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Sunday, September 05, 2004

Does Kerry get his "news" from the headlines?

As widely reported by the NYT and other media, in his midnight rally after the close of the Republican National Convention, Sen. Kerry

lashed back at President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney tonight, saying that he would not remain quiet while his patriotism was being questioned by men who had not served in Vietnam and who had "misled the nation into Iraq.''

"We all saw the anger and distortion of the Republican Convention,'' Mr. Kerry said in excerpts of remarks, issued by his campaign, that he was to make later tonight in Ohio.

"For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief,'' Mr. Kerry said.  "Well, here's my answer. I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq.'' ...

Alluding to Mr. Cheney's convention speech on Wednesday evening, in which the vice president said the senator was not the right man to be commander in chief because of his "habit of indecision'' and a misunderstanding of the nature of terrorism, Mr. Kerry said:  "The vice president even called me unfit for office last night. I guess I'll leave it up to the voters whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty.''

(Boldface mine throughout [and last paragraph in blockquote added Sun Sep 5 @ 7pm].)  This apparently prompted many folks to wonder what exactly Sen. Kerry was talking about — what had gotten into him, and upon what factual sources was he relying for his accusations as to what Bush and Cheney had said about him during the RNC?  For example, Jim Geraghty noted in his  Kerry Spot on NRO:

Many, many, many Kerry Spot readers believe Kerry was drunk during his late-night Thursday rally. There is no evidence of this beyond people's interpretation of his behavior and speech, and I mention this rumor in order to disagree with it and to discourage it. Besides, the revelation that Kerry was mildly inebriated at the time would probably be good news for the Democrats.

CNN tells us that "Kerry said he listened to 'zero' of the four-day Republican convention in New York but had read the acceptance speech Bush delivered Thursday night." 

In his acceptance speech on Thursday night, Dubya said nothing specific to the question of either Sen. Kerry's patriotism or his military service.  But just before the convention, President Bush said of Kerry, in an August 26th interview with the NYT's Elisabeth Bumiller and David E. Sanger, "I don't think he lied [about his war record], and I think that he ought to be proud of his record."  On August 23rd, Dubya was widely quoted thusly:

Asked if he believed Kerry, who was decorated for bravery but later became a prominent opponent of the Vietnam war, had lied about his service, Bush said, "I think Sen. Kerry served admirably, and he ought to be proud of his record."

And in his convention speech, Vice President Cheney specifically said:

The president's opponent is an experienced senator. He speaks often of his service in Vietnam, and we honor him for it.

Without question, both Bush and Cheney made detailed arguments from which viewers, listeners, and readers of their speeches could well draw conclusions as to the relative fitness of Bush and Cheney for the nation's top two executive positions as compared to their opponents.  But neither of their convention speeches questioned Kerry's patriotism; neither denigrated Kerry's Vietnam service (and Cheney explicitly praised it); and the word "unfit" appears nowhere in either speech. 

Surely even the most polite politician cannot be faulted for claiming that he's more fit for office than his opponent; and it's quite a logical and semantic leap from more fit to "unfit" or "attacked my patriotism and my fitness," isn't it?  So where the heck did Sen. Kerry come up with his claim that Bush and/or Cheney had attacked his fitness or his patriotism?

Well, we have an excellent suspect in the Washington Post:  Ombudsman Michael Getler writes in Sunday's WaPo:

"Cheney Calls Kerry Unfit," read the big, front-page headline over a story in Thursday's Post about attacks on the Democratic challenger at the Republican convention in speeches by Vice President Cheney and Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia.

"Unfit" is a powerful, personally damning word; it has become even more explosive in the past several weeks because it is in the title of a best-selling book, "Unfit For Command" by John E. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi. The book is the cornerstone of a nationwide effort by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth to challenge Sen. John F. Kerry's war record.

The problem is that Cheney never used the word "unfit." Yet the headline can be seen as reinforcing the Swift boat challengers' attack. The headline writer no doubt drew inspiration from the first paragraph of the story by reporter John F. Harris, who wrote that Cheney "reached back decades" into Kerry's life, "arguing in taunting language that the Democratic presidential nominee has demonstrated through his public statements and votes that he is unfit to be commander in chief in an age of terrorism."

You could draw that conclusion from listening to what Cheney did say. But that, in my view and those of some readers, was a poor choice of words and headline.  The headline went beyond what Cheney said and then spread the characterization across the front page.

Now, it's possible that Sen. Kerry was not misled by this WaPo headline, or similar ones elsewhere.  It's possible that instead he was engaging in the same sort of overstatement as the WaPo headline writer, for rhetorical purposes.  But using Occam's Razor, the correct explanation may be the simplest one.  Kerry thought Cheney said Kerry was unfit because the WaPo headline said that was what Cheney said.

In a post I wrote some months ago entitled "You'd rather Dubya watch Rather?" I expressed my amusement and disgust when the mainstream media, egged on by Dubya's critics, made a big hoohah over President Bush's "revelation" that he relies heavily upon his staff to read, digest, and succinctly brief him on newspaper and other media reports, rather than trying to comb through them himself.  I wrote,

So how would you rather the President of the United States spend his time? Reading what the New York Times is speculating about, which is in turn based on what someone has leaked about what the CIA has just learned about the leadership of Iran? Or reading what the Director of Central Intelligence has just written about what the CIA has just learned about the leadership of Iran?

