Bill Roper's Journal
Sound of Crickets Chirping 
16th-Aug-2004 02:40 pm
This column by Larry Simoneaux (who I know nothing about other than what I just read in the linked-to column) does a fine job of encapsulating my feelings about the utter silence from the mainstream press in trying to determine what's the truth of the situation with John Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

I've watched stories on the Internet for the past week since I first heard about Senator Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" on Fox News Channel. That's the only place I can get any information, because none of the mainstream press that should be interested in getting to the truth has reported on it at all that I can find. Just to pick on my hometown papers, the Chicago Tribune hasn't mentioned it at all in their news pages. The Chicago Sun-Times has referenced it twice on the editorial page, here and here. But I'm not really interested in editorializing on the subject. What I want are facts.

I can find blogs like Captain's Quarters which have assembled an impressive recitation of what they say are the facts. But are they telling the truth?

I don't know that. But I'd like to believe that the mainstream press would pursue this story with the same kind of dogged persistence that they've chased after President Bush's National Guard Service Records.

Because I'd like to know the truth.

I really would.
16th-Aug-2004 08:11 pm (UTC)
The only thing I'll say here is that the fact that the press has run with the story of Bush's national guard records much more than the story about Kerry's service in Cambodia has a lot to do not with party affiliation but with the fact that Bush is the incumbent. Bush's national guard service was brought up in the 2000 election cycle and nobody paid any attention to it. Some people seem to be much more interested in dirt about the sitting President than any other kind of dirt, as evidenced by how much time the country spent digging for skeletons in Clinton's closet.
16th-Aug-2004 08:18 pm (UTC)
I recall there being a fair amount of hue and cry about it.

Here's a CNN article from May 2000. Here are articles quoted from the Boston Globe of the same vintage.

Of course, these articles are four years old and a lot of them will have fallen off of Google. I could probably find more with a Lexis-Nexis search, but I don't have access to it.
16th-Aug-2004 08:54 pm (UTC)
I don't actually remember it being discussed in 2000 at all. (I don't claim it didn't come up; just that it was not a big enough story for me to have any memory of it 4 years later.) I remember hearing several people saying this year that the story came up in 2000 and died down quickly. This year when the story came up, other media picked it up, and it became a story because it was a story. I think that's because it was about the guy currently in the White House more than because of the content or credibility of the story.
16th-Aug-2004 08:29 pm (UTC) - SCLM
There's a possibility that I literally don't think you have considered -- that the press doesn't want to debunk it, or at least not right away.

The biggest hilarity with Bush's service records is that, for weeks, they let most -- still not yet all -- of the information trickle out, apparently thinking that this bit would satisfy everyone's curiousity, or at least seem plausible enough to quash the story. Problem is, all they did was keep the story in front of everybody, with every new release of evidence doing nothing to help Bush's case, until they finally just kinda dropped it and hoped no one would notice.

I think that's what's going on here. The tactics of this Administration and the enabling press have been: deliver the message, repeat the message until it becomes Conventional Wisdom (or at least Common Knowledge), backpedal some when the facts are presented, say things were misinterpreted, maybe print a correction later... and then repeat the message again. Exhibit A: Dick Cheney on the Iraq-al-Qaeda connection.

The mainstream "press" right now is a commentary machine. The news departments of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal are often in direct conflict with their editorial departments.

More to the point, the military gave Kerry his medals and citations thirty years ago, and haven't rescinded them. Now a bunch of yohos, sponsored by and financed by known enemies, not only of the Democrats, but of Kerry, come out of nowhere and say what an evil person he was even though they weren't on the same frickin' boat as him, where the hell were they during his original protests and appearances on TV and before Congress and when he became a Senator and gosh-only what else, and Kerry has to go on the defensive? Multiply this by most of the political discourse of the past twenty-five years.

This is why I get appalled, Bill. My side will say a lot of things, but we won't say any damn thing that we think will gets us points.

Check out this look at the Swift Boats group at Media Matters. Check out this comprehensive examination at Disinfopedia. And, best of all, check out this exchange between Jon Stewart and Christine Todd Whitman, which I definitely want them to follow up.

