I have read the book and found it is neither the political propaganda nor the urban legend that its detractors claim. It is a passionate but meticulously researched account of how Kerry went to war, what he did in the war and how he conducted himself after the war. The very serious charges by former comrades deserve answers but so far have produced only ad hominem counterattacks.
Why should details of what Kerry did more than 30 years ago be part of this election campaign? Only because the senator has made them integral to his strategy. Kerry as war hero received more attention at the Democratic National Convention than plans for the future. Thus, what he did in his shortened four months of combat becomes a valid campaign issue.
Read the whole thing. I'm not a particular fan of Novak's but I think that this column is an indicator that the story is developing traction in the mainstream media.
Look, I would rather talk about the war. The current one, I mean — not the one that ended three decades ago. But, insofar as I understand the rules of Campaign 2004, every time any member of the administration says anything about the present conflict, he is accused by Democrats of shamelessly "politicizing" it. Whereas every time John Kerry waxes nostalgic about those fragrant memories of the Mekong Delta, he should be allowed to take his unending stroll down memory lane unmolested. After all, as everyone from John Edwards to Max Cleland to Bill Clinton has assured us, being a Swift boat commander for four months is the indispensable qualification for being president. When Hillary runs in 2008, no doubt she'll be leaning heavily on her four months running a Swift boat up and down the Shatt al-Arab during the Iraq war.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Northwestern Univ. law professor Jim Lindgren emails:
What strikes me about Kerry's "Christmas in Cambodia" story is not that Kerry almost certainly repeatedly told falsehoods (whether intentionally or not) but that the mainstream press is barely covering the story. If Bush were caught lying about his service in the National Guard, it would be leading the TV news. This is not just a hypothetical. The network news repeatedly led with charges that Bush MIGHT not have been present when he said he was during his National Guard service. Once the pay records were released, it turned out that the charges were false, but few news organizations bothered to correct the earlier false rumors they spread.
This press coverage follows the pattern. Kerry almost certainly falsely stated that he resigned from Viet Nam Vets Against the War BEFORE the fateful meeting at which the plot to assassinate several pro-war US Senators was debated. Yet when both FBI records and some of his supporters verified that Kerry had spoken forcefully against the proposal to murder Senators (to Kerry's credit at the time), most of the press did nothing. Can you imagine if Bush had been caught in such a falsehood, saying that he didn't attend a meeting where others were proposing to murder US Senators when he had been present and helped to persuade them not to do it?
Just yesterday it was revealed that when Kerry heard about the second plane hitting the World Trade Center, he admitted that he was too stunned to think clearly for quite a while. This contrasts with among Bush's first statements to his aides that we are at war (i.e., moving out of the "criminal act" mode of the Clinton administration). Bush was praised for being among the first to understand that the world had changed. Then Kerry had the nerve to criticize Bush for acting calmly in the initial minutes after the attack. If Bush had done this--criticizing Kerry for not thinking clearly when he had admitted that he was paralyzed in shock--the press would crucify Bush. But Kerry will get another pass--just wait and see.
Likewise, the statements that Bush lied about the foreign intelligence reports regarding uranium: It was a big story when the press thought that Bush might be lying, but it was mostly a non-story when it turned out that he wasn't.
If one were just watching the network news, one would think that Bush was the one with the honesty problem. Why doesn't the press just cover the stories on both sides and let the voters decide whom to vote for? Frankly, I find the press bias this year pretty frightening, not because Kerry as president will be so terrible (I doubt that he will be), but for what it says about the future of democracy in a world where traditional media still dominate public discourse. Kerry would not stand a chance if the press bias were reversed.
I think that the press will choose the president this year; I hope that they have chosen wisely.
Evan Thomas famously told us that the press wants Kerry to win, and added "They're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and there's going to be this glow about them, collective glow, the two of them, that's going to be worth maybe 15 points."
That's enough to swing almost any presidential election, and -- if it's right -- it raises the question of whether we can have an established press, and democracy, at the same time.