers them with assumptions that the writer more than “critics say” seems to hold, roll your eyes no longer.

The New York Times has a piece that makes you conclude: somewhere at that (once stellar) newspaper, an editor was asleep at the switch:

AS the election of 2008 approaches with its cast of contenders who bring unprecedented diversity to the quest for the White House, the voting public has been called on to ponder several questions: Is America ready for a woman to be president? What about a black man? A Mormon?

Now, with the possible candidacy of Fred D. Thompson, the grandfatherly actor and former Republican senator from Tennessee, whose second wife is almost a quarter-century his junior, comes a less palatable inquiry that is spurring debate in Internet chat rooms, on cable television and on talk radio: Is America ready for a president with a trophy wife?

So the writer of the piece knows for A FACT that when Thompson married his present wife, she was picked as a “trophy?” There was no love involved? No relationship? No friendship? She didn’t share some of his values and dreams?

She KNOWS that he just simply pointed to her and said: “TROPHY! I’ve GOT to have HER to show people! See this younger woman! Stand up, honey! See this guys? OK, honey, you can sit down now!” MORE:

The question may seem sexist, even crass, but serious people — as well as Mr. Thompson’s supporters — have been wrestling with the public reaction to Jeri Kehn Thompson, whose youthfulness, permanent tan and bleached blond hair present a contrast to the 64-year-old man who hopes to win the hearts of the conservative core of the Republican party. Will the so-called values voters accept this union?

You can read more of this piece — and this article IS indeed a piece – yourself. We apologize for even linking to it.

But it’s an incredible example of a manufactured story that should be shown by journalism professors to students about lazy, assumption-filled journalism. If it had not appeared in the New York Times, it would not be an issue — and do you want to BET it won’t be a factor in the campaign?

The lead of this story about her being a 40-year old “trophy wife” is filled with such an insulting assumption that you wonder how it got into the newspaper, if it has editors who are doing their jobs and care about the Times’ once-legendary journalistic standards.

But then journalistic standards are being relaxed in these days of competition from tabloids, talk radio, blogs (where anything goes and goes quickly), Oprah — and a general relaxation and degradation of what Americans allow politicians and at times the press to inject into elections as “issues.”

We were getting sewage; now we’re getting sewage and sludge.

Nope. We’re not campaigning for Fred Thompson for President (or another candidate) on this site (we can just see the comments coming now about how we MUST be getting checks from Karl Rove). Thompson will get the same coverage on this site as any other candidate — there will be nice and not nice conclusions drawn about him, links to articles that like him and don’t like him.

But this Times story has a basic assumption that neither the writer or the editor could prove — one that should have been edited out from the lead of the story.

But if that had happened, then the story wouldn’t have GRABBED THE READER. And that’s what’s more important than showing accuracy and fairness, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Be sure to read Ed Morrissey (in full) who also notices this story, looks at it journalistically then adds:

Is this the level to which the New York Times will stoop for the rest of the political campaign? All it indicates to me is that Pinch Sulzberger and his staff seem very worried about a Thompson campaign, so worried that they have already started attacking Fred’s family rather than discuss his policy stands, contained in essays that he has published for months at Townhall and ABC. The caliber of these attacks show the quality of the opposition to Fred, and also give Fred some indirect credibility, as his opponents don’t appear to have confidence that they can beat him on the issues.

As we suggested above: this story would NEVER have made it into the Times 20, 10 or even 5 years ago.

COMING NEXT AT THE TIMES: The pain Fred Thompson’s dog suffered when he had him neutered (and Thompson picked a pedigree to impress voters..)