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June 27, 2006

The Latest NYT Democratic Swamp Creature: RFK Jr.


By fronting this profile on Sunday’s Style section, the NYT could both swipe at another prominent Dem, and exploit his celebrity at the same time.

Playing on environmental activist RFK Jr.’s penchant for outdoor adventure, including challenging sports like rafting and waterskiing, The Times framed Kennedy as a “danger seeker” and an agitator for having recently questioned the legitimacy of the 2004 presidential election in an extensive Rolling Stone magazine feature.

Simultaneously, The Times cast Mr. Kennedy as an eccentric for his involvement in the environmental movement.  In cheapening his ecological commitment, the article cites an incident in which nine year old RFK Jr. presented President Kennedy with a dead salamander

Now 52, Mr. Kennedy, is one of the country’s most prominent environmental lawyers and advocates. Clearly he was traumatized by his youthful act of environmental insensitivity and vowed as an adult to become a fervent protector of all the planet’s salamanders.

You don’t have to read too deeply to find the slant in the lead photo (which ran a full page wide and a half page tall, mind you),  If you can’t make out the Golden Gate bridge, the caption identifies the location as San Francisco.  How much more blatant can you could you get, however, than to identify Kennedy with dangerousness; accuse him of being on a crusade; label him as being “out on a limb”;  then pose him standing on an edge, alongside rough rocks, in the city most known for the radical fringe?

I didn’t mention the rest of the caption, though.  It notes that Kennedy:  “Long an advocate for the earth’s waterways, has now ventured into deep waters with accusations of election fraud….”  [Italics mine.]

But, that wasn’t the only photo applying a nature metaphor to attack Kennedy over the Rolling Stone story.  Squeezing all the mileage they could out of the Kennedy mystique, The Times ran still another photo of RFK Jr. in Sunday’s front page table of contents.

In comparison, the metaphor in this caption makes the previous one almost deferential:


(images: Eros Hoagland for The New York Times.  June 25, 2006.  Sunday Style.  p. 1)

  • DeanOR

    This is a really disgusting hit piece, just plain trashing a very serious activist. If it’s supposed to be humorous, it isn’t, except in the juvenile baiting sense that might appeal to vicious childish morons. What the hell does the NYT think it is doing?

  • anonymous

    What the hell does the NYT think it is doing?
    They are catapulting the propaganda – now the rest of the MSM can report this as “news” cuz it was in the “newspaper of record”.
    “little ms. run amok miller” was not really the problem there – the wmd lies on the mighty wurlitzer were be design and very effective.

  • nothingruler

    Yes, giving a damn about whether your own planet is going to hell in a handbasket is terribly “fringe.” One should just keep one’s head down and consume, consume, consume like a good Murkin!

  • ummabdulla

    I guess I was naive, but I was expecting his Rolling Stone article to cause much more of an uproar. Why don’t they put their resources to work on looking into the substance of the Rolling Stone article? And can they still get by with trying to paint environmentalists as eccentric?
    Anyway, neither of these photos is very flattering. In the top one, his hair is a mess and he looks like he needs a shave. And the captions are so obviously editorializing. Is the NY Times doing these kinds of articles on Republicans, too?

  • ummabdulla

    Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but when they talk about him seeking danger, going out on a limb, living dangerously in the Kennedy way… do they just mean sports, or is anyone else reminded of assassinations and plane crashes?

  • The BAG

    Actually, another thing they are (less than) hinting about is substance abuse.

    In the middle of the story we get this:

    In 1983 he entered a drug treatment program after having been arrested for heroin possession in South Dakota. He has been clean ever since and attends regular meetings, Mr. Kennedy said, declining to discuss his sobriety further for the record.

    This last line is intimating that he could still be “using.”

    Then, check out the next-to-last paragraph with the flagging of the fact that Kennedy is having a drink.  (RFK’s comment is in response to the question whether he might run for office again.)

    “It’s all in God’s hands,” he said on Wednesday night at Treasure Island, a lemony sun setting over the Golden Gate Bridge. He was surrounded by environmentalists swapping stories about protecting the planet’s liquid resources (and imbibing other liquid resources).

  • joseph

    Funny no one’s brought up Chappaquiddick. That was my first thought with that picture.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Ha! As if our beloved president is sober and cautious.

  • black dog barking

    “Another”,”Kennedy”, and “Living Dangerously” definitely goes beyond rafting and the current generation of Kennedys. To assassinations and plane crashes we add driving automobiles off of bridges and hustling starlets out a side door of the White House as the First Lady enters the front. This connotative baggage lends a tabloid urgency and pull to the title / lead. Apparently we’re not ready to give up these older stories.
    The big photo tells a less lurid tale. In one snap we get earth, wind, sea, and sun. A simple rigid barrier maintains a fixed line between sea and land, dominates the foreground. In the hazy background an elegant bridge over one of nature’s barriers helps tie the photo elements together. Our subject environmentalist is fixed intently upon something we don’t yet see. He may be thinking of the planet but he’s dressed for the formal company of humans.

