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August 23, 2004

In His Own Words: Swifties' Second Ad

Over the weekend I read way too many articles on the legend of Lt. John Kerry. I use that word, "legend," in the sense it's used in spy novels: a fictional (though often based on fact) background history to support the role of an agent inserted into place. It's appropriate here due to the "agent's" own choices of spin. Among his statements on the whys and whens of Cambodia are various versions containing claims of participation in covert missions, gun-running, and the insertion of special ops teams. And then there's the lucky hat, given him by a CIA man.

The first point of interest is the sharp expansion of coverage. After weeks of examination of available source materials, analysis and debate in the blogs and dialy hours of coverage on talk radio, followed by a trickle of mention in the regional newspapers, the "major media" have finally weighed in. With a few notable exceptions, their contributions have floated to the top not due to quality, but rather to their lack of substance. One notable exception to this trend towards factlessness and shrill partisanship was the Sunday Washington Post article by Michael Dobbs, "Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete." The article actually contributes some new information and does a nice job of presenting the complicated events of the Bronze Star incident. That said, it's already been shown to fail to explain all of the testimony and on-the-historical-record accounts by witnesses and Kerry himself. And the article ignores small, but very significant, details, such as the total absense of bullet holes mentioned in the damage reports. If the boats involved were indeed fired at intensively for the period maintained, it would be miraculous if all of the boats were missed. And damage attributed to Kerry's boat in this action has been shown to have resulted from combat the day before. While Dobbs made a useful contribution, he's clearly behind the curve still, though far ahead of many of his peers in the other major papers and news shows.

Another point has been the appearance of coverage of the coverage itself in the weekly news magazines and other publications. John Leo's "A Very Kerry Christmas" in U.S. News and World Report opens with, "Some people wondered how long the major media would be willing to ignore the Christmas-in-Cambodia story. Well, the answer is in: at least 10 or 11 days." It continues with sharper jabs and pokes at a fourth estate that has been as essential as a fifth wheel in this story. (See the Cox & Forkum cartoon on the Christmas in Cambodia story.)

Over the weekend, however, the story shifted when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth began running a new ad, this one composed of clips of Kerry's own words from his testimony before the Senate on April 22, 1971. Unable to resort to claims that witnesses are lying, Kerry's defenders have resorted to claims that Kerry was simply quoting the words of others, thus he is not culpable for their content.

While it can be argued (and some are) that Kerry was not solely quoting others, for the immediate purpose of this I will concede the point. Let's assume Kerry was just quoting the words of others. If he was not asserting the truth of those quotes, as is required for this to comprise any sort of defense, we must wonder why he was repeating those words. Was he accusing those others (many of whom were proven to be frauds and/or liars in investigations the followed the event) of lying? There is no evidence of that. In fact, many were members of the organization of which he was a leader, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Was he objectively "reporting" on things he'd overheard? That would imply, legally, that he had no personal knowledge of the truth or falsity of what was said, only that he'd heard it said. This is normally referred to as hearsay. Legally, hearsay has little standing. Why would a lawyer give testimony comprised of nothing but hearsay?

The alternative explanations must deal with the question of motive. Why was Kerry repeating what he repeated if his intent was not to slander his fellow servicemen, impede the war effort or tarnish the reputation of his country? Perhaps his motive was only one of the preceeding, and the other two results were unintended. But all of the preceeding can be seen as harmful, and the unintended consequences of deliberately harmful acts are generally considered relevant when our legal system apportions punishment. It is not at all unreasonable to hold Kerry blameful for all of the consequences of his testimony. If he knew the words he repeated were untrue and apt to cause harm if understood to be true, he had a duty as citizen and honorable man to not repeat those words, especially in a national forum.

Since he chose to, it is appropriate that the American public judges him on that choice when considering him for the highest office in the land.

The Swift Veterans for Truth are not "sliming" Kerry when they point out his own words in the past. They did not entice him to make those pronouncements. They have not even misconstrued the meaning of carefully lifted partial quotes, as is so often the case of late in the major media. Any sensible reader who reads the whole of Kerry's statement will agree that the quotes are fair and representative. They are, in fact, mere parts of a much larger and much more damning statement.

Kerry chose to run on his record in Vietnam. A challenge was issued, "Bring it on!" The Swift Veterans for Truth took him at his word. With Kerry, that is always a mistake, it seems. Clearly they missed some nuance.

For blogs covering the developments, see the links in these posts below:
A Matter of Honor
Our Objective Media, Watchdogs of the Public Good

Posted by dan at August 23, 2004 11:26 AM | TrackBack
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