12.22.12

The Media Fantasize About Ben Affleck Vying for John Kerry’s Seat

The actor may not be running for Kerry’s seat, but that hasn’t stopped the press from dreaming. Lauren Ashburn on our celebrity fixation.

News flash: Actor Ben Affleck is considering a run for the Senate. Be still my heart.

There’s only one problem with this scintillating scenario: The media deserve an Oscar for best performance in a fictional tale.

Affleck is about as likely to jump into the special election for John Kerry’s seat in Massachusetts as I am to star in his next movie.

I first came upon the Affleck speculation on Politico, which said his name was being “floated” for the Senate. In fact, Politico got two bites at the apple: first reporting the chatter, then, in a dramatic follow up, disclosing that he refused to comment during a visit to Washington. And those two stories were the day’s most popular for Politico.

What was Politico’s source? The CBS affiliate in Boston.

WBZ’s political analyst, Jon Keller, said—get this—that he had heard Affleck’s name “tossed around,” saying the “pride of Cambridge” has long been active in Democratic Party circles.

That’s it. That’s all he had. It’s just a sprinkling of fairy dust. And now it’s gone national.

I can see where this might be something kicked around by Boston hacks over beers at Cheers. Affleck campaigned for Elizabeth Warren, is pushing aid to the Congo as a cause, and, uh, directs and stars in Argo, a movie about a CIA plot to rescue Americans in Tehran. Unlike my other heartthrobs, like Patrick Dempsey, Affleck seems to care about solving the world’s problems.

But he’s going to give up his movie career to sit through subcommittee hearings? I don’t think so. "Well, one never knows,” Affleck told Bob Schieffer in a pretaped interview for Face the Nation. He’s savvy enough to keep the door ajar, but also admitted he’s “really happy being involved from the outside in government.”

What is it about celebrities that makes otherwise sensible journalists salivate and tilt at windmills?

On a self-promotional level, they know such stories are water-cooler material and magnets for traffic. Who cares whether they’re actually based in fact?

Is Ben Affleck going to give up his movie career to sit through subcommittee hearings? I don’t think so.

And they can’t help but dream about covering Senator Affleck as he dines in Georgetown with his glamorous wife, Jennifer Garner, or is photographed with their new baby daughter. Never mind that he lives in Brentwood, which happens to be in California.

But Affleck isn’t the only actor whose name is being bandied about. Check out this breaking news from The Washington Post: “Ashley Judd Serious About Maybe Running for Senate.”

The Post’s source? Politico.

In this case, at least, the actress has spoken to a couple of Democratic officeholders and pollsters about the possibility of challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. So the story is not entirely conjured out of thin air. But Politico posted another story headlined: “Judd’s Grandmother Doubts She’ll Run”—that according to the venerable Associated Press. Polly Judd even praised McConnell. When you can’t even win over your own grandmother, you’ve got a long way to go.

Celebrities certainly aren’t complaining about being cast as potential political players, which gives them an aura of gravitas. Take Angelina Jolie, who had a bad-girl image until she began casting herself as a humanitarian activist. Now, when she’s not making movies, raising her six children, or considering marrying Brad Pitt, she serves as a special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

There is, in short, a symbiotic relationship between media outlets needing colorful copy and celebs needing to prove that they’re not self-absorbed airheads.

And once in awhile, of course, someone makes the great leap into politics. Ronald Reagan did it. So did Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not to mention Al Franken, Sonny Bono, Jesse Ventura, and Fred Grandy, who played Gopher on The Love Boat.

But they are the exceptions. Mostly, celebrities just flirt with the idea of running for office without the actual inconvenience of having to raise money and, you know, campaign. The rubber-chicken circuit that candidates must hit can’t hold a candle to dining at the Ivy in L.A.—not to mention the annoyance of being hit with an avalanche of negative ads.

But for us poor scribes having to write about colorless congressmen, a dash of Hollywood on the Potomac is too tantalizing to resist. So this isn’t going to
stop when Ben Affleck declines to run. You know what I heard? After throwing that dinner for Barack Obama, George Clooney has caught the bug and is thinking of …