Hello, Cleveland?

Sometimes it takes a little while for a story to bounce around the media echo chamber and reverberate into the mainstream. Such is the case with a story in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer by Stephen Koff about Teresa Heinz Kerry’s criticism of Wal-Mart.

Koff, the Plain Dealer’s Washington bureau chief, reports today in an article headlined “Wal-Mart Critic [Teresa] Heinz Kerry Owned Stock” that on February 17 Heinz Kerry remarked that Wal-Mart “destroy[s] communities,” and that she once owned Wal-Mart stock (though he notes that Heinz Kerry’s spokesperson stated that she no longer owned the stock when she made that remark).

This tune sounded familiar to Campaign Desk. It turns out that the Los Angeles Times mentioned Heinz Kerry’s Wal-Mart criticism in a February 19 piece as one of several quotes that supposedly demonstrate how she “deliciously refuses to stay above the fray.”

Digging further, we found that Heinz Kerry’s stock ownership was reported back on October 15, 2003 by the Boston Herald. The paper noted that Heinz Kerry “owns more than $1 million in Wal-Mart stock” though “Kerry aides said the stock [was] in a family trust managed by financial professionals.” More recently, the Republican National Committee mentioned Heinz Kerry’s stock ownership in a February 26 “Research Report” under the heading “Kerry’s Wal-Mart Hypocrisy,” quoting John Kerry’s criticism, spoken during a debate, of Wal-Mart’s hiring practices. That evening, Drudge ran an apparently inaccurate headline that reminds us of Koff’s headline today: “Heinz Blasts Wal-Mart; Owns $1 Million in Stock, Purchased Bulk in ‘02.” On February 27, Rush Limbaugh ran with something similar, crediting Drudge (subscription required).

Still, we dove into today’s Plain Dealer piece, searching for a news hook, determined to give Stephen Koff the benefit of the doubt. After all, reporters from battleground states like Ohio have plenty of fresh news to write about each day, so there must be something compelling going on. Koff does tell readers that Heinz Kerry’s February 17 comment “so incensed Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee that he included a stinging rebuttal in a letter to the nation’s 49 other governors” which, in turn, “prompted Wal-mart on March 5 to include Huckabee’s words in a message to a number of its employees.” Perhaps this was the news hook? Maybe for the March 6 edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.