And maybe the President should've tuned in to the BBC to get Andrew Gilligan's take on how the Third Infantry Division was doing in its advance toward Baghdad, rather than relying on filtered information from Gen. Tommy Franks via Rumsfield. Yeah, that's the ticket!

But Kerry's incredible midnight rally suggests that, indeed, he may be relying on the equivalent of Andrew Gilligan in getting his "news."  Not only does it appear that Kerry's reading misleading headlines, it appears that he may be failing to read what's beneath them — and that he's acting on those misleading headlines in staking out his campaign positions.

If so, it's a shallow, shoddy, and dangerous practice.  If so, Sen. Kerry's staff is serving him poorly, or he's making poor use of the resources available to him, or both.  But if not — if he actually knew what Bush and Cheney did say and didn't say, and just chose to exaggerate it for rhetorical purposes — I guess that would leave me feeling strangely relieved.  Politics as usual, including disingenuousness, is preferable to the candidate being miserably ill-informed, I suppose.

One way or another, this small episode may say something important about the relative fitness of Sen. Kerry and President Bush.  But I'll leave it to my readers to draw their own conclusions about whether it goes so far as to show that Sen. Kerry's not just less fit, but unfit.

(Hat-tip to PrestoPundit and Betsy's Page.)

Posted by Beldar at 08:33 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


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» WaPo Headlines Slammed from Oh, That Liberal Media

Tracked on Sep 5, 2004 12:15:05 PM


(1) FredRum made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 9:31:21 AM | Permalink

It seems to me that Kerry used faulty intelligence to mislead us into a war of... Oh never mind.

(2) Todd made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 10:06:55 AM | Permalink

If the intelligence was faulty, who did the misleading?

Beldar, so much of what Dems complain about these days isn't based upon reality. You can find blog after blog complaining bitterly about those mean Republicans and their attack ads, as if moveon.org, etc. don't even exist. Kerry is just symptomatic of a much larger problem with the Left, a sickness that one of the writers at National Review (I don't recall which one) referred to recently. The modern Left has cracked up into incoherence and irrelevance.

(3) John Rosenberg made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 12:00:30 PM | Permalink

I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have....

By now we all know that three Purple Hearts earn you a ticket home. But do they require you to go? Could Kerry have chosen to stay and finish out his tour? He could, of course, have refused one of his Purple Hearts so that he could have continued "to serve" until the scheduled end of his tour. Does his refusal to make that choice compromise his freedom to criticize those -- like, say, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- who served longer than he did?

(4) Chris made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 12:28:02 PM | Permalink

Beldar, you are being intentionally misleading. You cite Kerry's condemnation of the "anger and distortion of the Republican Convention," but only defend Bush and Cheney's speeches. Clearly, you are relying on the phrasing of NYT article to imply Kerry's statement was meant to be directed only at Bush and Cheney. It was not, and you know it.

There were other speakers at the RNC that certainly fit the description Kerry gave. While you and other partisans defend Zell Miller's and others' attacks on Kerry, many other Republicans are distancing themselves from them, with good reason.

(5) Laurie K. made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 1:34:34 PM | Permalink

I think the conclusion that Kerry's performance at the midnight rally was a bit peculiar is right on the money. To me, the theory about where he's getting his info these days is a bit of a stretch, though, although it was interesting to read. I think that Kerry, being a human being, was stung by the content of the RNC. And well he might be. I think that, no matter where we stand in the political spectrum, it must be incredibly obvious that getting hammered like that, rightly or wrongly, has got to hurt a hell of a lot.

To put it simply, the man's angry and bruised, and that's what we're seeing now. Sure, no one actually attacked his patriotism, but once your integrity, intelligence, and honesty are worked over enough, it kind of gets hard to think straight. I think that's where Kerry is now. I doubt he got his sense of wounded pride from the headlines.

For the record, I've been both a liberal Republican, and more recently, a conservative-moderate Democrat, and I will be supporting Bush in November. I don't find Kerry to be a bad man, and I believe he sincerely wants what is best for America and her people. I simply do not find his ideas compelling at this time. The paths both men would lead us down are perilous, but I find Bush to be the only candidate willing to take on and address the true perils of our time.

(6) vnjagvet made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 1:35:33 PM | Permalink

Chris, Chris, Chris

I heard each of the feature speakers from beginning to end.

McCain, Giuliani, Schwarzenneger, Laura Bush, Zell Miller, Dick Cheney, Tommy Franks, George Pataki and the President.

If you can direct me to a quote from one of these speakers speeches which, in words or substance, "questioned Kerry's patriotism", or labelled him "unfit to lead" please do so.

Otherwise, I'm with Beldar. Your accusation has no substance.

(7) old maltese made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 1:45:20 PM | Permalink

Chris, Senator Kerry linked his accusation directly to those with 5 deferments and those who misled us into war in Iraq.

