We have been intrigued by the infrequent sightings of John Kerry’s authorized hagiographer Douglas Brinkley since Kerry’s Kurtz chronicles emerged into view. Today the Weekly Standard briefly updates Brinkley’s recent sightings in “Douglas Brinkley reports for duty.”
Brief though it is, the Standard piece elucidates the role Brinkley is playing for Kerry. As Kerry plays his faux JFK shtick, Brinkley plays his faux Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., shtick — Schlesinger himself being a bastardized version of a real historian. (As for Schlesinger, see the evidence laid out in appalling detail by the late Thomas Silver in his brilliant Coolidge and the Historians.)
The Washington Post runs a longer piece on Brinkley by Ann Gerhart: “The political guns of August are firing.” Gerhart reports that the paperback edition of Tour of Duty is to be published next month with a new introduction and minor corrections — just in time for the election!
It is apparent from the story that Brinkley has become a hack in the service of a candidate for the highest office in the land. The story is largely a wasted opportunity to elicit clarifications of ambiguities and contradictions.
However, the story is revealing despite itself in ways not fully intended. A few items in the story leap out and shed their own kind of light on recent controversies. Gerhart writes:
The Kerry campaign has refused to release Kerry’s personal Vietnam archive, including his journals and letters, saying that the senator is contractually bound to grant Brinkley exclusive access to the material. But Brinkley said this week the papers are the property of the senator and in his full control.
“I don’t mind if John Kerry shows anybody anything,” he said. “If he wants to let anybody in, that’s his business. Go bug John Kerry, and leave me alone.” The exclusivity agreement, he said, simply requires “that anybody quoting any of the material needs to cite my book.”
Will the Post now follow up and demand a full view of Kerry’s military records? Just asking.
Gerhart then notes that Brinkley claims “he was unable to locate and interview Stephen Gardner, the lone member of Kerry’s Swift boat crew who claims that the senator lied about his combat experience.” Gerhart leaves it at that without noting that our mentor Hugh Hewitt has recently interviewed Gardner live on-air. Perhaps Brinkley needs to sign up Hugh’s producer, Generalissimo Duane, as a part time research assistant. Hugh caught up with Gardner this past Wednesday. Click here for a partial transcript and here for James Taranto’s take on the interview.
Most of interest to us, of course, is Brinkley’s take on Kerry’s Kurtz chronicles. Here it is:
Kerry repeatedly said in the past that he was ordered illegally into Cambodia during Christmas 1968. His detractors claim he never entered that country at all. In “Tour of Duty,” Brinkley does not place Kerry in Cambodia but, quoting from Kerry’s journal, notes that Kerry’s Swift boat was “patrolling near the Cambodian line.” Later in the book, Brinkley writes that Kerry and his fellow Swift boat operators “went on dropping Navy SEALS off along the Cambodian border.”
“I’m under the impression that they were near the Cambodian border,” said Brinkley, in the interview. So Kerry’s statement about being in Cambodia at Christmas “is obviously wrong,” he said. “It’s a mongrel phrase he should never have uttered. I stick to my story.”
Wow, wow, wow. Thanks, Doug, that’s quite an “impression,” and quite a “phrase.” By the way, what, exactly, is “a mongrel phrase”? And what, precisely, is your story? And where did you tell it?
Gerhart leaves it at that, coincidentally noting in the following paragraph that “Brinkley considers himself a serioius historian…” I’m sure he does, in roughly the same way that Gerhart considers herself to be a serious journalist and the Post considers itself to be a serious newspaper.