  • PTate in MN

    The CW about the Kennedy family “living dangerously” has always been part of a glamorous, larger than life legend. It is the Irish archetype: Tragedy, heroism, nobility, generosity, vision, haunted by the past.
    What strikes me in this picture is NOT negative–it is the inconsistency between the Kennedy legend and this particular individual. I see someone who looks a lot like his mother, in an everday suit and tie. Yes, he is in SF, but his feet are firmly planted on a concrete walk: I see wind, sky, sunlight, water–and a sure footing. I have to squint to make out the Golden Gate.
    I find the setting rather dull, actually. If this story were about the environment, about the glory and power of nature, and a heroic fight to preserve this heritage, the photographer could have found a thousand better locations. Because the background is dull, what I see is a competent everyday working stiff, a man who will work diligently to protect the environment–no glamor, no sizzle.
    Rather than ripping him down, I think the NYTimes is trying to give him some of the old Kennedy charisma. If the effect is off-putting, it may be the confusion produced when the old paradigm is applied to a new generation.

  • Quentin

    PTate in MN, The effect is off-putting because that’s the intention. At the NY Times they are very good at staying on message: Whitewater, White House Blow-job, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ ad infinitum. All hokey-pokey of the highest order. They have a very big opinion of themselves there, you bet.
    You see, the environment is still a subject for crackpots, going back to the creepy sixties when people took drugs and demonstrated on the streets. Less than before, true, but still not really taken seriously. The U.S. cannot and will not change. It has become a creaky old Model T tarted out with all the glitz of Madonna.

  • acm

    plus I notice they found one of the few nonflattering pictures that he’s probably ever taken…

  • Anonymous

    The lead shot of Robert Kennedy Jr. is just an example of the “Gazing at God” portrait, in which the subject, almost always off to the empty side of the frame (“artistic composition”), gazes off into the distance and out of the frame. The genre calls for ample fill lighting (seen here, I think), and almost demands that the subject be not looking into the lens. Eye contact? Heaven forbid, we’re on a higher plane. For some reason, subjects, probably unwittingly, almost always fall for it.
    It’s a conceit that’s been kicking around the magazine world for a while, and has been creeping into the news sections of the Times at an accelerating speed over the past couple of years. About all that it tells the reader is what one side of the subject’s face looks like. Welcome back to the New Journalism.
    Of course, it’s the Sunday Styles section, home of the inconsequential but buzz-generating piece. Bear in mind that the same issue reports that a daughter of Patricia Hearst is miffed because people think her success as a model is due only to her last name.
    At least Mr. Kennedy has done something good for the world; it would be interesting to know if he knew beforehand that the piece was destined for the fluff pile.

  • TIKT

    I saw all of this as the NYT obligatorily getting in a few digs in order to justify indulging in one of their favorite pasttimes- fawning over the Kennedy family. I don’t see it as “trashing” Jr or an attempt at humor, but simply they couldn’t credibly publish anything about the RS piece when it has been pretty much debunked on both sides of the spectrum without this particular slant. BTW I think Jr is definitely onto something in terms of the screwed up U.S. electoral process,he chose some arguments that weren’t new and were easily diced up. On the other hand who would have listened if he’d have just pointed out the obvious in a less sensational way?

  • Cactus

    Actually I think this is a pretty good shot of RFK Jr. He’s in a classic business suit, but the hair is ruffled to show that out-doorsy roughness cultivated in that family. The bg reflects this with the long straight concrete buttress with jagged rocks piled against it and leading to the hills falling off into the bay. He’s backed by something solid that lets him sail forth into the future, which is where he is looking. Coastal fog in the background, but he’s looking into the direction of the sun.
    I just don’t think this comes up to the denigrating photos they’ve printed previously of people on the left.
    As to the article (I only read the first page), since I don’t read the NYT I can’t say for certain, but I get the impression that their style section exists to be snarky about everybody. After all, it IS New York!

  • readytoblowagasket

    Cactus said: “I get the impression that their style section exists to be snarky about everybody. After all, it IS New York!”
    Okay, I wasn’t going to take this bait because it’s off-topic, but it *is* a current news story: New York City was ranked #1 Politest City in the *WORLD* (hel-LO!), according to Reader’s Digest. I mean, come on! Reader’s Digest. Are you kidding me? Like they would lie.
    The NY Times still sucks, of course.

  • George Johnston

    What the hell does the NYT think it is doing?
    Considering they appointed a director to their board from the Carlyle Group, my guess is, they think they are doing their job.

  • Cactus

    Howdy, rtbag…….I wonder where ReadersDigest headquarters are? That’s right…..New York. Case closed.

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