Dennis B. Roddy

Dennis B. Roddy is a syndicated columnist and reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has covered news and politics in Pittsburgh for the last 30 years. Before joining the Post-Gazette he was a political reporter with the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press. He spoke with Campaign Desk from Pittsburgh as part of our continuing series of interviews with reporters and commentators covering the election.

Thomas Lang: There was a big announcement [of Kerry’s selection of Edwards as his running mate] in Pittsburgh this past week. How accurate do you think the national media was in its portrayal of the announcement and its portrayal of Pittsburgh?

Dennis B. Roddy: At the end of the day Pittsburgh is an American city and he had to make the announcement somewhere. Frankly, a lot of us are still trying to figure out why he chose to do it here and to do it this particular way. Usually when you announce your selection you try to have that person on hand so they can give him a look. At the same time there is also the sense that once he hinted broadly that he had made the selection, it was pretty clear that people were going to desperately try to claw their way through the airplane hanger walls and get a look at the new decal on the side of the plane. I know we tried like hell to do that, so he had to announce.

Obviously, this is a state they want to carry. Pennsylvania has gone with the majority of the American voters in every election since 1968. This is a state they want to win. Pittsburgh is a pretty reasonable venue to do a rally like this.

As far as how the national press portrayed it, the only real thing I would take a dispute with is one of the earlier pieces I saw on the wire that talked about a huge crowd in Market Square. They couldn’t get a large crowd in Market Square, first of all, because Market Square is not huge, and secondly, because it took so long once people showed up to get them through security that a third of the crowd was left down the street out of sight of the podium.

… [Also], there are very bizarre territorial boundaries being drawn inside John Kerry rallies … how they let people through, who they let through, and who they put where.

TL: David M. Shribman joined the paper over a year ago from the Boston Globe, and now local resident Teresa Heinz Kerry is involved in a presidential run. Has the presence of these two people changed the focus of the paper’s coverage or the way the paper is covering election?

DBR: Teresa Heinz Kerry is not just a candidate’s wife. She is a local celebrity here and was well known long before that. There are two things we find ourselves doing. Of course, paying a lot of attention to this campaign because Teresa Heinz Kerry is from here and she has a sizable farm here — what one TV reporter referred to as the Kerry ranch. Which I just loved, because this is Pittsburgh, and we barely have ranch dressing. Teresa Heinz Kerry brings him here a lot. He’s camped out in the area. We are sort of the Western White House in exile right now.

The second thing it has done is that it has made us have to check the impulse to jump on to the national bandwagon that seeks to portray Teresa Heinz Kerry as a very exotic person. If she didn’t have an accent, people wouldn’t be writing about her the way they do.

I saw this Newsweek cover that said something like “Teresa Heinz Kerry: loose cannon or crazy like a fox?” There is this out-of-space perspective that they are applying to her.

In Pittsburgh she is considered another Pittsburgher; not terribly unusual, not particularly liberal and not what we would consider a giver to any radical or extreme causes. She comes out of the traditional moderate Republican tradition. So all of this coverage of Teresa Heinz Kerry as Hillary Clinton with a big scarf and unruly hair leaves everyone here perplexed. And of course, like the rest of America, so many of us in Pittsburgh take our cue from the national media, so we have to check our impulse to join in on it.

As for David Shribman he came to town figuring that he was going to cover national politics along with the local news. In other words, he came to town to make us act like a big city paper. And that is what he has us doing. So far he is getting high marks even though he is a Red Sox fan.

Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.