My point is that you will not see the mainstream news deconstruct this, because it is not in their interest. We do not have news organizations; we have propaganda machines. And the online sources are our only chance of truth.

P.S.: I haven't looked at the Kerry video you referenced the other day, but there's an interesting deconstruction of it at Slate.
16th-Aug-2004 09:29 pm (UTC) - Re: SCLM
That's an awfully unflattering deconstruction of the video for Kerry from a quick read.

Tom, you say "My side will say a lot of things, but we won't say any damn thing that we think will gets (sic) us points." Isn't that the whole point of the "Christmas in Cambodia" story? There's a lot of data that suggests that Senator Kerry has told that story frequently to support the point that he wants to make and now that his feet are being held to the fire by non-mainstream media, the story seems to be changing.

I'll go read the sources that you post, but you might want to read some of the ones that I'm posting. Seriously. And if you don't like those sources, Google News for "Kerry Cambodia" and pick out a few.
16th-Aug-2004 09:34 pm (UTC) - Re: SCLM
Fine. I will. But the core of the story seems to be whether or not Kerry was physically in Cambodia when he says he was, i.e., which side of an imaginary line he was on. This is trivia. Whether or not Bush even showed up for his post -- and whether or not he got paid for it! -- are, I hope you will agree, a touch more substantive.

I think I'll have to stop this, pal. Neither of us is going to change his mind. :)
16th-Aug-2004 10:09 pm (UTC) - Re: SCLM
Well, the last is almost certainly true. :)

However, I've seen articles on the Web that claim that the Vietnam / Cambodia border on the Mekong River was very well marked, because they didn't want anyone crossing it and creating an international incident. And since Senator Kerry says that his trip to Cambodia at a time when the President (the Boston Herald article said President Nixon) said there were no U.S. troops there was one of the seminal events of his life and was "seared" into his memory, it makes me itchy.

Now, the problem is that I take things that I find on the Web with a pretty large cube of salt. That's why I want to see the mainstream media discuss this. In full.

I did just go and read a lot of the sources that you provided. A lot of them spend time "shooting the messenger" rather than trying to debunk the message. As I recall, the Factcheck.org article concludes that many of the items are he said/they said and not subject to ultimate proof, which is quite possibly true.
16th-Aug-2004 08:32 pm (UTC)
It may be that the non right wing news organizations feel that there isn't a story, just as they felt there wasn't a story when rape charges were filed against George Bush on December 4, 2002. (Margie Schoedinger, the accuser, was eventually found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in November 2003).

Anyway, the Columbus Dispatch has this to say about the Cambodia story:

"According to Senate testimony in the Congressional Record, during a 1986 debate about whether to support the Contras in Nicaragua, Kerry said he was in Cambodia when the government insisted no troops were there.
"'I have that memory which is seared — seared — in me,' Kerry said.
"[Steve] Gardner says he was on the boat with Kerry that Christmas in 1968 but they were 50 miles from Cambodia — and that there was no way anyone on the boat would consider going to Cambodia because of the risks.
"[Jim] Wasser said it was nearly impossible to tell exactly where the boat was on the river but that if it wasn’t in Cambodia that day, it was "very close."
FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan group that monitors the accuracy of campaign ads, points to the crew members who support Kerry and notes initial funding for the opposition campaign came mainly from a Republican booster in Houston."

Note: Jim Wasser served for six weeks with Kerry on a Navy swift boat in Vietnam in late 1968 and early 1969. Steve Gardner is the only Kerry crew mate who is a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

However, despite the received wisdom of of Attorney General Edwin Meese III, where there is smoke, there isn't necessarily fire.
16th-Aug-2004 09:37 pm (UTC)
I've looked at the FactCheck.org article (at least twice now). It has no discussion of the Cambodia story. Nada. (Unless there's an article other than the one linked in the response below.)

