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Saturday, August 28, 2004

WaPo's Dobbs stumbles off track

On August 21st, Washington Post staff reporter Michael Dobbs wrote what is easily the best and most serious examination of the SwiftVets' factual allegations about Sen. Kerry's war record by the mainstream media to date.  He barely scratched the surface of those allegations, but he at least made some useful attempts at genuine investigative journalism — something beyond regurgitating the Kerry camp's talking points (although he did that, too).  And Mr. Dobbs figured out, and stated (albeit in a mushy way near the bottom of his piece), the indisputable fact that presidential candidate John F. Kerry is withholding or blocking the release of key documentary evidence which would go a long way to either prove or dispove the SwiftVets' allegations.  It was a good start, but only a start.

Dobbs' new article in Saturday's WaPo is therefore a major disappointment to me and others who'd hoped that he'd continue to dig into the substance of the SwiftVets' charges. 

Although Dobbs interviewed, and quoted, John O'Neill for this new piece, O'Neill is just an emblem and a spokesman for the SwiftVets, not one of its principle fact witnesses (as he himself will be the first to agree).   Instead, in this article, Dobbs' focus is almost entirely upon a presidency that's only of remote historical interest today — Richard Nixon's — and the related, somewhat more topical historical question of whether during his antiwar protester days, young Kerry was a "top downer" who wanted to work within the political process or a "bottom upper" who wanted to challenge it through civil disobedience and violence.

Now, I fancy myself a serious lifelong student of history, and I'm not without interest in these issues.  But Mr. Dobbs' latest effort brings out nothing particularly new or remarkable on them.  In the meantime, WaPo's Mr. Dobbs and the mainstream media that he represents have generally failed in their duty to plumb the SwiftVets' very detailed factual allegations about Sen. Kerry's war-hero record and their factual allegations about his more obscure anti-war activism (the Paris trip or trips to meet with representatives of the North Vietnamese government and Viet Cong, for example). 

The blogosphere can provide, and has provided, punditry galore on the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy.  Occasionally it's provided some genuine factual investigation, in addition to its more usual function of collating and commenting upon what's already in the public domain.  But the blogosphere, which is diffuse and highly distributed by definition, lacks the access and concentrated delivery that still, for better or worse (mostly worse), is a monopoly of the mainstream media.  If Glenn Reynolds and Ed Hennisey and Roger Simon and Hugh Hewitt and Mickey Kaus and Jim Garaghty and yours truly all pound our internet pulpits together in rhythm demanding that Sen. Kerry sign Standard Form 180, the Kerry camp can simply stonewall and ignore us. 

A similar drumbeat for a week or so however from, say, WaPo, NYT, and NBC would ramp up the political pressure on Kerry to the point that his ongoing cover-up would become too painfully obvious to the public and, finally, intolerable.  Sen. Kerry's only going to release the bad stuff — and right now, it's legitimate for us to assume it's "bad stuff" or he'd already have released it — when the political costs of not doing so threaten to exceed his estimates of how much damage the bad stuff might do when released.

If Woodward and Bernstein had been similarly lethargic, Richard Nixon would have finished his presidency.

I'll grant that it took Woodward and Bernstein many weeks, in those days of a longer "media cycle," to uncover what they did.  And my hope is that Mr. Dobbs' detour into chortling over Chuck Colson sucking up to Nixon is only a temporary wandering off course.  But it's absolutely critical that Mr. Dobbs — or someone, and hopefully many members of the mainstream media — will use the access and resources of their profession to accomplish the things that the blogosphere can't do as effectively.  The most significant reporting during the past week — that of syndicated columnist Bob Novak and NBC's Lisa Myers on Adm. Bill Schachte and Kerry's first Purple Heart — was the result of Schachte coming to them to break his previous media silence.  That's well and good, but it's nowhere near good enough.

Posted by Beldar at 05:31 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to WaPo's Dobbs stumbles off track and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) OhMike made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 7:15:06 AM | Permalink


Keep pounding that drum. I don't expect that the drumbeat will make Kerry release the records, but it will make it more obvious to those who aren't following this as closely as they should that there is something being covered up.

(2) Polaris made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 7:31:35 AM | Permalink


Dave Koppel wrote an interesting piece for the Rocky Mountain news that I think pretty well summarizes the attitude of the Main-Stream Media and their dereliction of duty.

