The New York Times finally weighs in on Fred Thompson, the conservative hope for the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, and they hit below the belt. Actually, that's true literally but not figuratively, as their profile actually remains balanced and positive, with the one exception about discussing his personal life between marriages:
Making speeches at carefully chosen appearances, doing an occasional interview and fielding questions from Republican congressmen, Mr. Thompson, 64, is running something of a guerrilla exploratory effort. He even weighed in recently on a conservative blog to offer a detailed defense of his ideas on federalism.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Thompson has been consulting with his inner circle — including former Senators Bill Frist and Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee and experienced Washington aides like Mark Corallo, a former Justice Department official — about how he could pull together the money and staff he would need to run. ...
Mr. Thompson’s disclosure that he was treated for lymphoma was seen as more evidence of presidential preparation. And at a private meeting a few weeks ago with House Republicans, he answered questions about his reputation as a man about town during his eight years in the Senate, a period when he was single after his divorce from his first wife. Mr. Thompson was asked bluntly if any activities from his first marriage or his time in the Senate would come back to haunt him or his backers.
According to those attending, Mr. Thompson assured them there were no problems, but conceded that when he was single, “I chased girls and girls chased me.” Mr. Thompson is since remarried, and he and his wife, Jeri, have two young children.
That seems like a perfunctory question, especially in this primary race, where the only man in the top tier with one wife is the Mormon. The frontrunner spent part of his time as Mayor of New York as the unabashed star of a domestic soap opera, changing wives in a relentlessly covered story. The other Great Conservative Hope, Newt Gingrich, also has a notable problem with his marital status and fidelity issues.
Still, Fred managed to make it an opportunity to continue his charm offensive. A straightforward answer like, "I chased the girls and the girls chased me," will appeal to everyone except ardent feminists who recoil at his use of the word "girls". It's honest and blunt without being ungentlemanly -- a courtly way of saying that he enjoyed his years of middle-aged bachelorhood.
Some of this report gets sillier, though. The New York Times asks in all earnestness whether Thompson's appearances on "Law & Order" re-runs will create "equal time issues" in the coming campaign. That's quite a reach. No one demanded that television stations embargo Bedtime for Bonzo or Cattle Queen of Montana during his run for the presidency, just as no stations refrained from airing The Last Action Hero when Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for Governator. (We may have hoped they'd embargo them, but no such luck.) "Equal time" refers to actual campaign coverage, not entertainment shows, and one would think that the New York Times would understand that.
Other than that, the report takes a good lool at Thompson's assets and liabilities. For the latter, they mention but do not dwell on his reputation for preferring investigations to legislation, not surprising given his background as an reforming investigative attorney. The Times also mentions Thompson's support for McCain-Feingold, which has some conservatives concerned about Fred. He has indicated that he's rethinking that support; potential backers will want to hear more. Some also question Thompson's draw outside the South, but as the boomlet has shown, that seems to be much less of a worry now.
Fred won't be included in Thursday's debate, but his shadow will loom large over it. Even the Gray Lady looks willing to chase Thompson for a while, even if Fred doesn't have an inclination to return the favor.