I did find on some web page somewhere -- and I'm sorry I don't remember which one -- a note that said that we'd just managed to get Prince Sihanouk to give back some U.S. troops who had strayed into Cambodia on Dec. 23rd after some lengthy negotiations, so the chances that someone would say "Let's send that hot shot Kerry to Cambodia" the next day were pretty low. :)

Steven, when you point out that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were funded by a Republican booster, are you suggesting that we should disregard everything that MoveOn.org has to say because of the funding that it's received from George Soros? I don't expect the Democratic Party to fund the SBVFT, do you? They're funding the people who are telling the version of the story that they want to promulgate.

What I'd like to know is what version of the story is true.
16th-Aug-2004 10:30 pm (UTC)
Actually, I didn't say that. The quoted article did. I just dropped off the initial " by mistake (probably when putting in the link).

I do look at the attacks on veterans such as John McCain, Max Cleland, and John Kerry and see a theme emerging, however.
16th-Aug-2004 09:09 pm (UTC)
My wife said there was an article last week in USA Today that was critical of the Swift Boat Veterans' ad, but she didn't cite the exact day or section. (I did some digging and found it here.)

Even John McCain condemned the Swift Boat Veterans ad, calling it "dishonest and dishonorable". (Here's an article on Yahoo which mentions his opinion on the ad.)

But are these the facts you're looking for, or more opinions? I second shsilver's recommendation for the non-partisan factcheck.org. Here's their debunking, and it's the most factual I've found so far. It even has links to the affidavits of the men appearing in the ad.

I too would like the fact, but in this age of sound bites, spin doctors, failing memories, political polarization, and human greed, those facts will unfortunately become harder to come by.
16th-Aug-2004 09:25 pm (UTC)
Because I'd like to know the truth.

I really would.

Would knowing the truth about this one event *really* do anything to change your mind? Then what's the point of beating this particular horse? Aren't there more relevant issues that we all - liberal and conservative media alike - should be looking at and debating? Like how to get out of Iraq and leave it better than we found it. Or how to provide health care for the vast unemployed and underemployed middle-class. Or who has the best plan to keep college tuition from bankrupting an entire generation before they even get into the work force?

My main problem with the media - especially broadcast - is that it has become all commentary and talking points with few actual facts. I am capable of making up my own mind, but unfortunately, the vast majority of the sheeple seem to need it all pre-chewed for them, making it much harder to find anything not biased one way or the other.
16th-Aug-2004 09:49 pm (UTC)
Honestly, yes. Before this story (Christmas in Cambodia) came out, I wasn't thrilled with Kerry, but he didn't frighten me. If the story is true, then I become scared of him in much the same way that some of my friends become scared when Bush talks of trying to do God's work. (I think I understand what Bush means -- it's similar to my statement about "being able to look at myself in the mirror in the morning". But taken out of context, yeah, I can understand that it could make some folks nervous.)

You're correct that there are a lot of relevant issues that we should be debating. But on Iraq, all Kerry will say is that he's got some sort of secret plan and that he is going to get the French and Germans to send troops to Iraq to replace ours. I haven't seen anyone suggest a plan that would actually get the French to do this, other than a photo of Chirac in a compromising position with a sheep. :)

Health care and college tuition: yup, let's have a discussion of how we can do that and pay for it.

While we're at it, we can discuss what to do about the fact that European countries with a VAT rebate it on exports and how we can adjust our tax laws to make our exports more competitive without setting off the WTO. (I understand that the Republican Congressional leadership has been kicking around a VAT. My first thought is that's a bad idea. But maybe I'm wrong. Or maybe they are.)

There are plenty of issues to discuss and analyze. But you're correct -- the media aren't doing a good job of presenting the facts.
16th-Aug-2004 09:56 pm (UTC)
Okay, I guess I lied above. I have to say something.

Why, precisely, are you scared of Kerry because of this story?

No baiting, no bullshit, nothing regarding Team Dubya. Sincerely. What about the Christmas In Cambodia story makes you scared of Kerry "in much the same way that some of [your] friends become scared when Bush talks of trying to do God's work"?
16th-Aug-2004 10:20 pm (UTC)
Because it makes me very nervous that -- if the Christmas in Cambodia story is false -- Senator Kerry may have based his entire career on a lie. And from a number of the articles that I've read, he may believe it.

