Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Fisking the LAT's new article, "Veterans Battle Over the Truth"
The Los Angeles Times — which my friend Patterico long ago redubbed The Dog Trainer — is indisputably "mainstream media," and so its publication today of a detailed news piece (registration req'd) by two of its staff writers on the SwiftVets vs. Kerry controversy must indeed be considered significant by media watchers. Entitled "Veterans Battle Over the Truth," the article is subheadlined thusly: "An ad calls Kerry a liar. His Vietnam crew sees a hero. Memories, and agendas, are in conflict." Which might lead one reasonably to ask, "What agenda is the LAT pursuing?"
The Kerry camp will find this article highly gratifying because, as Patterico has demonstrated, "The article is pro-Kerry spin, pure and simple":
So, at the outset of the article, the reader has been told that the allegations are staples of conservative talk shows and the internet, funded by Republicans, made by people who weren't even there, and can't keep their story straight. Meanwhile, Kerry has released all of his military records, and if he flubbed a minor detail or two, that's the nature of war. All this before the paper provides a single shred of detail regarding what the allegations are.
Patterico is a careful and keen observer of the ways that purportedly objective news coverage is routinely slanted to shape its readers' reactions, and he's found a classic and subtle example of them here. I won't repeat his fisking points, but commend them to you, gentle readers, in their entirety. Picking up the baton from Patterico, however, I will share a few additional jots and tittles that jumped out at me from the article.
A liberal independent organization is weighing in on the controversy with a new ad today, demanding that President Bush urge that the [SwiftVets'] ad be taken off the air.
Yes, that would be MoveOn PAC's ad, about which I've just written at some length. Kudos for the apt word "liberal"; but "independent"? Irony seems lost on the LAT, which in a single sentence assumes that President Bush can control the SwiftVets, while simultaneously taking for granted that Sen. Kerry can't control the vastly better-funded MoveOn. Nor, apparently, does the LAT find anything newsworthy in one 527 organization urging a sitting President to subvert federal law by directing the activities of another 527 organization. And a couple of paragraphs down, the LAT finds it important to point out that the SwiftVets' single largest initial contributor was a Texas Republican (the newest compound epithet); I suppose the editors chopped the accompanying graphic that would have compared Hungarian Radical George Soros' contributions to the "liberal independent" MoveOn PAC because, after all, to put both bars on the same chart with a scaling that allowed the SwiftVets contribution to be legible, the LAT would have had to run a full-page sidebar. Next we find a particularly adroit piece of spin:
It is too soon to tell whether the claims are resonating with voters, but political observers say they could pose a serious risk for the Democratic candidate, particularly in such a close race. "If the attacks on [Kerry's] character continue and they start to take hold with swing voters and casual voters, it would be a big problem," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of a nonpartisan political newsletter. "The Kerry folks can't concede this.... A charge like this that's ignored is a charge that's believed."
Yes, clearly the Kerry camp was in serious and urgent need of a mainstream media champion to throw cold water on the SwiftVets. I can only presume that, out of modesty, some LAT editor deleted the staff writers' self-nomination for a Pulitzer. The article next tracks through some examples of the SwiftVets' outrage at young Kerry's antiwar activism upon his return stateside from his four-month Vietnam tour, but follows that with a neat regurgitation of Candidate Kerry's non-apology:
In his Senate testimony, Kerry did liken some American actions to Genghis Khan's. But he did not mention Elliott by name, nor did he mention his Navy superiors. And he did not claim that every soldier was a war criminal. Rather, he cited atrocities described by veterans who opposed the war. Kerry has acknowledged that, at times, he used a poor choice of words as a young man protesting the war, but he has continued to insist that atrocities were committed.
Yes, indeed, surely if we look closely at young Kerry's testimony before the Senate, when he described a widespread culture of co-conspirators in war crimes that extended throughout not just the rank and file but its commanders, we will find that he was actually referring to some different Navy — perhaps the French or the Japanese? — rather than the men with and under whom young Kerry had actually served. Poor misguided veterans, these Swifties, to take offense. Next come six paragraphs about Captain Elliott and Kerry's Silver Star, in which the LAT attempts to characterize the dispute as one over whether young Lt. Kerry shot a fleeing Viet Cong soldier in the back or from another angle:
In his affidavit, Elliott questioned Kerry's actions, suggesting he might have shot the guerrilla in the back. Elliott was not present during the action, and there have been no credible eyewitness accounts affirming his version.
Friends and neighbors, this is not just biased reporting; this is willful misreporting. As anyone who has actually read Captain Elliott's two affidavits knows, Captain Elliott has never claimed to have "a version" of his own. And in fact, the "eyewitness account" that caused him to change his opinion on whether Kerry merited the Silver Star was Kerry's own version — not as recounted back in 1969, but as recounted in Michael Kranish's 2004 book. How could an honest reporter spend six paragraphs discussing this issue as being an argument over "shooting in the back" or not, without acknowledging the two concluding sentences from Captain Elliott's second affidavit:
The difference [between whether the Viet Cong soldier was or wasn't facing Kerry] is not material to any of my opinions. Had I known the facts, I would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for simply pursuing and dispatching a single wounded, fleeing Viet Cong.
