When Teresa Heinz Kerry told a journalist to "shove it" on Sunday, the convention press corps swooped down on the first big unscripted moment of the week.
The "off message" snap was
Convention delegates, more media savvy than ever, understood that the press craves entrees that aren't on the official menu.
"I definitely think it is the press that is looking for something news worthy to write about," said Coby King, a delegate from California. "You are going to get these unscripted moments. I do know that most of us, all the delegates that are here are really focused on defeating President Bush," he continued. "Look, if a few people say things that aren't on message, that's the way these conventions go."
Here's what happened: At the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston, Mrs. Kerry, speaking to the Pennsylvania delegation, talked about growing incivility in politics, and said, "We need to turn back some of the creeping, un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits that are coming into some of our politics."
After being asked repeatedly by Colin McNickle, editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, to clarify her interpretation of the word "un-American," Mrs. Kerry said, "I didn't say that," repeating herself, "I didn't say that." She went away but returned to the reporter moments later, asked what paper he wrote for and then said, "You said something I didn't say. Now shove it."
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is an avowed conservative newspaper and Mrs. Kerry seemed perturbed over past coverage.
Marla Romash, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Kerry later said, "This was sheer frustration aimed at a right-wing rag that has consistently and purposely misrepresented the facts in reporting on Mrs. Kerry and her family."
"We went through some of this when Hillary Rodham Clinton, when Bill was running. Most Americans appreciate the strength of a strong woman behind the candidate's side and sure, Teresa is going to say a few things that we all may not like but we are thrilled to have her there," King said. "This is my fourth convention, bottom line is that we are only here for political parties to put their message out," he added, shrugging, "Hey look, we are here in Boston, here to have a good time, and to motivate the troops."
Mrs. Clinton's husband told CNN, "A lot of Americans are going to say, 'Good for you, you go, girl,' and that's certainly how I feel about it."
With this convention scripted down to the signs the delegates hold up, it is no secret that some in the Democratic Party have been worrying about the unpredictable Teresa Heinz Kerry.
"This, it's just ridiculous. What happens at conventions when there is nothing to cover, people take little incidents like this and blow them out of proportion," said Elaine Kamarck, a political scientist at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a Democratic theorist. "When there is no news, things that are not news worthy become news."
A prime-time speaker Tuesday night, Mrs. Kerry prides herself on being her own woman. While some Democrats are concerned her free-willing ways will lead to many impolitic asides, others appreciate her direct and honest tone.
"I think to single out Mrs. Kerry while the press didn't think it was a big deal at all that the vice president used profanity to a U.S. senator on the Senate floor… I think there is a double standard," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Col. "I think the reason women in America like Mrs. Kerry is because she is her own person and I don't think women any longer expect their female public figures to be a silent wife.
"Hillary Rodham Clinton showed us that," DeGette continued. "I think she is being embraced along with Miss. Edwards as real women, women with interests, hopes, ideals in their own lives."
Beside DeGette was her husband, Lino Lipinsky, smiling, clearly used to strong women. A Colorado delegate himself, Lipinsky said, "I have trouble when the press takes a gotcha mentality and a slip up becomes a national news story."
What did the candidate think of his wife's remark? "My wife speaks her mind appropriately," Sen. Kerry said.
By David Paul Kuhn