I'm not talking a "Manchurian Candidate" thing here. I'm saying that his experience in Vietnam might have been ugly enough and traumatic enough in some way that his mind constructed something in self-defense. And then he came back to the U.S. and accused -- if I understand his testimony correctly -- the vast majority of U.S. soldiers in Vietnam of atrocities as a way to expiate his own guilt.

And that would be very, very sad. And it would be very, very scary.

It's also possible that he doesn't believe any of these things and constructed them all for his political advantage. That wouldn't be sad, but it would still be scary.

Or it's possible that he's telling the truth, but I'm having trouble seeing exactly how. I understand that memories get confused with time, but he's been telling this story for a very long time -- the earliest citations I've seen go back to 1979. And it was apparently very important to him.

I just don't know.
16th-Aug-2004 10:29 pm (UTC)

From this analysis by Kevin Drum, with plenty of citations, it sounds as if he might've crossed the border during an incident. How might he have done this? In an area that they had, shall we say, very fluid maps of?

Definitely he-said-she-said stuff, and not "bas[ing] his entire career on a lie".

Which brings us back to neither of us changing the other's mind. :)
16th-Aug-2004 10:42 pm (UTC)
Well, being Jewish and having a President who says he's doing God's work (quoting billroper) and that God speaks through him (July 9, 2004) and who has stated that Jews can not go to Heaven (October 2, 1994) and who has declared a Jesus Day when he was governor of a state (June 10, 2000) does make me more than a bit uneasy.

And Bill, if you are going to bring up lying, there are numerous examples over the years of your boy both lying outright and shading the truth to give the impression that something false is true (and vice versa).
17th-Aug-2004 08:32 pm (UTC)
I figured I owed it to you to look this up, so:

Bush clarifies his stand on Jews, heaven
18th-Aug-2004 03:46 pm (UTC)
I'm aware of his apology after it was pointed out that he said something wrong. If Kerry had done the same thing, the Bush-Cheney campaign would be yelling "FLIP-FLOP" at the top of its lungs. It isn't an isolated incident and I specifically left out a lot of the family history. George Herbert Walker Bush was widely perceived by the Jewish community to be one of the most anti-Semitic presidents in recent history. Prescott Bush's record is also somewhat anti-Jewish, as was George Herbert Walker's.

He still seems to believe that God speaks through him and that there is nothing wrong with a day sponsored by the secular government to honor Jesus.
17th-Aug-2004 09:48 am (UTC)
You can probably guess I don't place much stock in the SBVT ad in general - it's vague, full of innuendo as to be inflammatory, and there are serious questions about where the funding is coming from and who these people are, especially since they organized in 2000 to attack John McCain. Same old tactics, new candidate, basically.

We were in the midst of a particulary severe edit war over on Wikipedia on the John Kerry entry over this, and you might want to take a look at the John Kerry and Swift Boats Veterans for Truth entries there.

I'm going to deliberately shy from saying whether Kerry is a good 'un or bad 'un compared to Bush. There are three things which the SBVT controversy seems to be centering around:

1) Whether Kerry deserves his medals.

The main criticism about the Purple Hearts is that (a) the injury(s) were too light to warrant one and (b) Kerry allegedly wounded himself rather than was wounded on one occasion. The response to this is that this is neither here nor there. In Vietnam, Purple Hearts were given out with the rations, since the only real criteria is that you be wounded in a combat zone. I've known this since the 1980s 'Nam Comic, where one of the characters got his Purple Heart because of an accidental wound to his finger while in camp. As far as I know, while Kerry has used the fact that he was wounded in action to his political advantage, has never claimed that the wounds were any more severe than they were.

