Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Teresa Heinz Kerry’s “shove it” phrase to a Pittsburgh editor was the most cited Kerry campaign message in the press last week — mentioned 381 times in American publications, according to Factiva, a Dow Jones/Reuters company that tracks daily press mentions.

But the two words also brought death threats, insults and accusations upon Colin McNickle, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial-page editor who vexed Mrs. Kerry by asking her to explain her claim that “un-American traits” were emerging in politics.

“I have learned about the power of a simple question,” Mr. McNickle said from his office in Pittsburgh yesterday, adding, “But no reporter should ever be afraid to ask a question.”

Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign mottos did not resonate with the press, according to Factiva. “One America” got 57 mentions, “Hope is on the way,” 50 mentions and “America can do better” just 21 by week’s end.

Mr. McNickle, however, was demonized after his July 25 exchange with Mrs. Kerry was caught on videotape by a local TV station, then picked up by the news channels and replayed endlessly.

“What did you mean?” Mr. McNickle asked the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate after she told Pennsylvania delegates that “un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits” were sullying politics.

Mrs. Kerry denied she had used the phrase, then snapped, “You said something I didn’t say. Now shove it.”

Last night, Mrs. Kerry’s bluntness was on display again. A Bush supporter was chanting “Four more years! Four more years!” through a bullhorn at a Wisconsin rally while Mrs. Kerry was speaking. She departed from her text to say: “They want four more years of hell.”

Mr. Kerry gave her a long hug and a big smile when she finished speaking. “She speaks her mind, and she speaks the truth,” the candidate said.

In the aftermath of the “shove it,” Mr. Kerry supported his wife, as did the Democratic National Committee, which called Mr. McNickle’s paper “a right-wing rag,” and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Mr. McNickle denied he had been rude.

“I didn’t bully her. I didn’t set her up. She stumbled all by herself,” he said. “She began her remarks about her husband’s vision, then went off on a tangent.”

But Mr. McNickle swiftly became the target of partisan ire, inspired by what he termed the “DNC’s liberal attack machine.”

In hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls to his office and home, and even on the street, Mr. McNickle’s life was threatened. He was called a “Nazi” and a variety of obscene names, and had death wished upon him.

In a Boston Globe interview, singer Patti LaBelle advised Mrs. Kerry to “pimp slap” Mr. McNickle; liberal columnist Molly Ivins suggested he had inappropriately “touched” Mrs. Kerry; and former Baltimore Sun columnist Jack Germond told CNN that Mr. McNickle “was not a legitimate newspaperman.”

He responded in a Tribune-Review column Sunday, explaining he was only seeking an example of “un-American traits” from Mrs. Kerry, but “I got a finger in the face and was told to ‘shove it.’ I have been told worse things by more important people.”

A mention of Mr. McNickle’s column in Editor & Publisher was picked up by the Drudge Report yesterday, ultimately reversing the firestorm of criticism, Mr. McNickle said.

“Today, I got 1,700 e-mails in four hours, most supportive, saying I’d done a good job,” Mr. McNickle said.

“But you know what?” he pointed out. “Mrs. Kerry never answered my question.”

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