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MEDIA MUM ON KERRY'S HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA

I hate to draw attention to the piece of meat conservative blog-piranhas are currently feasting on: Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia. But in the interest of truth and the blog-media connection, here I am. In a nutshell, Kerry has famously shared his painful memory of spending Christmas, 1968 in Cambodia while President Nixon denied the U.S. military was even there. Well, turns out Kerry was in Vietnam, near the Cambodian border. And LBJ was president at that time, not Nixon. Kerry's biographer says he conducted a few stealth missions across the border in Jan. and Feb. of 1969. Who knows.

Captain Ed has been closely following this issue, originally raised by the Swift Boat Vets gang, and all the right-wing blogs have been frothing over it. But so far, no major American media outlet has picked up the story. Telegraph UK has been following it; Washington Times obviously doesn't count.

There are the usual "Liberal Media!" charges. Any other ideas?

UPDATE: Holiday in Cambodia article in WSJ (text below)

Holiday in Cambodia
The most damning testimony on John Kerry in Vietnam has come from John Kerry.

BY ROBERT L. POLLOCK
Monday, August 16, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

John Kerry volunteered for service in Vietnam. John Kerry was wounded in Vietnam. And a number of the men with whom John Kerry served testify to acts of courage on his part.

This much seems beyond question, and I see no reason to weigh in on the factual disputes surrounding Mr. Kerry's medals being waged by pro-Kerry vets like Jim Rassmann and the anti-Kerry vets of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Both sides strike me as sincere, but eyewitness accounts of fast-moving and stressful situations like combat are too unreliable for there to be much hope of getting at the "truth" here.

But Americans have never accepted that a record of service, however honorable, should forever entitle a man to deference on matters of war and peace. (Ask George McGovern.) And the political uses to which Mr. Kerry would later put his Vietnam experience are certainly fair game for criticism. Which brings up Mr. Kerry's claim--repeated in at least three different decades, and on the floor of the Senate--that he spent Christmas Eve of 1968 not in Vietnam but in Cambodia. He obviously considered it a point of some significance, since he used it to impugn the integrity of those who waged the Vietnam War.

This is how he described it to the Boston Herald in 1979: "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies.  . . . The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real."

In 1986 Mr. Kerry argued on the Senate floor against U.S. support for the Nicaraguan contras, again citing the 1968 Christmas in Cambodia and "the president of the United States telling the American people I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared--seared--in me." In a 1992 interview with the Associated Press the story came back: "By Christmas 1968, part of Kerry's patrol extended across the border of South Vietnam into Cambodia."

Trouble is, the person who appears to have been wrong here about Mr. Kerry's location was not the president--who was Lyndon Johnson, not Nixon, by the way--but Mr. Kerry himself. His commanding officers all testify to this fact, as do men who were on his boat at the time. And so now, reluctantly, does the Kerry campaign.

Last Wednesday Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan sent me a statement saying that "During John Kerry's service in Vietnam, many times he was on or near the Cambodian border and on one occasion crossed into Cambodia. . . . On December 24, 1968 Lieutenant John Kerry and his crew were on patrol in the watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia deep in enemy territory." I asked for clarification as to whether the "one occasion" was Christmas Eve 1968. "No," was the reply.

"Watery borders" is something of an evasion, intended to imply that Mr. Kerry's "seared" memory might have been easily confused. But according to both the maps and the testimony of swift vets, the Mekong doesn't run along the Cambodian border but bisects it, such that the coincidence between the two is obvious. In any case, Mr. Kerry's own journal, as cited in Douglas Brinkley's biography, records him being 50-some miles from the border at Sa Dec on that day contemplating visions of "sugar plums."

Does this matter? Well, if President Bush was found to be using tall tales from his National Guard days to justify his policies in the war on terror it would certainly attract some attention. So the would-be commander in chief can hardly complain of being subject to scrutiny, especially since he's joined in criticism of Mr. Bush's war record and made his own a campaign centerpiece. Never mind the anti-Kerry swiftees. So far the veteran whose testimony is doing John Kerry the most damage is . . . John Kerry.

Mr. Pollock is a senior editorial page writer at The Wall Street Journal.

August 13, 2004 at 07:18 PM in Current Affairs, Media | Permalink

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Comments

Dang! I'm not frothing yet? :-)

Obviously, I'm voting media bias.

Posted by: Captain Ed at Aug 13, 2004 8:03:29 PM

Of course it's liberal media bias, as it damn well should be. Do we really want
right-wing media bias? Suck it up, cons, and stop getting your panties
in a wad; polls are still running 50-50.

Posted by: Daddypants at Aug 13, 2004 8:33:04 PM

Well Ed, I like to picture you frothing over a lovely cappucino.

Daddypants, your visual blog frightens and amazes me. Are you the artist?

Posted by: Chuck at Aug 13, 2004 9:29:56 PM

I'm sure it'll be picked up in a limited way. But, as far as I can tell, it's just not a very interesting scandal. Biased as I may be, it just doesn't strike me as something an average American would care about.

Posted by: JasonC at Aug 13, 2004 11:45:40 PM

I agree with JasonC, but I also think that soon enough we will hear about this from the neocons who will try their damndest to use anything to smear Kerry, ESPECIALLY items that conflict with the "war hero" image. Extremists have a way of weasling their views into the minds of "average Americans", and that is why our current administration is so scary.

Also, the child in the July 19 entry on Daddypants' blog looks strikingly like The Little Man. Maybe I'm mistaken....

Posted by: Tim at Aug 14, 2004 12:03:05 AM

Holiday In Cambodia? Dead Kennedys? Isn't Jello Biafra a Green? Oh my my conservative comrades... maybe John Kerry is secretly a Greenie.. The world is surely going to hell in a handbasket!

Posted by: ryan at Aug 14, 2004 12:44:23 AM

The Strib picked it up today: http://www.startribune.com/stories/587/4931590.html

This is the stupidest scandal ever. Kerry _possibly_ misremembers the date he was in Cambodia by up to two months? Give me a break.

Or as the soon-to-be CIA director might put it, give me a dress with some DNA on it, and then I'll give a shit.

Posted by: Luke Francl at Aug 16, 2004 10:36:07 PM

Or as the soon-to-be CIA director might put it, give me a dress with some DNA on it, and then I'll give a shit.

I totally have to start saying that. I might say something else instead of "DNA" though.

Posted by: Chuck at Aug 16, 2004 10:42:56 PM

What liberal media?

Posted by: JasonC at Aug 17, 2004 5:45:28 AM