He wasn't talking about Zell Miller or Mayor Giuliani.

(8) J_Crater made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 1:59:05 PM | Permalink

I got a real feeling of deja vu reading this, as I commented (somwhere) yesterday on this. I slept through Miller's and Cheney's speeches the other night so I decided to read the transcripts to see what Cheney (& Miller) really said; later I read a WaPo story and "poof".
I came to the same conclusion: the Kerry campaign isn't even listening to what is said by their opponents or even reading the transcripts. It appeared as though some portions of the WaPo story were lifted and directly used (an obvious Biden moment) in the Kerry statement used for the midnight rally.
What scares me the most about this is that this is the guy who is going to have this magical "kumbaya" foreign policy where everybody agrees to stuff and all, but they apparently don't even listen to the folks across the table.
(I wonder if Bush and Rove could use this to advantage in the debates ?)

(9) Steven Jens made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 2:01:51 PM | Permalink

"For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief," Mr. Kerry said.

Well, Miller clearly did attack his fitness to serve as commander in chief, whether or not he used the phrase "fitness to serve".

The patriotism thing is getting awfully tired, though. And, even assuming all of the SwiftVet charges are false, his service in VietNam doesn't make him the national security god he thinks it does.

(10) Kathy made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 2:11:10 PM | Permalink

By now we all know that three Purple Hearts earn you a ticket home. But do they require you to go?

No, you are not required to leave. Kerry's the only one on record to use that "reason" to leave Vietnam early.

Many Vietnam veterans received more than three Purple Hearts. Many served more than one tour (11 months), etc., MOST NEVER TALK ABOUT THEIR WARTIME SERVICE.

When Kerry went around telling everyone he was leaving, he suggested that others who had three PH's do the same and couldn't believe that they wouldn't leave their units.

The rule was there; however, Kerry is the only man to have ever used it.

(11) Mark made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 2:11:29 PM | Permalink

Mr. Jens,

Please note that Kerry said...

For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief,'' Mr. Kerry said. "Well, here's my answer. I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq.

Wasn't Senator Miller a Marine sergeant during Korea? I hardly think that counts as "refusing to serve when they could have."

(12) Polaris made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 2:23:27 PM | Permalink


I agree. In addition, I note that Bush did volunteer for the TANG as a Pilot (not a small accomplishment that) and I note that he was qualified to fly the F-102 which was a known pilot-killer.

I also note that Kerry didn't exactly volunteer to serve. He applied for as many deferments as Cheney (five) but only got four. Under the cold light of the facts, Kerry's charges simply don't stand up.

(13) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 3:35:11 PM | Permalink

Kathy, I may be wrong about this, but I think the SwiftVets are alleging that to their (collective) knowledge, Kerry was the only Swiftee to use the "3 and home" rule. O'Neill's Unfit for Command asserts (at page 92-93):

Tom Wright, another PCF commander at An Thoi, discussed John Kerry with several other Swiftees on base right after the March 13 [Bronze Star and third Purple Heart] incident. They were aware of the three Purple Heart rule that sounded like "three strikes and you're out." John Kerry could be sent home. So Wright approached Kerry one night and proposed to him that several fellow Swiftees on the base felt like it might be best for everybody if Kerry simply left. The next thing Wright knew, Kerry was gone, the exact result Wright hoped to achieve.

The SwiftVets thus exibit a mixture of relief that Kerry bailed out early and disgust that he did so. Presumably, if Kerry was as gung ho as his four-medals-in-22-day-pace would suggest, he could have asked to transfer out of the Swifts to, say, the PBRs or to a non-hot-combat billet like his Gridley service, rather than to a stateside post as an admiral's aide. The Swiftee officers, and most of the enlisted men, were volunteers who'd promised a full year's tour. But I'm almost certain that there were many other non-Swiftee soldiers and sailors who took advantage of the "3 and out" rule — enough so that I'd heard of the rule as a civilian teenager in the remote West Texas prairies during the later stages of the war.

Chris, I didn't hear Sen. Kerry's entire speech at the midnight rally. Although I'm hesitant to rely on the NYT's characterization of his remarks as being directed solely to Bush and Cheney, that does seem to make sense from the context, as other commenters have already noted. But if you have a link to a full transcript that you think supports your argument, I'd be delighted to take a look at it.

(14) Jim B made the following comment | Sep 5, 2004 5:11:55 PM | Permalink

Once again Chris is using misdirection as argument...and failing miserably...

Kerry said, and I quote (from the NYT):

"The vice president called me unfit for office last night," Mr. Kerry said. "Well, I'm going to leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments make someone more qualified than two tours of duty."

Once more...slowly...


He specifically cited the vice president. The vice president specifically didn't say it. End of story....

Chris won't be able to argue semantics this time. His candidate made a specific accusation which is refuted by the facts.

Should I hold my breath waiting for him to condemn the "anger and distortion" of John Kerry?

(15) mark made the following comment | Sep 7, 2004 1:48:08 PM | Permalink

...lied? ...or just believed what all the news reported?

google news on 'cheney kerry-unfit'

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