Radio talk-show hosts have been chattering about Judy Bachrach’s takedown of Judith (formerly Judi) Giuliani in the September issue of Vanity Fair. Bachrach didn’t use a stiletto but a blunt instrument, a platform wedgie perhaps, to bludgeon Judith (formerly Judi.) The New York Post’s Page Six described the magazine’s portrait of Mrs. G as “an opportunistic, puppy-killing homewrecker who has a full-time hairstylist and needs an extra seat on planes for Baby Louis, her Louis Vuitton handbag.”
Me-ow, me-ow, me-ow!
One radio talk-show host with whom I spoke thought it was an especially brutal hatchet job. In truth, it put on paper the gossip that has circulated in Manhattan about Rudy’s wife for the past couple of years. At one recent gathering of concerned Republicans, someone joked that the former mayor’s campaign staffers only wished they had a Teresa Heinz Kerry problem.
Judith (okay, okay, let’s call her what she wants to be called ) doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. At least Bachrach didn’t find them or, perhaps, didn’t even look very hard. Most of the quotes were supplied by an ex-husband, a former lover, and disgruntled Giuliani staffers who were fired, they claim, because of her interference. And Bachrach seems to find a way to sneer at almost everything about her, significant or not. From Judith’s parents’ “gray two story house fronted by potted geraniums” to her over-the-top demands to keep a dress she liked at a fashion shoot.
What may be most damning in the article is the claim that she is being paid $125,000 a year to help write Giuliani’s big-ticket speeches. Bachrach reports, “Asked if he knew Judith was writing speeches, one former Giuliani aide replied, ‘Holy cow! God forbid!’” But the profile only flicks at the campaign’s biggest misstep related to Mrs. G. During the infamous Barbara Walters interview of the couple, Rudy told the world he would have Judith sit in on Cabinet meetings because of her “expertise” in “biological and chemical” disasters. Adoring, perhaps but not very smart.
The Vanity Fair attack brings up yet another factor in the already over-covered presidential campaign: “Mategate!” How important will the spouses of candidates really be? The New York Times certainly started some snide talk with their style piece on Fred Thompson’s young, attractive “trophy wife.” And there were days of reporting based on Elizabeth Edwards’s assault on Hillary Clinton for not caring about women enough. Frank Luntz has claimed, “The spouse of the candidate matters in less than 1 out of 100 votes. It’s not relevant. It will have no impact whatsoever.” But can that really be true in campaign 2008 when one of the spouses is the ex-president? Surely there will be a time when someone will be looking at what Bill Clinton has been doing lately and will slash away in a manner not dissimilar to Judy Bachrach’s take on Mrs. Giuliani.
Will their families matter as well? Has Al Gore III’s much-reported problems with the law diminished Al Gore’s squeaky clean appeal and make his potential candidacy even more remote? Not that there is any media bias, of course, but the New York Times, which was so snarky about Mrs. Thompson, just ran, on the front page, an unabashed mash note to Chelsea Clinton who was described as “very talented,” “very smart,” “sincere,” “serious,” and as one of Hillary’s “greatest advisor.” Could this rave just possibly boost the senator’s creds as an exemplary mother and increase her appeal to women? Maybe in our gossip-hungry world anything good one can say about a candidate’s spouse or family isn’t all that important. But a diss is guaranteed to make headlines, be joked about by the late-night comedians, and create comment for days and days.
Even though the piece about Judith Giuliani is sprinkled with a few positives — she’s concerned about his relationship with his kids, she was helpful to the relatives of 9/11 victims — its overwhelming impression is a mean-spirited caricature. But it not so different than dozens of pieces we’ve read in the past (and snickered about) and will continue to read during this campaign. Everyone bewails the politics of personal destruction and wants that to change, but can that happen if the journalism of personal destruction is really setting the agenda?