The L.A. Times Discovers Mrs. Dickerson

Newsflash from the Los Angeles Times: The longer a candidate is out on the campaign trail, the more proficient he or she often becomes at creating and controlling photo ops. It reminds Campaign Desk of that old bromide favored by our grade school piano teacher, Mrs. Capitola Dickerson — the one about how rehearsing an activity leads to more precise performance of said activity.

The Times’ Maria L. La Ganga and Matea Gold today apply this truism to Sen. John Kerry, writing that since last fall “the Massachusetts senator has evolved into a canny practitioner of the photo opportunity.” This is the jumping off point from which La Ganga and Gold are able to share some intimate moments they have observed while covering Kerry and to which most their readers (and colleagues) were presumably not privy.

For example, before a rally in Tampa Kerry “carefully applied lip balm from a tin held by an aide, who then handed him a tissue to wipe the excess from his hands.”

And when Kerry appeared on morning talk shows on Super Tuesday, “viewers saw a confident candidate sidestepping questions about a possible running mate,” but “they didn’t see Kerry attacking his cuticles, picking at his fingernails below the rolling cameras.”

Readers are left to draw their own conclusions as to what larger lessons can be sifted from these moments of insight.

Back to — and in support of — their “practice makes perfect” thesis, La Ganga and Gold quote Diana Owen, an associate professor of political science at Georgetown University, who has “noticed the uptick in quality and quantity of Kerry campaign pictures, particularly Friday’s much-used image of the candidate at a Democratic Party unity dinner.”

But to the New York Times’ Katharine Q. Seeyle, this particular photo op worked to someone else’s benefit entirely. “During that event,” Seeyle writes, “[John] Edwards managed to end up on stage between the two biggest stars of the night, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Kerry. In that tableau, Mr. Edwards was front and center as if he were the nominee — or auditioning for the next best thing.” Seeyle then quotes David Axelrod, Edwards’ media consultant, saying: “You can’t say [Edwards] hasn’t learned anything over the last year … I remember early in the campaign when he got elbowed out of the picture by Howard Dean … When that happens a few times, you learn.” In other words, the longer a candidate is out on the campaign trail, the more proficient he or she often becomes at creating and controlling photo ops.

Mrs. Dickerson might want to consider leaving the piano lessons business to sign on as a $1,000-a-day campaign consultant.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.