Howard Kurtz Notes Patrick Kennedy's Pleasant or Perfunctory Press Notices

May 8th, 2006 7:32 AM

In his weekly Monday "Media Notes" digest in the Washington Post Style section, Howard Kurtz digs into a little content analysis as to how the national newspapers haven't been too harsh on Congressman Patrick Kennedy's troubled past, dating back to disclosures in 1991 that he had abused cocaine, through his several embarrassing incidents in 2000:

Relatively little of this drew significant national coverage. Among the brief mentions in the New York Times, a 2002 piece on Kennedy's reelection campaign included a paragraph on his personal problems, quoting the congressman as saying: "If you are a Kennedy, people always make more of such things than really exists, and the true Kennedy haters just won't let go of it."

More typical were earlier Times pieces headlined "Wielding the Kennedy Name for the Good of His Party" and "Kennedy With Oomph (and Moneybags) Is Patrick." A 2000 Los Angeles Times piece on Kennedy's money-raising prowess said he can be a "hothead" who "almost came to blows" with a Republican lawmaker. The Washington Post covered a couple of the incidents as gossip items and ran such short news stories as "Rep. Kennedy Hopes to Quit House Fundraising Post."

Kennedy has gotten rougher treatment in his home region, where Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr last week called him "generally dumber than two rocks."

It's difficult not to feel sympathy for Kennedy, who grew up in a relentlessly scrutinized family in which two of his uncles were murdered. But soft-focus media coverage has given him plenty of chances, far more than would be accorded a run-of-the-mill congressman with his history of self-inflicted wounds.

It's important to remember here that Patrick Kennedy was not just an obscure Democrat with no responsibilities, but headed up their Congressional Campaign Committee from 1998 to 2000, when the media were largely positive -- or merely absent when the negative news erupted.