The only person with first hand knowledge of these wounds is Louis Letson, whose signature, as many have pointed out, is not on the documentation treating Kerry - the name on the paperwork is one J.C. Carreon, now dead, who was an orderly at the time. Letson has claimed that Carreon signed the paperwork but that Letson was the one who treated Kerry. The big question in my mind that Letson has yet to answer directly is why he does not appear anywhere on the paperwork as a if not treating physician, since medical ethics seems to require that proper documentation is necessary in case anything goes wrong and you need to find out what treatment was granted. Until Letson does, me, I'm going with the documentation.

The Bronze Star incident is contradicted by Larry Thurlow, who commanded another swift boat, who claims Kerry does not deserve the Bronze Star because that there was no enemy fire, while John Rassman, who was rescued by Kerry says there was. This may be just a he-said-he-said, if not for the fact that Thurlow was apparently given the Bronze Star for the same engagement. So, if Kerry lied and did not deserve the Bronze Star, Thurlow did the same thing, which doesn't help his credibility.

The Silver Star is the most contentious, since Elliot, Kerry's commander, first recommended him for it and as recently as June 2003 was saying it was richly deserved. But then now he comes up with 2 affidavits, one saying Kerry was dishonest about his record and after a Boston Globe story where he is quoted as saying he signed it in haste, a 2nd affidavit clarifying his opinion, which actually does more to qualify it. The 2nd affidavit notes that what he is saying is that he would not have recommended the SS for Kerry if he had known that all Kerry did was shoot a fleeing VC in the back.

The problem with Elliot's contention is that the SS was not awarded for Kerry for that single reason. The incident that earned Kerry his SS was an engagement which involved him "expertly" coordinating his boat's fire on the enemy. Adding to the confusion is that there are no less than three citations for the Silver Star - all available on Kerry's website. One, very detailed one by Admiral Zumwalt, Commander of the US Naval Forces in Vietnam which mentions the shooting of the VC. The other two, by CINCPAC and the Secretary of the Navy respectively, do not. The latter are stamped "Official Record copy" but the Zumwalt citation is not. Which is the actual citation is still a mystery to me, but in any case, the point is that Kerry was not awarded the SS for "simply" the shooting of the VC as Elliot claims.

17th-Aug-2004 09:49 am (UTC)

Lending even less credibility to Elliot's contention is that he avers that he is basing his opinion on what he was not told, i.e. that Kerry did not tell him he shot the VC in the back. He has no personal knowledge of whether or not Kerry did shoot the VC in the back but bases his opinion on accounts told to him by other people (whom he does not cite) and Kerry's biography. The last is particularly puzzling because the passage he quotes has Kerry being asked if he shot the VC in the back, to which Kerry actually denies that he did (he does, however, say that there were shots by other people from the side and back). For these reasons, Elliot's opinion does not really hold much water as far as I'm concerned.

2) Kerry betrayed his fellow soldiers by accusing them of atrocities without evidence.

This is also a very skewed view of what actually happened with Kerry testified before Congress. He never claimed to have actual knowledged of atrocities committed in Vietnam and never accused anybody directly - what he was doing was presenting a summary of accounts and the conclusion of the Winter Soldier Investigation, which was an investigation by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War that used the accounts of 100 civilians and soldiers about alleged US atrocities. Another red herring.

3) Christmas in Cambodia 1968.

This claim is the most difficult to examine, because you really have to cut through the spin. "Unfit for Duty" points out that Kerry was stationed 55 miles from the Cambodian border during the relevant period, and I have read one editorial that claims that according to Kerry's diary, he spent Christmas Eve on base. Also, there are claims by other swift boat veterans that there were no such missions into Cambodia, and of course there's the detail about Nixon not being President at the time.

The problem I have is that this is all very airy on examination. The actual words of the Congressional Record of 1986, when Kerry made the statement on the senate floor, are: "I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the President of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory which is seared - seared - in me."

