Saturday, December 01, 2007

Picking Up an Easy $1 Million

From last Saturday's Oregonian editorial, No letup in the Swift-boating of Kerry:

In a half-baked book and a sleazy series of TV ads, a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused Kerry of lying about his military service. Though many of the allegations were quickly proved to be false by fellow veterans and newspaper investigations, the rickety charges grew like a fungus in the anti-Kerry swamp of talk radio and right-wing punditry.

In a blunder that likely cost him the election, Kerry refused to run ads responding to the vicious attacks. Worse, he muted his own response, not wanting to legitimize what he correctly saw as the dirtiest of politics.
. . .

Now Kerry, who is up for re-election, is fighting the Swift-boaters again. One of the challengers for his Senate seat is already taking aim at Kerry's military record, and Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who helped finance the 2004 mud-slinging, offered this month to pay $1 million to anyone who can disprove even a single charge of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

This time Kerry responded the way he should have in 2004. He personally accepted Pickens' brash offer and offered to travel to Dallas to meet with him in a public forum or invite him to come to Massachusetts.

There is an obvious problem with the Oregonian’s assertion that “many of the allegations were quickly proved to be false by fellow veterans and newspaper investigations.” If that were true, the allegations might live on (as theories of the destruction of the Twin Towers being an inside job will undoubtedly live on), but they wouldn’t be politically potent.

Apparently this is a potent issue with current Massachusetts voters. Strange because Massachusetts is not known to be widely swayed by “talk radio and right-wing punditry.”

So, what is the real problem? The Dan Rather smear on Pres. Bush’s national guard service did become a non-issue in the 2004 election precisely because the key evidence was quickly proved false. But, the Swift Boat issue was not similarly put to rest. It’s still here in 2008.

The difference in the two cases is that the people who made the Swift Boat allegations were fellow veterans who served in the same battle zone as Kerry. When you pit testimony from actual participants against each other, especially when the larger group is on the anti-Kerry side, it’s not that easy to prove a charge false--especially if what is at issue is the truthfulness of the official reports.

Talk with WWII vets, or any war vets, and you will hear lots of stories about official incompetence and records that didn’t reflect what really happened.

Sen. Kerry responded in 2004 as Pres. Bush responded--basically with silence.

It worked for Pres. Bush because the evidence truly was “rickety” and easily disproved. Poor Dan Rather lost his career over it.

It didn’t work for Sen. Kerry because his witnesses were fewer in number than opposing witnesses.

When witness accounts of an event vary, it becomes he said/she said (or in this case, he said/he said). When the witnesses on both sides are decorated veterans who have risked their lives to serve their country, you either take it as a wash, or you take the view that best fits your own preferences.

The editors at the Oregonian have their preferences. But, those preferences are not the same as proven facts. That’s why the $1 million isn’t such an easy snatch for Sen. Kerry--or even an enterprising Oregonian editor.

No comments: