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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

The Associated Press, spun.

Nick Confessore at TAPPED puzzles over the opening paragraph of the AP story about the release of John Kerry's military records. The article begins:

Records of John Kerry's Vietnam War service released Wednesday show a highly praised naval officer with an Ivy League education who spoke fluent French and had raced sailboats — the fruits of a privileged upbringing that set him apart from the typical seaman.

Confessore asks:

Where in Kerry's military record does it explain how Kerry had an Ivy League education, raced sailboats, and had a privileged upbringing that set him apart from the typical seaman? Because, you know, I didn't think they kept track of things like that. Just imagine it: "Ensign Kerry's Brahmin accent is often unintelligable to his shipmates, and he keeps mentioning how the Gulf of Tonkin reminds him of the seas off Cape Cod."

Good question! Why, it's almost as if a GOP talking point found its way right into the lede of a nationally syndicated news story. Thank goodness the president isn't from a cushy privileged background.

Update 4.22.04: Brian Montopoli at the Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk follows up on the Associated Press's distorted coverage:

Kerry's privileged upbringing isn't off limits, of course, but it seems bizarre to make it the focal point of an examination of the candidate's military records. We don't remember any pieces on President Bush's Air National Guard service that paused to point out that he was head cheerleader at Andover. [AP writer Nedra] Pickler's take is the kind of thing we're used to seeing in the Socialist Worker, not in what's supposed to be a straightforward wire service account.

Apparently, her editors agree — belatedly. By the time this morning's revised version of the story was posted, the Kerry-as-blueblood angle was gone — no sailboats at all — and the story focused on "[military] documents showing high praise from [Kerry's] supervisors." But that was not before The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Kansas City Star (registration required), and other papers had already picked up the earlier version of the story and ran with it.

The question to ask is this: Where did Nedra Pickler come across the idea that Kerry's glowing evaluations had something to do with his speaking French and racing sailboats? One must be willfully (or perhaps even authentically) naive to think that this connection just popped into her head as the obvious thing to say about Kerry's military service. Sure, maybe she too loved speaking French and racing sailboats in preparation for her illustrious Navy career, and so nothing could be simpler than finding the glories of aristocracy in Kerry's service.

Or maybe, just maybe, Nedra Pickler is one of the political reporters who receives countless e-mails, faxes, and phone messages every day from the political operatives — spin doctors — who try to stamp the candidates' own interpretation of events on the news. And if this is so, then it seems only fair to ask: Which of the candidates wants to portray Kerry as a French-speaking, sailboat-racing son of privilege? Perhaps the one featured in this Washington Post story from 2002:

Bush at one point forgot a reporter's question and said, "That's what happens when you're over 55." Turning to the 69-year-old Chirac, he added, "You know what I mean." After referring to the French leader as "Jacques," Bush paused and said, "I guess I should call you President Chirac." Moments later, Bush again referred to him as "Jacques."

Bush, who was out until midnight Saturday on a caviar-and-foie-gras boat cruise in St. Petersburg, had trouble understanding some questions and said at one point, "Whew, lot of questions here." When Chirac called on a U.S. reporter, Bush remarked sharply that "that's generally not the way it's done," adding later to Chirac: "I'll call on the Americans." And when a U.S. reporter addressed a question to Chirac in French, Bush teased the reporter, saying, "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental," adding, "Quebueno — now I'm literate in two languages."

Why, it's almost like you'd never think that both candidates in this race went to Yale. I wonder why that is.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 21 April 2004 at 11:24 PM

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Tom Mccready:

April 22, 2004 01:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

Where does it say that ...?

From today's "New York Times," quoting from Kerry's military records:


'When Mr. Kerry was an ensign on the Gridley on his first Vietnam tour in 1967, his commander described him as "intelligent, mature and rich in educational background and experience," as well as "polished, tactful and outgoing" and "a brilliant conversationalist."

'"He uses the English language expertly, both orally and in writing," the commander wrote.

'A few months later, another commander was similarly impressed.

'"His division's morale is one of the best on the ship due to his dynamic leadership," the officer wrote. "He is a polished diplomat at ease in distinguished company" and "is impressive in appearance and always immaculate."

'Months later, Mr. Kerry's bearing struck another reviewer. "He presents a very neat appearance and meets people well," that captain wrote. "For his age and experience, he writes and speaks exceedingly well."'

So I disagree with your observation


April 22, 2004 01:34 PM | Permalink for this comment

Good for you, Tom. Obviously it is such a rare and wondrous thing for a soldier to be praised for his "dynamic leadership" that any statements to that effect must mean that Kerry is an aristocrat with "an Ivy League education who spoke fluent French and had raced sailboats." That is without a doubt the most important aspect of the story, which is why the Associated Press put it very first.

Be serious. The statements you quote praise Kerry's leadership as a soldier. The AP story recasts these statements as indications of a "privileged upbringing." Somebody spun that journalist real good. They got you, too. Perhaps you missed my other observation: George W. Bush took repeated advantage of his privilege to avoid serving in Vietnam, while Kerry signed up to go and served with honor, like tens of thousands of other Americans.

Tom McCready:

April 22, 2004 04:24 PM | Permalink for this comment


While the verbal skills noted by the raters of Kerry could have been gained in any college, it is certainly the case that graduates of Ivy League universities generally can write well. And call me a snob, but the graduates of little known schools, such as the college north of St. Louis which just inagurated an Unitarian minister as its president, generally don't write so well. I did see your swat at George Bush, too, so I took your general drift to be anti-Ivy Leauge, a cheap kind of populism. You can do better.



April 22, 2004 05:31 PM | Permalink for this comment

Shucks, Tom, it's a real pity I had to learn to write at lowly Orem High School or the barely reputable University of Utah (Honors BA in English, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, 1994). We had a few books in those parts, but I really can't figure out why the admissions people at a certain graduate school in Cambridge let me into their hallowed halls.

I'm having a hard time fathoming your point. Have you not noticed that the explicit pandering to anti-intellectualism in the presidential race is coming almost exclusively from the Republicans? How often do you hear Bush extoll the virtues of liberal education? the fine arts? foreign languages? intellectual dialogue?

Scott Wells:

April 22, 2004 09:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

I believe the minister installed north of Mr. McCready is Universalist or, if you will, Unitarian Universalist if Bill Fox is meant.

He was one of my predecessors at Universalist National Memorial Church.


April 22, 2004 11:24 PM | Permalink for this comment

We don't remember any pieces on President Bush's Air National Guard service that paused to point out that he was head cheerleader at Andover.

Actually, I recall Bush's privilege being central to the stories about his military records -- as Philocrites mentions a few comments up, he was accused of using his privilege to get out of active duty. But either way, it has no bearing on whether Kerry's privilege has anything to do with his military records.

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