The year was 2004 and the candidate Sen. John Kerry. But the major networks gave Kerryâ€™s great wealth nowhere near the attention that they have given to Gov. Mitt Romneyâ€™s millions in 2012.
From January to April 2004, the ABC and CBS evening news shows only mentioned Kerryâ€™s wealth once each. And NBC didnâ€™t mention Kerryâ€™s finances or his wifeâ€™s wealth at all. Those same three networks have discussed Romneyâ€™s wealth a total of 27 times during the same time period in 2012. Thatâ€™s more than 13 times more than the coverage given Kerryâ€™s wealth (27 stories to 2 stories).
In 2012, NBC News anchor Brian Williams described Mitt Romneyâ€™s wealth as â€śunimaginable,â€ť the product of â€śvast investments after a successful career in business, much of it spent buying and selling companies,â€ťduring the Jan. 24, edition of â€śNightly News.â€ť In the first four months of 2004, NBC didnâ€™t even note Kerryâ€™s far more substantial wealth.
According to Forbes estimates from 2004, Kerry himself was worth about $240 million. Teresa Heinz Kerry, his wife, was heir to the Heinz empire and worth anywhere from $500 million to $1 billion more. Romneyâ€™s estimated net worth is $250 million â€“ or one third to one-fifth the wealth Kerry and his wife had at the time.
Kerryâ€™s GOP critics raised the issue during that time period, but the networks didnâ€™t bite. Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican Party, argued that Teresa Heinz Kerryâ€™s personal wealth was relevant to the campaign, according to a April 25, 2004, New York Times article, entitled â€śPrivacy of Wifeâ€™s Fortune Casts a Shadow Over Kerry.â€ť The article pointed out that â€śMr. Kerry borrowed $6 million against the equity in a Boston town house they jointly own to keep his campaign afloat earlier in the yearâ€ť and â€śMrs. Heinz Kerry has said that she will dip into her personal fortune if she and her husband deem it necessary.â€ť
Though even The New York Times considered the issue newsworthy, the broadcast networks did not. CBS correspondent John Dickerson admitted on the Jan. 17, 2012, edition of CBS Evening News that the tactic of using Romneyâ€™s wealth to make it look like he does not understand the plight of ordinary Americans was â€śa version of the attack that Republicans used against John Kerry in 2004.â€ť The most notable difference there, however, was that the Republicans did not have the three major networks reporting their arguments.
ABC, CBS and NBC have echoed the Obama administrationâ€™s portrayal of Romney as â€śwealthy.â€ť An ABC â€śWorld News with Diane Sawyerâ€ť report from Feb. 1, 2012, labeled Romney as a â€śwealthy businessman out of touchâ€ť with the needs of the common man.
The stories on Romney have covered everything from the push for him to reveal his income tax returns to discussion of his wifeâ€™s two Cadillacs. But the Kerrysâ€™ wealth was also enormous. A March 22, 2005, USA Today article detailed a vacation the Kerrys took on Heinz-Kerryâ€™s private jet to a ski resort where her late husband had a private cabin. (Her private jet, â€śThe Flying Squirrelâ€ť was apparently named for a ski trail there). That story wasnâ€™t covered on ABC, CBS or NBC.