Fresh on the heels of the Los Angeles Times attack on Fred Thompson's lobbying, the New York Times lowers the bar by attacking Fred Thompson's wife. Calling Fred "grandfatherly" and Jeri Kehn Thompson a "trophy wife", the Gray Lady wonders whether America can deal with a May-December romance in the White House:
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?
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?
Mr. Thompson, who needs the support of early primary voters, is expected to formally announce his candidacy any day now. Meanwhile, much of the brouhaha around Mrs. Thompson, 40, is being stirred by photos of her in form-fitting gowns circulating on the Internet.
Sexist? Yes. Crass? Definitely. Ridiculous? You bet.
I'm touched, really, by the concern that Susan Saulny and the Paper of Record show for "values voters", a group that normally received little but scorn and ridicule from Pinch's crew. However, these people are not likely to have an issue with a man who spent seventeen years between marriages before marrying a woman in her mid-30s. Thompson's ex-wife speaks well of him, his children seem very well-adjusted, and his current wife is an intelligent and well-spoken woman who will be an asset to his campaign.
Now let's talk about the form-fitting gowns. Or let's not. The clear implication is that Jeri Kehn is some sort of a trollop who married for power on the basis of her beauty, which is ridiculous. Saulny faults the Thompsons for not officially distributing her resume, but anyone with access to Google knows that Mrs. Thompson worked as a media consultant in DC, as well as a staffer at the RNC and on the Senate Republican Caucus [see below]. She's no bubble-headed bleach blonde, but someone with her own record of accomplishment -- even if the New York Times and Susan Saulny apparently can't find it with both hands and a flashlight.
That's what makes the "trophy wife" slam so obnoxious. Saulny even tries to weasel past her use of it by telling readers that Fortune Magazine's original definition included accomplishment, but that probably lasted as long as that particular issue did on the newsstands. When people talk about trophy wives now, they mean arm candy -- beautiful but vapid social climbers with nothing more to offer than cleavage. Jeri Kehn Thompson does not qualify as a trophy wife. Does Susan Saulny qualify as a trophy reporter?
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.
UPDATE AND BUMP: Joe Gandelman puts this in the "smelly journalism" category. Be sure to read his criticism in full, but here's a taste:
So the writer of the piece knows for a 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!”
UPDATE, 8-6: Jeri Kehn Thompson has never worked as an attorney, which I had mistakenly asserted. I apologize for the error.