Michael Kranish rocked us on Friday with a story, headlined "Veteran retracts criticism of Kerry", which told us that:
"a key figure in the anti-Kerry campaign, Kerry's former commanding officer, backed off one of the key contentions. Lieutenant Commander George Elliott said in an interview that he had made a ''terrible mistake" in signing an affidavit that suggests Kerry did not deserve the Silver Star -- one of the main allegations in the book.
Elliott is quoted as saying that Kerry ''lied about what occurred in Vietnam . . . for example, in connection with his Silver Star, I was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back."
Get Maureen Dowd on the line - that may have been the most misleading ellipsis ever published, but since the affidavit was not public, who knew?
Subsequently, Capt. Elliot retracted his retraction, prompting some head-scratching.
Now, both the original affidavit and the re-affirmation (the retraction of the retraction) are available here. I will read it again, and you should, too, but my first reaction [Update: and second, and third] is that Kranish wrote a wildly deceptive and misleading story.
Let's restore the missing ellipsis, emboldening the excerpted bit:
3. When Kerry came back to the United States he lied about what ocurred in Vietnam, comparing his commanders to Lt. Calley of My Lai, comparing the American armed forces to the army of Ghengis Khan, and making similar misstatements. Kerry was also not forthright in Vietnam. For example, in connection with his Silver Star, I was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back.
Hello, Mr. Reporter! When Capt. Elliot "backed off one of the key contentions", was it the My Lai complaint, or the Ghengis Khan comparison? Or was it one example preceded by "for example"?
Unbelievable. In his re-affirming affidavit, Capt. Elliot cites the same material I did to reach this conclusion - he was not informed of the facts, and "had I known the facts, I would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for simply pursuing and dispatching a single, wounded, fleeing VietCong".
This, from the Globe, now looks wildly ironic:
In the ad, Elliott says, ''John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam."
Asked to supply evidence to support that statement, the anti-Kerry group provided a copy of Elliott's affidavit. Elliott said the same affidavit had been used in the production of the book.
It is unclear whether the work contains further justification for the assertion, beyond Elliott's statement.
Oh, it is going to be pretty clear, I bet. They still need to back it up, but there will be more. And based on the Filing Frenchman's description of book co-author John O'Neill, the research will be something other than a house of cards.
Earlier, I had guessed that the Swiftees would disappear under the headline of "Cranks can't get story straight". But if Kranish has been this irresponsible, the Swiftees will sail on as the heroes of a "Liberal media attempts to squash Veteran truth-tellers" drama.
Don't even ask me about Joe Wilson.
MORE: Let's give Kranish a little credit here - Elliot does seem to be on both sides of the "did he shoot him in the back" question. But this early quote in the story - "Elliott said in an interview that he had made a ''terrible mistake" in signing an affidavit that suggests Kerry did not deserve the Silver Star" - seems to be an out of context interpretation of the full quote, which runs later - ''I still don't think he shot the guy in the back," Elliott said. ''It was a terrible mistake probably for me to sign the affidavit with those words. I'm the one in trouble here."
One might plausibly argue, as Elliott now does, that the "terrible mistake" was to cite that somewhat immaterial detail, rather than to focus on the (subjective but irrefutable) war crimes accusations.
UPDATE: The Globe stands by its story, offering a legalistc "the quote is accurate" defense. I assume the quote is accurate; all that is missing is an appropriate context. Print the affidavit - the relevant section (3) is only about three sentences, as demonstrated above.
The NY Times is scarcely better - they can't find space for three sentences either.
And hey, is that Atrios, posting as Duncan B. Black at Mind Over Media Matters? Apparently, co-author Jon Corsi is associated with the Free Republic and delivers the snark when dissing Dems. I bet he wears inappropriate t-shirts, too. Burn his book now!
And a hint to Not Sirius - December comes at the end of the year. Worth noting.
Finally, some commenters seem to think that the Boston Globe article didn't really create the impression that Elliott had retracted his entire affidavit. FactCheck staggered to that erroneous impression, as did most of the commenters found here. (And isn't my faith in tedious things like evidence kind of poignant?)