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THE PRESS CORPS STILL LOVES THOSE ACCUSERS (PART 1)! Post readers saw O’Neill contradicted—if they read down to paragraph 49: // link //
MONDAY, AUGUST 23, 2004

THE PRESS CORPS STILL LOVES THOSE ACCUSERS (PART 1): Was John Kerry under enemy fire when he pulled Jim Rassmann out of the drink? John O’Neill keeps saying he wasn’t—that Kerry and Rassmann (and Kerry’s crewmates) are lying about this affair. It’s one of a string of nasty charges O’Neill and his Swift Vets have aimed at the hopeful. You’d think that big news orgs would want to help voters know if the charges are accurate.

But if you thought that, you may have been wrong. On Sunday morning, for example, the Washington Post revealed important new evidence about this matter—evidence supporting Kerry’s account. But how did the Post present this new info? Incredibly, they buried the new info way near the end of a lengthy, detailed report. Indeed, if readers wanted to learn these new facts, they had to read almost to the end of a 4100-word story!

The lengthy report was penned by Michael Dobbs. Was Kerry under fire when he saved Rassmann’s life? Here’s the first piece of new information—information which supports Kerry’s account and suggests that O’Neill is all wet:

DOBBS (8/22/04): Until now, eyewitness evidence supporting Kerry's version had come only from his own crewmen. But yesterday, The Post independently contacted a participant who has not spoken out so far in favor of either camp who remembers coming under enemy fire. “There was a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river,” said Wayne D. Langhofer, who manned a machine gun aboard PCF-43, the boat that was directly behind Kerry’s.

Langhofer said he distinctly remembered the “clack, clack, clack” of enemy AK-47s, as well as muzzle flashes from the riverbanks. Langhofer, who now works at a Kansas gunpowder plant, said he was approached several months ago by leaders of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth but declined their requests to speak out against Kerry.

Omigod! The Post had a scoop! Another vet—someone not on Kerry’s boat—had stepped forward to support his account! But where did the Post print this new information? Incredibly, the passage above comprised paragraphs 49 and 50 of Dobbs’ report! Post readers had to read all that way to acquire this new information.

Nor was this the only evidence buried deep in Dobbs’ report. As he continued, he gave another piece of new information—information which also supported Kerry. He began by describing another familiar claim by O’Neill:

DOBBS (pgh 51): Much of the debate over who is telling the truth boils down to whether the two-page after-action report and other Navy records are accurate or whether they have been embellished by Kerry or someone else. In “Unfit for Command,” O’Neill describes the after-action report as “Kerry’s report.” He contends that language in Thurlow’s Bronze Star citation referring to “enemy bullets flying about him” must also have come from "Kerry’s after-action report.”
As anyone watching this debate surely knows, O’Neill routinely charges that Kerry wrote the after-action report for the March 13 incident; Kerry falsely claimed enemy fire in that report, O’Neill says. That’s why Thurlow’s Bronze Star citation also mentions hostile fire, O’Neill claims. But oops! This claim also seems to be shaky. Why does Thurlow’s award cite enemy fire? Dobbs provided another piece of new information—in paragraph 54 of his piece:
DOBBS (54): Even if Kerry did write the March 13 after-action report, it seems unlikely that he would have been the source of the information about "enemy bullets" flying around Thurlow. The official witness to those events, according to Thurlow's medal recommendation form, was his own leading petty officer, Robert Lambert, who himself won a Bronze Star for "courage under fire" in going to Thurlow's rescue after he fell into the river. Lambert, who lives in California, declined to comment.
As with the Langhofer testimony, the fact that Lambert was the Bronze Star witness seems to challenge O’Neill’s charges. But so what? The Post buried this information in paragraph 54. It was the first time the paper had reported it.

For the record, Dobbs reported one more piece of new information which supported Kerry. On Sunday, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times both presented this new revelation in stand-alone, front-page stories. But the Post reduced it to a single sentence, inside a set of brackets:

DOBBS (18): In some ways, [March 13] was a day like any other. The previous day, Kerry had taken part in a Swift boat expedition that had come under fire, and several windows of Kerry's boat were blown out. A friend, Lt. j.g. William B. Rood, almost lost an eye in the ambush. [Now an editor with the Chicago Tribune, Rood yesterday broke three decades of public silence to support Kerry's version of how he won the Silver Star on Feb. 28. Rood has no firsthand knowledge of the Bronze Star incident.]
Incredible! In the Tribune, Rood shoots down another nasty claim from O’Neill, describing the Silver Star event in great detail. But so what? Readers of the Washington Post have had to go elsewhere to learn what Rood said. This morning’s Post includes no further mention of Rood’s important new testimony.

Amazing, isn’t it? Three new pieces of information supported Kerry and took down O’Neill. But Post readers had to struggle and strain to see this famous accuser contradicted. Indeed, as we read Dobbs’ odd report, we recalled what we told you years ago. Readers, the press corps loves those accusers! Your news orgs rarely challenge such folk. They’ve been proving this key point for years.

TOMORROW—PART 2! George Stephanopoulos fumbled and floundered, too weak to take on an accuser.

MOUNTING FIRE: Another vet has now come forward to describe that enemy fire. In today’s Post, Lois Romano gives this report a bit more play than was given to Rood or Langhofer:

ROMANO (pgh 11): In Colorado, Jim Russell, who participated in Swift boat operations when Kerry did, wrote a letter to the editor of the Telluride Daily Planet to angrily dispute the claim that Kerry was not under enemy fire when he rescued Jim Rassman from the water, a feat that brought Kerry a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

(12) “I was on No. 43 boat, skippered by Don Droz, who was later that year killed by enemy fire,” Russell wrote in the letter. “Forever pictured in my mind since that day over 30 years ago [is] John Kerry bending over his boat picking up one of the rangers that we were ferrying from out of the water. All the time we were taking small arms fire from the beach; although because of our fusillade into the jungle, I don’t think it was very accurate, thank God. Anyone who doesn't think that we were being fired upon must have been on a different river.”

