- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2004

There’s no public evidence that John Kerry has played around on the Widow Heinz, but the poor guy probably has 57 varieties of trouble at home, anyway.

That’s because wives nearly always operate from a lower standard of proof than mainstream newspapers, rarely requiring multiple sources, and suspicion alone is usually enough to convict. Some of that ketchup in the Heinz-Kerry boudoir might be blood.

This is the story Washington loves. Adultery, usually defined here as “what adults do,” is not unknown in the ranks of pundits and pols, but in Washington, figuring out where the story comes from is often more interesting than the story itself. Washington honors the Platinum Rule above all: “Do it unto others before they do it unto you.”

Since the political is personal, sex is the favorite weapon of choice. The Widow Heinz boasts that if she ever catches the famous war hero in flagrante delicto, she will maim, not kill, and for the moment Mr. Kerry is no doubt wearing some sort of protective contraption under his thousand-dollar suits, just in case. So far, he appears to be intact.

This little episode actually says more about everybody else than it tells us about the famous war hero. The war hero himself said it ain’t so (sort of), and yesterday the mystery lady herself said it ain’t so. The senator’s denial smelled vaguely clintonesque: “Well, there’s nothing to report. So there’s nothing to talk about. I’m not worried about it. No. The answer is no.” But only a Yankee bereft of gallantry or chivalric impulse would pursue this one further.

Skeptics are, however, entitled to be a little bit suspicious. All that manufactured hysteria about whether George W. Bush missed an Air National Guard drill or two, more than 30 years ago, looked like it might have been intended to distract attention from an intern scandal the Kerry camp knew, or was afraid, was coming.

We should have known that war heroes don’t do things like that. And only a churl would think there’s anything suspicious about how and why the father of the mystery lady, who only last week described Mr. Kerry as “a sleazeball” and said he didn’t want his daughter to have anything to do with such a man, yesterday, after being visited by an epiphany, praised the senator’s kindness and character. He even promised to vote for him. Every father understands that a man applying to be his daughter’s sugar daddy is held to a different standard than a man who only wants to be president of the United States. You wouldn’t necessarily want President Sleazeball to be your lover-in-law.

Different standards, in fact, are exactly what the Kerry contretemps are all about. The way the editors and television news directors have danced around the story, holding their noses with dainty fingers, trading gossip like a gaggle of old women and aiming readers at the Internet, contrasts starkly to the way some of the same editors, pundits and news directors treated similar unconfirmed and even unfounded rumors of presidential philandering in the past.

Matt Drudge, whose drudgereport.com is the most frequently consulted Internet source of tips and gossip in every newsroom in town, yesterday shamed a few media celebrities who disdain sexual gossip about Democrats, but who can’t wait to dish the dirt about Republicans. He cites the likes of Stone Phillips, the pretty face-in-waiting at NBC; Jonathan Alter of Newsweek; and Joe Conason of the New York Observer as guilty of applying partisan standards to presidential hanky-panky.

Mr. Alter, in a fit of high-mindedness that soon passed, once wrote that presidential candidates must be asked “tough, often distasteful but nonetheless important kinds of questions.” That was when the candidate was a Republican. Last week, Mr. Alter denounced as “sleazy” even asking Mr. Kerry such “important kinds of questions.” Mr. Conason, one of the most devoted of the Clinton acolytes, sneers that Matt Drudge is a mere cog in “the GOP smear machine,” but he wrote in 1992 that the first of a thousand reasons not to vote for George H.W. Bush was that “he cheats on his wife.” (He never apologized when the rumor was discredited.)

Anyone who was awake during the Clinton years has to wonder what all the commotion is about. Even if true, there wouldn’t be enough juice in the “Kerry intern scandal” to stain anybody’s frock. Bubba would jog through scandals of this caliber twice before breakfast. If the Widow Heinz is looking for wifely consolation, she shouldn’t call Hillary.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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