This is simply breathtaking in its disingenuousness. But I suppose Sen. Kerry and his supporters would prefer that Kerry be portrayed as a "disputed back-shooter" rather than — as Captain Elliott and the SwiftVets actually characterize him — a self aggrandizer who painted a false picture of the risks he faced in order to secure through deceit one of the Navy's highest awards for combat valor. Having had some four months to explore the "Carreon Signature Fallacy," the LAT has apparently concluded that it cannot shake Dr. Louis Letson's first-hand testimony about treating Kerry for the minor arm wound that formed the basis for Kerry's first Purple Heart. Rather, the new strategy appears to be to cheapen the value of all Purple Hearts so that Kerry's doesn't look unusual:
A Times review of Navy injury reports and awards from that period in Kerry's Swift boat unit shows that many other Swift boat personnel won Purple Hearts for slight wounds of uncertain origin.
But of course, this rather begs the question. Although Kerry claims not to know the origins of the shrapnel fragment Dr. Letson removed from his arm, other evidence indicates that the fragment was identifiable as being from American armaments; and other witnesses' testimony indicates the wound was not sustained during hot combat with the enemy, but through Kerry's own negligence. Of the Bronze Star controversy, the LAT chooses to emphasize the version of events told by Mr. Rassmann over that told by the SwiftVets. The physical evidence that might allow one to judge whether there was or wasn't hostile enemy fire — that is, the absence of bullet holes in any of the Swift Boats — the LAT chooses to ignore (as did Mr. Rassmann). Perhaps the most amazing spin efforts of the LAT story have to do with the "Christmas in Cambodia" fairy tale. Incredibly, the LAT ignores the fact that the Kerry camp has already admitted that Sen. Kerry has "misremembered" the dates of his alleged forays past the Cambodian border. Instead, the LAT is stuck trying to argue that the river along which Kerry's Swift Boat patrolled actually constituted the border between Cambodia and Vietnam — rather than being perpendicular to it, as any map reveals. Reports the LAT,
"We patrolled a river on the border," [Kerry crewman] Zaladonis said last week. "Unless I'm out of my mind or mistaken, that river was part of the border."
Well, Mr. Zaladonis, let's be charitable here, and assume that you're simply mistaken — as is the LAT. Perhaps the basic geography of where he was fighting wasn't "seared, seared" into Mr. Zaladonis' (or the LAT reporters') memories. Five miles inside the border, patrolling along it, fifty miles away from it — same difference, right? (As long as provoking international incidents isn't on your list of things to worry about.) And on the subject of memories, does it strike anyone as odd that in recounting Kerry's various statements about Cambodia, the LAT manages to ignore the rather memorable "seared, seared" quote from Sen. Kerry? Merely metaphorical sizzling brain matter apparently is below the LAT's standards for newsworthiness, as must be the political purposes Sen. Kerry was trying to serve when he so very vividly "misremembered" his Christmas 1968 location from the floor of the United States Senate. No good piece of political spin, masquerading as objective factual reporting, can end without a dignified, slightly sad bit of regret for one's foamy mouthed, misguided opponents, and here the LAT does not disappoint:
In a lengthy interview between the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's first news conference in May and the controversy last week, Kerry called the group's allegations pure "politics." "Some of them don't like the fact that I opposed the war, and 35 years later some people still want to argue about that," Kerry said in the June interview. "It's way beyond me, can I tell you? It's so far beyond and past now. I feel sad about it." He said he respected the service all Swift boat crews gave to their country and lauded their courage. "So I'm at peace with myself, and I'm sorry they feel the way they do," Kerry said, "because I respect them. I really do."
Yes, so far beyond and past now. And just how long has it been since Candidate Kerry stepped to the podium of the Democratic National Convention to accept its nomination for President — the auditorium still buzzing over the video hagiography of Messrs. Spielberg et al. — to salute (limply) and exclaim, "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty"? Yes, it seems like years and years ago to me too. (Hat-tip to the PrestoPundit, Greg Ransom, for spotting and alerting me to this article in the wee small hours of the morning.) Update: The guys at Power Line have proved prescient in predicting the NYT's behavior, plus they link to a fascinating bit of deja vu from Candidate Kerry circa 1971.
Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Fisking the LAT's new article, "Veterans Battle Over the Truth" and sent a trackback ping are listed here:
» Censor and MoveOn™ from damnum absque injuria
Tracked on Aug 17, 2004 12:51:47 PM
» Beldar fisks the sham of the LATimes on JFKerry(D) in Cambodia from DANEgerus Weblog
Tracked on Aug 17, 2004 2:04:53 PM
» Is Vennochi trying to float or sink Kerry? from Solomonia
Tracked on Aug 17, 2004 2:16:38 PM
» Submitted for Your Approval from Watcher of Weasels
Tracked on Aug 17, 2004 11:00:43 PM
» Letters From La-La Land from damnum absque injuria
Tracked on Aug 18, 2004 2:31:07 PM
» Kerry's Cambodia Story Update from New England Republican
Tracked on Aug 19, 2004 10:08:18 AM
» The Council Has Spoken! from Watcher of Weasels
Tracked on Aug 19, 2004 11:15:18 PM
» The Council Hath Spoken from Ubique Patriam Reminisci
Tracked on Aug 20, 2004 2:03:17 AM
» The Council Has Spoken! from Watcher of Weasels
Tracked on Aug 20, 2004 2:33:13 AM
Do you ever sleep, sir? :) Nice breakdown, thanks.
