For those of us committed to monitoring the media, writing about the Washington Times often feels like wrestling a cloud. For, despite the fact that the paper regularly offers up slant for political coverage and vitriol for editorials, the editors of the money-hemorrhaging Times like to solemnly pass their paper off as just one more legitimate voice in the mainstream press.

But each and every day, it seems, they give us one more reason not to buy it.

Today, The Times brings us a hateful screed penned by none other than its editor-in-chief, Wesley Pruden. Pruden’s unstated but heavily insinuated premise: The two Johns, Kerry and Edwards, are a little too close to each other for a red-blooded American audience to swallow.

The two Democratic candidates can’t wait to get on stage for sessions of arm-gripping, face-fondling, knee-rubbing, neck-nuzzling, thigh-slapping and bear-hugging.

The two Johns lock eyes frequently in deep contact and stop barely short of demonstrating what great kissers they may be. Monsieur Kerry might yet give us a demonstration of French kissing but, if he does, Mr. Edwards, a good ol’ Carolina boy after all, will be entitled to slap his face.

The candidates are giving the term “Johns,” heretofore familiar only in certain neighborhoods illuminated by the glow of dim red lights, an entirely new meaning.

Pruden does allow that the physicality that he describes with such loving prose probably has something to do with strategy. “All that’s expected of John Edwards is that he learn to hug (but not kiss) in French,” he writes. But it’s obvious what biases he’s playing to when he contrasts those overly physical Dems with their Republican counterparts. To hear Pruden tell it, George Bush and Dick Cheney are practically stand-ins for Gary Cooper and John Wayne.

“No one,” writes Pruden, “imagines George W. inspecting Dick Cheney’s cheek for razor burn in anticipation of a friendly kiss to greet the day. The president, after all, is the scion of generations of reserved and genteel WASP breeding, and the veep is a man from Wyoming, where the wrong kind of familiarity can invite a swift and fatal case of lead poisoning.”

So it seems the president’s “reserved and genteel WASP breeding,” and the fact that Cheney is from a state where, Pruden suggests, they kill gay people, show that the Republicans are Real Men. Not like those touchy-feely liberals. If you know what we mean.

This is the kind of drivel, particularly when it comes from an editor-in-chief, that puts the lie to any claims The Times makes to journalistic legitimacy. There’s one good thing about that, though; it saves the rest of us from having to keep going to the trouble.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.