2004-10-01 / Columnists

The Truth, And Nothing But!

 One of the casualties in this election cycle, sad to say, has been the “truth” and our ability to believe what we hear. Granted civility and mutual respect have also taken big hits as the presidential contenders have squared off. Still the biggest loss to date must be our ability to believe the two political sides as they ratchet up the din in this current dogfight.

I recently had occasion to note this anew as I was putting together some of my “best” Rockaway Irregular pieces (due out in book form in October ‘04 under the title “Irregularities”). An inordinate number of these older articles dealt with relentless attacks on President Bush by leaders of the political opposition in Congress and elsewhere. Indeed, these attacks were going on well before the current campaign actually kicked off and even before the Democrats had settled on their ultimate nominee, Senator John Kerry. Since then, of course, it’s only gotten worse.

The latest round seems to have been sparked by a series of ads directed against Senator Kerry by some of his fellow Vietnam veterans, the so-called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” They scored some obvious points when they forced the Kerry campaign to acknowledge that the Senator misspoke when he claimed, on quite a number of documented occasions in the past, that he had spent a Christmas Eve inside Cambodia as part of an illegal American incursion. In fact, they’ve now acknowledged that he never did.

In response to many of the Swift Boat Vets’ other claims, the whole nature of Kerry’s reported service has come under increasing scrutiny. We’ve learned the Senator did not become anti-war as a result of his stint in the service but was, in fact, anti-war before he even volunteered. We’ve also discovered that that there are disputed claims about some of the actions he was involved in . . . and that he got his three purple hearts (awarded for being wounded in action) without any serious loss of blood. (In at least one case he was alleged to have been wounded accidentally by his own fire and to have been treated for it with bacitracin and a band-aid.) He also left the combat zone after only four months, an unusually short tour of duty, based on receipt of the requisite three purple hearts, citations he got based largely on his own report of events. The accuracy of some of those reports has since been challenged by witnesses, though only well after the fact.

Senator Kerry also seems to have taken “home movies” of many of his engagements and actually staged re-enactments of some of the fire-fights he couldn’t capture at the time because he was too busy to man the camera. Who takes a home movie camera into combat with them and carefully films and re-stages the action for posterity?

After Bush got an unanticipated bounce, coming out of his late August convention, and in recognition of his own erosion in the polls, due in no small part to the Swift Boaters’ efforts against him, Senator Kerry came back swinging. Changing the subject from his Vietnam service for the first time since he began his drive for the White House, Kerry assailed Bush for being wrong on just about everything (what else is new?). Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, now a Kerry supporter (though he initially lined up behind Howard “the screamer” Dean), told the media that Kerry had to get rough with the President and not play defense. Acting on his own advice, Harkin weighed in for the Democratic nominee with his own attack on Bush at the same time that a “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” wannabe group, “Texans for Truth,” began their attack on Bush’s record in the National Guard. Although Bush had long since acknowledged a somewhat callow youth and had not, as Kerry has done, sought to tout his own military stint (which lacks the chest-thumping bravado of Kerry’s four-month tour of duty on the front lines), the new attacks seemed designed to change the subject and force Bush’s allies to back off. Harkin, himself, latched onto the National Guard claims in a blistering series of allegations aimed directly at Bush’s credibility and integrity.

But, in the latest odd turn of events, it now turns out that a number of documents given to CBS’ Sixty Minutes, for broadcast on national TV, documents purporting to demonstrate Bush’s dissembling on his National Guard service and on which the Harkin and “Texans for Truth” attacks were based, may themselves have been dissembled. Peculiarities in the typefaces (not readily available in 1973), the wording (use of wrong acronyms), the references (mention of a commanding officer already retired from the Guard at the time of the alleged writing) and testimony of former National Guard officers, along with that of the documents’ alleged author’s son, now strongly suggest the CBS papers are actually forgeries. Setting aside, for the moment, the irrelevance of dredging up past claims about Bush, which have no bearing on his current policies or behavior, the possibility that someone in the Kerry camp would stoop to this level, to forge documents in order to win an election, is mindboggling.

No, this would not be the first time it’s happened in this country. But it certainly says something about the mindset and integrity of those who would do it. Of course, we should not be surprised, given the relentless charges that have been leveled against Bush since he took office. We’ve been told that he stole the election in 2000; that he may have known about 9/11 in advance and allowed it to happen ; that he was a military deserter; a user of cocaine; a Hitler; a liar with regard to Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and/or Saddam’s contacts with al Qaeda; that he is engaged in an effort to subvert our civil liberties; that he is in bed with the Saudi royal family; and on and on. There are too many charges to bear repeating here. But the mainstream media has religiously repeated them all, while, at the same time, dragging its feet concerning allegations that might actually hurt Senator Kerry. The mainstream press (both broadcast and print) tried, in fact, to avoid giving coverage to the Swift Boat Vets when their story first broke.

So, it’s not surprising at this stage to note a double standard in the media. But it would be very surprising, and deeply troubling, if the allegations of forged documents were to be borne out. If those on the left, who want Bush out so desperately, will stoop to falsifying information in this way, what won’t they do? How can we trust anything they tell us afterwards? And then the real casualty is the truth and nothing but . . .

Speaking of truth, I want to take this opportunity to correct an error I made in these pages. Not long ago I wrote a piece which included the claim that non-city residents owning property in New York City, such as Connecticut-based Leonora Helmsley, did not have to pay real estate taxes on their holdings. I noted that I had this from a knowledgeable informant. As soon as the piece came out I got a call from that individual who frustratedly told me I had misunderstood him. Indeed, I should have realized that myself. He had been trying to tell me they do not pay income taxes to the city on income derived from real estate operated as a business in the city, whereas anyone else operating a business inside the city paid such taxes through their business. This was an inequity he felt should be corrected and which could provide New York City with another much needed source of income. I’m not quite sure if I agree that more taxes are what’s needed but I certainly owe it to him, and to all my readers, to set the record straight. The error was entirely mine and I’d rather acknowledge it and move on than leave false information behind.

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