I'm beta-testing a new feature from Google News that sounds a bedside alarm when the media spin exceeds 4800 revolutions per minute. Very handy.
(3) Blair made the following comment | Aug 17, 2004 10:06:59 AM | Permalink
Brilliant analysis of the Slimes' article. I am astonished at those in the media who continually deny they have a liberal bias.
(4) MeTooThen made the following comment | Aug 17, 2004 10:15:32 AM | Permalink
..."in a single sentence assumes that President Bush can control the SwiftVets, while simultaneously taking for granted that Sen. Kerry can't control the vastly better-funded MoveOn. Nor, apparently, does the LAT find anything newsworthy in one 527 organization urging a sitting President to subvert federal law by directing the activities of another 527 organization. And a couple of paragraphs down, the LAT finds it important to point out that the SwiftVets' single largest initial contributor was a Texas Republican (the newest compound epithet); I suppose the editors chopped the accompanying graphic that would have compared Hungarian Radical George Soros' contributions to the "liberal independent" MoveOn PAC because, after all, to put both bars on the same chart with a scaling that allowed the SwiftVets contribution to be legible, the LAT would have had to run a full-page sidebar."
Actually, your Fisking of the LA Times piece is generous.
And nowhere does the article say that whatever "controversy" there may be about their candidate's veracity could be settled simply by John Forbes Kerry agreeing to release the after-action reports and other salient records immediately.
And yes, the poorly veiled and sinister references to "Texas Republicans" financing the SwiftVets is as risible as it is repellent.
The MSM bias in this election is tragicomedy at its best/worst.
(5) recon made the following comment | Aug 17, 2004 10:36:36 AM | Permalink
Another wonderful job, Beldar, HOWEVER:
It strikes me that you fine gentlemen of the legal community should be in a position to help us lesser mortals understand:
1. if, indeed, there is a legal line which must not be crossed, and
2. whether or not, perhaps at what point, Kerry, McAuliffe, CarVILE, MoveOn.org, NYT, LAT, WaPO, ad nauseam have nearly or totally stepped over it, and
3. at what point and in what manner are their treasonous activities and truly despicable statements finally considered 'actionable.'
Any help in this matter would be gratefully appreciated by a large number of the loyal denizens of this country.
The LATimes has no shame... it calls MoveOn.org "A liberal independent organization" which is apparently going to replace their Bush=Hitler ads with SwiftBoat Vets = Hitler ads.
(7) alfonso made the following comment | Aug 17, 2004 5:27:06 PM | Permalink
This might be helpful & feel free to distribute. Here is a compilation of all John Kerry’s Cambodia claims I could find:
1. This is seared, seared into my memory: [False]
2. On Christmas 68 [False]
3. Was directed and was there in full knowledge of superiors [False]
4. Went at least 5 miles into Cambodia [?]
5. Which was no big deal and rather common [False]
6. While Nixon was (absurdly) denying I was there [False]
7. Also asked by CIA to ferry guns and people as part of undercover mission on 55' boat with crew of 6 and rookie skipper up most-watched waterway. [False]
8. This was my life’s pivotal moment, realizing my government was lying about war. [False]
9. Just like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now/only worse and more absurd. [?/False]
10. Just like Reagan was working the Contras in Nicarauga [False]
11. Shot at by Khmer Rouge [False]
12. Saw atrocities and heinous war crimes. [?]
13. Revision a: Was near Cambodia that Christmas [False]
14. Revision b: Was traveling along the border of Cambodia on the Mekong River. [False]
15. Revision c: Now, was in Cambodia more than once, but don’t know when. [?]
But John Kerry is not completely false:
1. I want everyone to acknowledge me as a war hero (that is, I need you to see me as much more than just an honorable sailor who served with honorable men). [True]
2. I want everyone to ignore my twenty-year anti-Defense and pro-liberal record of habitual waffling in Congress, and instead, I want those three and half months I served over thirty years ago to be the focus of my greatest qualifications. [True]
3. Most importantly, despite my own choice to “report for duty” and make VietNam Central to my whole campaign, I demand that no one ask me any questions about it, especially not about all the falsehoods and inconsistencies. [True]
4. And finally, no one is allowed to find it ironic or absurd or heaven forbid, waffling–that I made a name for myself denouncing the Viet Nam War (in part by confessing to dishonorable deeds)–because now I want to make an even greater name for myself by romanticizing the “Apocalypse Now” war and shaping myself as a heroic leader. [True]
Comment by alfonso — 8/17/2004 @ 5:58 pm
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