The Star Tribune has posted our reply to last Sunday’s hit piece by deputy editorial page editor Jim Boyd: “Reply to Cambodia piece left main points unchallenged.” Here it is:
Last Sunday, editorial staff member Jim Boyd wrote a column (“Republican smear machine can’t stand up to the facts”) attacking our Aug. 18 column on John Kerry’s Christmas in Cambodia fable as “fraudulent,” and attacking us personally as “smear artists” engaged in “immorality.” When someone uses language that strong, you’d expect him to have facts to back up his words. Yet Boyd’s tirade was remarkably fact-free.
First, the basics. We wrote that the Kerry campaign has retracted Kerry’s oft-told tale of being in Cambodia on Christmas 1968. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that there is no record of John Kerry being in Cambodia in December 1968, or at any other time. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that Kerry’s commanding officers have denied that he was ever sent into Cambodia. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that not a single crewman who ever served with Kerry has supported Kerry’s claim to have been in Cambodia, and several crewmen have denied that their boat was ever in Cambodia. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that there is no record of Swift boats being used for clandestine missions as claimed by Kerry. Boyd did not dispute this. We wrote that Swift boats were unsuited for such secret missions, given their large size and noise. Boyd did not dispute this.
Gosh, for fraudulent smear artists, we seem to be doing pretty well. Given that he didn’t deny any of our main points, what did Boyd have to say? Most importantly, he alleged that Kerry was in Cambodia, but it was in January 1969, not December 1968. Thus, Boyd wrote, ours is an “accurate but niggling criticism.” Of course, there is no more evidence for Kerry being in Cambodia in January 1969 than in December 1968.
But when Kerry told his famous story to the Senate in 1986 — the story that he says was “seared — seared” into his memory, he was very specific about the timing of his life-altering experience. It was Christmas 1968, and he heard President Richard Nixon denying that we had troops in Cambodia while he himself had been sent there. It was this experience, he said, that caused him to lose his faith in the American government.
We pointed out that Kerry’s account was obviously false, since Nixon was not president in December 1968. Boyd responded that Nixon was then president-elect, so Kerry’s “discrepancy” was “understandable.” Obviously, however, a president-elect was in no position to assure the American people that there were no troops in Cambodia.
We made the relatively minor point that Kerry’s claim to have been shot at by the Khmer Rouge is implausible, since they did not take the field until 1972. Boyd said, with no attribution, that “the Khmer Rouge … began its armed combat against the government of Prince Norhodom Sihanouk in 1967.”
We based our statement on the testimony of Andrew Antippas, “the Cambodia Man” at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon between 1968 and 1970, who wrote: “[C]oncerning the assertion that Mr. Kerry was shot at by the Khmer Rouge during his Christmas 1968 visit to Cambodia, it should be noted that the Khmer Rouge didn’t take the field until the Easter Offensive of 1972.”
Different sources assign different dates to the beginning of military action by the Khmer Rouge, but we’ve seen no support for the proposition that the Khmer Rouge were in the field (as opposed to existing as a political organization) in January 1969.
Boyd next wandered into the thicket of geography. He wrote:
“[T]here was no established border. Both Vietnam and Cambodia claimed parts of the Mekong River delta, a watery area of rivers, tributaries and canals. It was quite easy to slip across, especially by boat (whether inadvertently or with a purpose — perhaps both).”
The notion that Kerry wandered into Cambodia “inadvertently” contradicts the story Kerry told. If he wandered there by accident, he would have had no reason to be disillusioned with the U.S. government. The whole point of Kerry’s story was that he was ordered into Cambodia, contrary to President Nixon’s assurance that there were no U.S. troops there.
Boyd did not attempt to dispute the heart of our column. He simply assumed as true Kerry’s revised version of the Christmas in Cambodia fable without acknowledging the contradictions among the versions of the story, and without noting the lack of evidence for the proposition that Kerry was ever in Cambodia. Where he challenged us on specific facts, we believe Boyd was wrong.