(3) Dan S made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 7:57:11 AM | Permalink


Preach it, brother!

Historically, if there's anything that's like blood in the water to the media sharks, it's been a slight tinge of coverup. For the last couple of decades that has shifted to "a slight tinge of coverup by a Republican."

We out here could research it, we have the brains, the research experience and in cases pretty decent access. But it is not our day job. We are amateurs in the literal sense. The story needs and deserves the full professional treatment. That the professionals refuse to give it such is a gross dereliction of their duty as "fourth estate" of the government.

Hmm, can we file a class action suit? :)

That aside, I suppose we're left with boycott.

It really is a story to make a name on though. It is getting a huge amount of attention from the public, and that's with the major media doing its collective best to downplay the story!

I guess the stories about J-school getting the academic dregs have something to them. One would think even everyone would have an eye for the main chance.

Most days I feel like we're trying to housetrain a puppy, pointing at the little pile of feces on the carpet, grabbing the little mutt firmly by the neck, and they rubbing his little nose in it. But dogs learn a lot faster than this.

Wait, that's a reversed analogy! (I so like that image though!)

Okay, we're trying to get a homeless bum to move off the streets into free housing and rejoin society, be productive, and do his duty as a citizen. The problem is, he LIKES being out there outside, literally and metaphorically. He can't smell himself. He has no mirror. And he can wander in a shelter if it's really cold or he needs a solid, and then back out to grab a fifth of T-bird or price the cheap aftershave. He doesn't give a damn what anyone else thinks.

And he really loves to pester guys wearing blue suits. Just blue. Not Black or gray, or seeksucker. Not women or kids. Policemen qualify. And if they toss him in a cell overnight, he makes such a stink they regret it. He pisses everywhere except where he's supposed to and leaves little presents behind for someone else to clean up.

Offer him a real bit of work, say cleaning out the back yards or filling a gully after a storm and he'll spit on your shoes, take a swig from his green bottle, and saunter off down the street making cars slam on their brakes. He likes doing that. The sound of curses coming from cars is his favorite tune.

There, that fits a bit better.

(I really shouldn't do this... I use up all my impulses to write over here writing comments on Beldar's blog! Beldar, you suck!)

(4) Todd made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 8:09:48 AM | Permalink

The MSM tried to bury this story to begin with, so it's not surprising that they are dragging their feet on investigating it. While Dobbs' piece is balanced, it does nothing towards advancing our understanding of the claims that the Swift Vets are making. In particular, the MSM appear to not have read the book, as they aren't even investigating some of O'Neill's accusations about Kerry's anti-war activities, although Dobbs does mention some of them in his article.

Overall, though, the MSM have shown a strong desire to bury this story. Last night on "Hardball," Ron Reagan, Jr. (his father must be rolling over in his grave) characterized the Swift Vets as "liars" who were spouting "nonsense." Gee, thanks for the excellent analysis, Ron. Sadly, Ron's type of "analysis" is all too common on this story.

The Swift Vets and bloggers like Beldar need to keep up the pressure on Kerry to release his records. It may take a while, but eventually he'll have to do it or face serious political fallout.

(5) Sam made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 8:22:03 AM | Permalink

I've read the transcript of Kerry's Testimony to the Senate in 1971 and he basically admits meeting in Paris with the North Vietnamese while still a reservist. Here's a link, and the relevant passage (about 1/3 of the way through):

Mr. Kerry: My feeling, Senator, is undoubtedly this Congress, and I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I do not believe that this Congress will, in fact, end the war as we would like to, which is immediately and unilaterally and, therefore, if I were to speak I would say we would set a date and the date obviously would be the earliest possible date. But I would like to say, in answering that, that I do not believe it is necessary to stall any longer. I have been to Paris. I have talked with both delegations at the peace talks, that is to say the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government and of all eight of Madam Binh's points it has been stated time and time again, and was stated by Senator Vance Hartke when he returned from Paris, and it has been stated by many other officials of this Government, if the United States were to set a date for withdrawal the prisoners of war would be returned.

If this is old news I apologize, if not I would be very interested to know what, if any penalties he should have received.