I admit this is semantic hair splitting, but it does not follow that Kerry is claiming that he was shot at by Cambodians in Christmas, or that Nixon was President at the time. He may very well be saying that he remembers two, maybe three separate things. Johnson, as far as I remember, was never asked and thus never denied there were troops in Cambodia. And if these missions were secret, then of course the official record and the chain of command would deny it, and at the time, neither would Kerry write about it in his diary. Only one member of his crew has flat-out said the Kerry wasn't there - Steve Gardner, whom Kerry has had a rocky history with and who definitely bears some animosity towards the candidate. Other crewmates say that they were "near" Cambodia, and Kerry has said in 1994 also that he was "near" Cambodia. It may be that in 1979 and in 1986 he was unclear about where he was exactly or that he was just speaking generally, but admittedly this is still vague.

17th-Aug-2004 09:49 am (UTC)

In the 1979 Boston Herald story, Kerry states: "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. 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."

This one makes a more explicit connection between the Christmas 1968 mission and being shot at, but again it may very well be that the Nixon reference is referring to Nixon's denial, which as I recall was in 1969. And again, you have to note that he could have been speaking generally, or that the borders were unclear. You have to examine all of it in that light.

Conclusion? Jury's still out on this one, but it would be incorrect to say that he's basing his political career on this statement. Kerry's career is based on a long history of political activism, his time as a DA, his run for Congress and eventually appointment as Senator. He had - has - a lot more going for him than this.
17th-Aug-2004 05:45 pm (UTC)
Well, the LA Times reported on some of this today. Interestingly, they omitted the fact that Kerry's campaign has apparently retracted the statement that he was in Cambodia at Christmas.
17th-Aug-2004 06:11 pm (UTC)
I can only say that the Washington Times is a a well right-wing paper - owned by News World Communications, which was founded by Sun Myung Moon - and even the editorial is misleading: it says that Kerry said the date was seared into his memory, which is not true. At the risk of being accused of even more hair-splitting, Kerry says the memory of being shot at is seared into him. Of course, I admit that the general impression from Kerry's statement is that he is referring to the Christmas 1968 incident.

Aside from that, I can't defend it much - I do think, however, that Kerry might have been mistaken about where exactly he was on Christmas Eve 1968, but that the campaign went a bit far to say that he wasn't even sure of the date.

As to Wikipedia - it's a work in progress, and there's still partisan battles to fight over the article particularly in the light of the election. The main article itself is a pretty objective overview of the SBVT affair, though. I've said before - Wikipedia, like all wikis, are not 100% reliable sources, although they may be decent rough and ready resource.
17th-Aug-2004 07:22 pm (UTC)
I am fully aware of the pedigree of the Washington Times, which is why I hesitated to quote from it. However, I've seen the report in multiple media; thus, I am tempted to believe that it is true.

Here's another: Telegraph.co.uk

Of course, it's terribly hard to find the Chicago Tribune's coverage of this, since they still haven't reported on it. However, I'm confident that they will reprint the LA Times article tomorrow.
17th-Aug-2004 07:30 pm (UTC)
Ah, here's a pro-Kerry columnist from the Boston Globe referencing the stories from Kerry's campaign correcting the Cambodia story. That should do.
17th-Aug-2004 08:41 pm (UTC)
I agree with the Globe that Kerry needs to come out and say it, but it's going to be hard to say he was mistaken about the date or, as Brinkley suggests, mistaken about how far he was away from Cambodia. I know it sounds a bit trite, but even if he was mistaken about the dates and locations - and I do not believe he was lying - if this is the only thing that sticks to him, it's a small thing. As I mentioned before, he's got a lot more going for him than just this.
17th-Aug-2004 08:45 pm (UTC)
As an aside about the Silver Star, a theory has surfaced which sounds plausible to me. The Zumwalt signed citation was the original one, but the general practice is to have citations able to be fit on one page, which Zumwalt's overran. So when it went up to CINCPAC for final approval (even though Zumwalt may have had de facto authority to issue the SS), CINCPAC's office edited it down to one page. The SecNav's citation was a courtesy re-issue, issued during Reagan's time, and follows CINCPAC's version. So the official, contemporaneous copy would be CINCPAC's.
17th-Aug-2004 05:50 pm (UTC)
By the way, I went and looked up the Wikipedia entry on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and was interested to note that none of the additional articles that were cited were favorable to them.
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