Boyd’s response to our column was stronger on epithets than on evidence. He provided a mighty weak basis on which to call us smear artists. Has word reached Boyd that the Kerry campaign has given up trying to sell the story that Kerry undertook secret missions on his Swift boat to Cambodia? Like the Japanese soldiers who continued fighting World War II on remote Pacific islands after the emperor had surrendered, Boyd keeps up the fight for a story that his own emperor has abandoned.
The Star Tribune has accorded the last word to Boyd: “This year, the political smear is exposed even as it’s happening.” Here it is:
We are in the middle of an important national event: the real-time confrontation of a political smear. In previous elections, the examination has almost always been in retrospect. Now the smear, against John Kerry’s military service, is being critically examined as it happens. Vigilance is required, and a little courage.
I see the recent commentary by John H. Hinderaker and Scott W. Johnson (“Unwrapping Kerry’s story of Christmas in Cambodia,” Aug. 18) as part of that smear. It did not meet what I believe should be the standards of the Star Tribune’s editorial pages. Such pieces should not appear here, and that one does so for the second time in 10 days pains me greatly.
We have a responsibility to separate legitimate political opinion — and the latitude is great — from deliberate smear. That responsibility is especially important in this campaign. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether a piece crosses that line; to me, this is not one of those times. A legitimate piece might have raised hard questions about Kerry in Cambodia; theirs wasn’t that piece.
Colleagues wanted to print today’s Hinderaker and Johnson piece to be “fair” to them. But these are folks who take unfair advantage of that concern.
And what about fairness for John Kerry? These authors take great umbrage at my use of the word “fraudulent” to describe their writing. That word choice was quite deliberate: They hurled it at Kerry; I merely hurled it back.
Here is some of what I’ve seen during this presidential campaign: About six weeks ago, former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz submitted a piece that took on former counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke. The piece contained demonstrably false statements. I required that they be stripped from the piece, and they were. The piece ran.
Days later, Sen. Norm Coleman submitted a piece on Joe Wilson, who made the famous trip to Niger to investigate the yellowcake episode. The Coleman piece contained demonstrably false statements against Wilson. I asked that they be stripped out. One was not. It claimed that Wilson had “repeatedly” accused President Bush of deliberately lying to the American people about Iraq. Wilson is on the record, including in the Star Tribune, denying he ever said such a thing. I insisted that Coleman provide at least one quote in which Wilson accused the president of deliberately lying to the American people. His office either could not or would not do that. The piece did not run.
Then along came the Hinderaker-Johnson piece on Kerry. It should have set off all kinds of alarms. As one of the editors responsible for these pages, I regret that it did not — and that I was not here to weigh in on the decision.
Now comes their second piece. I could do extensive line-by-line analysis, but I will not. It would take space I do not have. For the fair-minded, two examples should suffice.
The top of their piece is devoted to negatives: No record of this, no record of that, etc. This proves nothing. There generally are no public records of clandestine activities. The burden of proof here is on Hinderaker and Johnson, not on Kerry and not on me.
On the relatively minor point of the Khmer Rouge, Hinderaker and Johnson rely on someone named Andrew Antippas. What they don’t say is that he has just popped up, in an op-ed on the subject published in the Washington Times, the Moonie paper that has been a veritable fountain of attacks on Kerry. I have no idea if Antippas is who H & J say he is, and I suspect they simply appropriated his Washington Times op-ed as truth. I do know that all kinds of scholarly works on the Khmer Rouge date the beginning of its armed struggle to 1967 at the earliest and 1970 at the latest. For starters, you might try “Brother Number One” by David Chandler. Or you might check the numerous New York Times articles in 1968 about the armed Communist insurgency and Prince Norhodom Sihanouk’s worries over it.