Current state of the evidence? Everyone on Kerry’s boat says they were under enemy fire. Two men on the boat immediately behind them have now said the same thing. (The challengers were on a different part of the river.) And readers of the Post know this—if they read to paragraph 49, and if they connect it to Romano’s report. Nothing comes easy in the modern press world—unless, of course, you’re an accuser.

THE CLUELESS LEADING THE BLIND: Langhofer, Rood and Russell get buried. The clueless, of course, get major play. Here’s Bob Dole, above the fold on the front page of today’s New York Times:

NAGOURNEY (pgh 3): But at the same time, Bob Dole, the Republican presidential candidate in 1996 and a World War II veteran, called on Mr. Kerry to apologize to Vietnam veterans in a television interview on CNN. He appeared to get behind some of the accusations raised by the group, when its most serious contentions have been undermined by official records and conflicting accounts.

(4) “He’s got himself into this wicket now where he can’t extricate himself because not every one of these people can be Republican liars,'' said Mr. Dole, whose right arm was left limp by a war injury. “There's got to be some truth to the charges,” he said.

“There’s got to be some truth to the charges,” Dole said. But to put it simply, Dole doesn’t know what he’s talking about. At one point during Sunday’s show, Dole told Blitzer that Kerry “got two [Purple Hearts] in one day, I think.” This, of course, is totally false; plainly, Dole didn’t know the simplest facts about the matters he was discussing. But so what? Nagourney pushed him atop the front page. And, in his 1500-word report, he never bothered telling readers about Dole’s blatant lack of knowledge. “There’s got to be some truth to the charges,” Dole said. As we’ve long seen, that statement is music to the corps’ ears. It helps accusers advance their claims. And the press corps just loves those accusers.

LYIN’ TO BRIAN: It seems like years since Michelle Malkin and Chris Matthews staged their two-minute tussle on Hardball (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/04). But we told you on Saturday that we’d follow through about Malkin’s next-day session with on C-SPAN (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/21/04). And we still think that Malkin’s blatant dissembling needs to be recorded.

It’s clear what Malkin said on Hardball. Although Matthews kept interrupting and badgering, she plainly said that some veterans have accused Kerry of deliberately shooting himself. And she plainly said that she didn’t know what she herself thought of the charge:

MATTHEWS (8/19/04): I want a statement from you on this program. Say to me, right now, that you believe he shot himself to get credit for a Purple Heart. On purpose.

MALKIN: I’m not sure! I’m saying that these—

MATTHEWS: Then why did you say it?

MALKIN: I’m talking about what's in the book!

We’ve watched the actual tape many times, and it’s perfectly clear what Malkin said, here and elsewhere. Some of the vets had accused Kerry, she said. She wasn’t sure what she herself thought.

But uh-oh! By the next morning, tough-talkin’ Malkin knew she’d committed a blunder. Matthews was right—no one has ever said that Kerry shot himself on purpose (although the Swift Boaters like to imply it). Indeed, when Jim Lehrer asked O’Neill about this point, O’Neill quickly stated the obvious—no one claims that Kerry did this. Uh-oh! Malkin had overstepped her script when she did battle with Matthews.

So how to address this? Oh yeah—Malkin knew! She’d simply lie in Brian Lamb’s face! On Friday morning’s Washington Journal, she kept insisting that she’d never said that Kerry may have wounded himself on purpose. “I explicitly didn’t say it,” she said early on. Indeed, the idea was ridiculous, she beautifully said. A caller demanded that she answer the question: “Do you think John Kerry shot himself on purpose?”

MALKIN (8/20/04): You’re doing the same thing [Matthews] did, which is not allowing me to answer the question. Now—I will answer the question. No, I don’t think he did that, and that’s ridiculous for anybody who’s actually read the book.
Sweetly lying to Lamb and his viewers, Malkin worked her way off the hook.

But then, Malkin’s misstatements were legion this day. Early on, she said this to Brian, getting back at her tormentor:

MALKIN: I asked Chris Matthews if he was interested at all in asking John Kerry directly any of the questions and asking him about the allegations that were raised by the veterans and he said it had never occurred to him to do so.
That is a blatant misstatement of what Matthews said, as anyone can see from the transcript.

But so it went as tough-talkin’ Malkin sweetly lied in Brian’s face. Lamb has been a giant for more than two decades, but his “just-talk-to-me” formats were established in a more innocent time, before sweet-talking liars like Malkin existed. Can we actually keep our democracy? Actually, no, we probably can’t—if decent men like Brian Lamb keep letting hacks lie in their faces.

Postscript: Four separate times, Malkin told Lamb that Matthews said he hasn’t read Unfit for Command. Matthews made no such statement on the air, which seemed to be what she was implying. On the other hand, we’re sure Matthews hasn’t read the book; as we noted on Friday, he seems to have done no background reading about the events he’s been flogging for weeks. So there you see the problem we face. We have Matthews, aggressive but uninformed. We have Lamb, deeply decent but now being lied to. And we have a new cohort of tough-talkin’ Malkins—baby-faced killers paid to lie and taking dead aim at your withered democracy. Lamb won’t correct them; Matthews can’t. Can we really keep our democracy? As the game is now being played, it seems we’ve already given up.