The year was 2004 and the candidate Sen. John Kerry. But the major networks gave Kerryâs great wealth nowhere near the attention that they have given to Gov. Mitt Romneyâs millions in 2012.
From January to April 2004, the ABC and CBS evening news shows only mentioned Kerryâs wealth once each. And NBC didnât mention Kerryâs finances or his wifeâs wealth at all. Those same three networks have discussed Romneyâs wealth a total of 27 times during the same time period in 2012. Thatâs more than 13 times more than the coverage given Kerryâs wealth (27 stories to 2 stories).
In 2012, NBC News anchor Brian Williams described Mitt Romneyâs wealth as âunimaginable,â the product of âvast investments after a successful career in business, much of it spent buying and selling companies,âduring the Jan. 24, edition of âNightly News.â In the first four months of 2004, NBC didnât even note Kerryâs 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. Romneyâs estimated net worth is $250 million â or one third to one-fifth the wealth Kerry and his wife had at the time.
Kerryâs GOP critics raised the issue during that time period, but the networks didnât bite. Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican Party, argued that Teresa Heinz Kerryâs personal wealth was relevant to the campaign, according to a April 25, 2004, New York Times article, entitled âPrivacy of Wifeâs Fortune Casts a Shadow Over Kerry.â The article pointed out that âMr. Kerry borrowed $6 million against the equity in a Boston town house they jointly own to keep his campaign afloat earlier in the yearâ and âMrs. Heinz Kerry has said that she will dip into her personal fortune if she and her husband deem it necessary.â
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 Romneyâs wealth to make it look like he does not understand the plight of ordinary Americans was âa version of the attack that Republicans used against John Kerry in 2004.â 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 administrationâs portrayal of Romney as âwealthy.â An ABC âWorld News with Diane Sawyerâ report from Feb. 1, 2012, labeled Romney as a âwealthy businessman out of touchâ 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 wifeâs two Cadillacs. But the Kerrysâ wealth was also enormous. A March 22, 2005, USA Today article detailed a vacation the Kerrys took on Heinz-Kerryâs private jet to a ski resort where her late husband had a private cabin. (Her private jet, âThe Flying Squirrelâ was apparently named for a ski trail there). That story wasnât covered on ABC, CBS or NBC.