What do I think about Kerry in Cambodia? I have now read his biography and a number of other things, and I believe there is ample evidence that he was at least very near Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 (see pages 209-219 of his biography, “Tour of Duty,” plus the history of the SEALORDS campaign) and at other times as well. I can’t prove he actually was ever there, and that wasn’t my purpose; I do know that Hinderaker and Johnson failed to prove he wasn’t. I have no idea why, 25 years ago in a review of “Apocalypse Now,” Kerry mentioned President Nixon. Was it an act of hubris, a mistake, a conflation of memories?
Perhaps it was a factor not yet explained. In December 1968, Sihanouk and the United States were at odds over cross-border incursions; that’s beyond dispute. Sihanouk held 11 crewmen from a landing craft that ventured into Cambodia, plus another American. It took a personal letter from President Lyndon Johnson in late December to win their release. Contemporaneous press accounts suggest Johnson promised Sihanouk that the United States would try to avoid violating Cambodian territory. Perhaps that triggered Kerry’s remarks.
I do know that this shouldn’t matter. John Kerry served with distinction in Vietnam, in very dangerous duty. Lots of folks chose not to serve in Vietnam at all.
This is not about who is elected, but about how we allow this campaign to unfold, especially on our pages. I am sick to death of being played for a chump by the likes of Karl Rove. America can definitely do better.
Let us know what you think and we’ll try to post a round-up of our readers’ evaluations in the next day or two. In the meantime, thanks for your support; the Star Tribune heard you loud and clear.
HINDROCKET adds: Fact-checking a second-rate nobody like Jim Boyd is not high on my agenda, but I spent less than five minutes googling the appalling Joe Wilson, and came up with this, from, ironically enough, John Kerry’s website:
*** Joe Wilson (Oct 29, 2003 11:24:53 AM) I would remind you that had Mr. Cheney taken into consideration my report as well as 2 others submitted on this subject, rather than the forgeries
*** Joe Wilson (Oct 29, 2003 11:25:06 AM) the lie would never have been in President Bush’s State of the Union address
So: Jim Boyd blocked a piece by Norm Coleman from running in the Star Tribune because Boyd denied that the pathetic Joe Wilson had accused President Bush of lying about Iraq. Boyd was wrong, Coleman was right, and it took only two minutes or so to determine this on the internet. Jim Boyd is perhaps the most pathetic loser, and the most vitriolic Democratic shill, in the American news media.
DEACON adds: Boyd’s response is so poor that he would have been better off not submitting it. Here are some of the laughable highlights.
Boyd spends half of his column attacking Rudy Boschwitz, Norm Coleman, and his fellow editors and then claims he’s run out of space to respond to the key arguments of Rocket Man and Trunk.
Boyd argues that my colleagues’ impressive list of things Boyd hasn’t disputed “proves nothing” because there generally are no public records of clandestine activities and the burden of proof does not rest with him. But recall some of the points Boyd has been unable to contest — Kerry’s commanding officers deny that he was sent to Cambodia, none of his fellow swifties has said that Kerry went there, swift boats were not suited for missions in Cambodia, and the Kerry campaign admits he wasn’t in Cambodia when he says he was. As a lawyer, I’d sure like my chances before a jury with these facts not in dispute.
Boyd retreats from his original position on Kerry’s reference to President Nixon, that he was presdent-elect in Christmas of 1968, so Kerry could easily have remembered him as being the president at that time. My colleagues noted that Kerry’s telling of the Cambodia story — that it is seared in his memory because Nixon was denying that American troops were in Cambodia — only makes sense if Nixon were actually the president, and doesn’t really make sense even then because Nixon did not make this claim until Kerry was back in the States. Boyd now admits that the reference to Nixon might have been hubris. But if Kerry engaged in that bit of hubris, why is it “fraudulent,” given the other problems with Kerry’s story, to argue that the whole thing is hubris?
For all its faults, though, Boyd’s piece at least explains how he got himself into this predicament. Evidently he was “tired of being played for a chump by the likes of Karl Rove” so he decided to be played for a chump by the likes of Rocket Man and Trunk.