From this morning’s Corrections section of the New York Times:
An article on Thursday about political advertising in the presidential campaign, including a commercial that accused John Kerry of having “secretly met with the enemy” in Paris in the 1970’s, misidentified the parties with whom Mr. Kerry said he had met at the Vietnam peace talks. (The error was repeated in articles on Friday and Saturday.) The parties were the two Communist delegations – North Vietnam and the Vietcong’s Provisional Revolutionary Government – with whom he discussed the status of war prisoners. He did not say he had met with “both sides.” (Go to Sept. 23 Article), (Go to Sept. 24 Article), (Go to Sept. 25 Article)
Herein lies a tale. In 1970, John Kerry traveled to Paris and met with both of the two Communist delegations to the peace talks that were then going on in that city: the North Vietnamese delegation and the Viet Cong delegation. Many observers believed at the time that Kerry’s back-door “diplomacy” on behalf of the far-left Vietnam Veterans Against the War helped undermine Henry Kissinger’s bargaining position in his negotiations with the Communists.
Fast forward to 2004. John Kerry is now running for President as a war hero. The Swift Boat Vets ran a television ad that attacked Kerry’s meetings with the Communists. The New York Times immediately sprang to Kerry’s defense, purporting to supply context for the Vets’ “unsubstantiated” allegations.
On September 23, the Times wrote:
In another broadside against Mr. Kerry, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose past accusations have frequently been unsubstantiated, says in a new commercial that Mr. Kerry went to Paris in the 1970’s and “secretly met with the enemy.” (Mr. Kerry testified shortly thereafter that he had met with both sides at the Vietnam peace talks to discuss the status of prisoners of war.)
The Times repeated this claim the very next day, September 24:
Mr. Kerry’s nemesis, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is spending $1.3 million in five swing states with a spot accusing him of meeting with the enemy in Paris – a reference to his trip to the Paris peace talks, where he met with both sides.
And again, the following day:
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which drew national attention with advertisements making unsubstantiated attacks against Mr. Kerry’s military service, has less money and uses several strategies to stretch its dollars, said one of its leaders, John O’Neill.
Many of the group’s advertisements have drawn attacks from the Kerry campaign and others, attracting attention to the commercials, Mr. O’Neill said. Its latest advertisement claims Mr. Kerry traveled to Paris in the 1970’s and “secretly met with enemy leaders.” Mr. Kerry has said he visited the Vietnam peace talks and discussed the status of prisoners of war with both sides.
Notice that when the Times mentions the Swift Boat Vets, it usually makes a point of saying that their claims are “unsubstantiated.” In the three instances cited above, the Times used the claim that Kerry had met with “both sides” in Paris to imply that the Vets’ ad was false or unfair.
Only it wasn’t. What the Vets said was true. Kerry didn’t meet with “both sides,” as the Times has now admitted; he met with both of the two Communist delegations. The Times misinformed its readers in order to defuse the impact of the Vets’ ad and to promote Kerry’s candidacy.
Why, exactly, does the Times (along with virtually every other mainstream media source) persist in repeating the mantra that the Vets’ ads are “unsubstantiated”? What is “unsubstantiated” about footage of Kerry testifying before a Senate committee? What is “unsubstantiated” about the meetings with Communists in Paris, about which Kerry boasted in 1971? What is “unsubstantiated” about the ad in which Stephen Gardner says that Kerry’s boat was never in Cambodia?
Given today’s correction, do you suppose the Times will start referring to Kerry’s responses to the Swift Boat Vets’ ads as “unsubstantiated”?