(6) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 9:12:53 AM | Permalink

Sam, it's old news in the sense that it's old testimony, but there are lots and lots of folks who're just awakening to the full scope of that testimony in the current context of Sen. Kerry's bid to be our Commander in Chief.

From elsewhere in that same transcript, we see that young Kerry knew full well that in meeting with representatives of the North Vietnamese government and the Viet Cong in Paris, he was at risk of violating American law:

I realize that we cannot negotiate treaties and I realize that even my visits in Paris, precedents had been set by Senator McCarthy and others, in a sense are on the borderline of private individuals negotiating, et cetera. I understand these things.

Kerry kind of rambled off as he realized that he was speaking on the record about matters he'd be wiser to keep under his lucky hat. But the statute that he was (rather nervously) referencing is 18 U.S.C. § 953, which provides in pertinent part:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

The possibility that Kerry violated this law, plus related regulations that would have restricted his ability to parley with the enemy while still an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, is a major part of the complaint that Judicial Watch recently filed with the DoD and the Navy Department.

I've been pondering this part of Kerry's Senate testimony for some time. I may write about it at more length in a separate post after I do some more legal research on how the statute's been enforced. (I have a vague recollection of this having been a minor public controversy at the time, which is what I think Kerry was referencing with his comment about the "McCarthy" precedent.)

(7) rhodeymark made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 11:50:04 AM | Permalink

Let's hope that the local dead tree (here in Kerry country) will print my letter calling for his signing the SF 180. I referenced his DD-214 and '96 comments about Boorda (from Kerryspot.com) Thanks to the blogosphere I can rebut the papers stance with relevant fact.

(8) Birkel made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 4:05:14 PM | Permalink

You seem too charitable to young Mr. Kerry. You said:

"Kerry kind of rambled off as he realized that he was speaking on the record about matters he'd be wiser to keep under his lucky hat."

This certainly doesn't have to be the case. After all, that 'rambling' could be seen as a concerted effort to cover his tracks. After all the mere mention of McCarthy provided political cover then, not unlike the words homophobe (Gov. McGreevey), Nazi (Pres. Bush, et al), fascist (ditto), et cetera do now.

'McCarthy' was code for Kerry and everyone in the Senate. They knew it meant the following:

"I have just told you that while in Navy IRR I met with foreign officials contrary to law. However, if you so much as ask me a question about that event I will label you with a phrase that will ruin your career."

That's the less charitable interpretation. But it's not wholly unfair either. McCarthyism was the boogeyman to everyone of that era. Certainly Kerry was clever enough to know its invocation was political dynamite.

Oh well, just a thought.

(9) Steel Turman made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 4:09:06 PM | Permalink

I am beginning to wonder if Hillary's hand is
not to be found stirring this pot ... if it
ain't W, who else stands to gain?

(10) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 7:01:52 PM | Permalink

Birkel, my guess is that the "McCarthy" he was referencing was prominent Vietnam War critic Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy of Minnesota, rather than the earlier Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, whose name became synonymous with "smears" and the question, "Have you no shame?" I have a vague recollection of the Minnesota senator having caused some controversy over meeting or communicating directly with the North Vietnamese, but I need to do more research on it to be sure.

(11) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 7:05:28 PM | Permalink

Steel, try using Occam's Razor and looking for the simplest explanation instead of conspiracies. Can you not imagine that at least some veterans like John O'Neill and his fellow SwiftVets took genuine offense, at a minimum, at Sen. Kerry's statements about their service and their country during his antiwar activism? I remain in awe of both Bill and Hillary Clinton's political skills, but I frankly doubt either of them could stir up 250+ Vietnam War veterans to this degree.

(12) ed made the following comment | Aug 28, 2004 10:07:44 PM | Permalink


" but I frankly doubt either of them could stir up 250+ Vietnam War veterans to this degree."

Oh I think there's far more than that aggravated and enraged by Kerry. It's just going to take a little more time to really get them going.

(13) Gary B. made the following comment | Aug 30, 2004 4:21:15 AM | Permalink

If the MSM keeps insisting that they've thouroghly looked into Kerry's war record, then they have to admit that they're reporters aren't worth a XXXX. After reading what's already been discovered about Kerry on the net, it's clear that journalism isn't as professional as I thought they were.

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