The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi had a story Saturday morning on how the echoes of John Kerry’s 1971 testimony are beginning to be heard in the 2004 campaign. I wrote about the reaction to my playing of the complete audio of those remarks in my column for the Weekly Standard, but of course the vast majority of the electorate has yet to hear the actual audio of the testimony, much less see the video. Reading the transcript does upset some folks, but hearing Kerry’s assault on American soldiers is a much more disturbing thing.
Then there is Kerry’s approving reference to the Indian nation of Alcatraz near the end of his 1971 remarks. I had no idea what this was about until film critic Emmett of the Unblinking Eye brought the history of the episode to my attention.
On Nov. 20, 1969, 79 Native Americans took over Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, and stayed there in the face of demands that they leave, until they were forcibly ejected on June 11, 1971. While the outlines of the events I have found are sketchy on the details, the occupiers seemed to have threatened to resist efforts to expel them with force, and the Nixon administration adopted various tactics during the long stand-off. Kerry’s testimony occurred about two months before the removal of the radicals, and his sympathy for their cause is obvious in his reference to one of their number in his testimony.
This small detail hints at the need for a fuller examination of Kerry’s radical days. While the press has been in a frenzy to possess George W. Bush’s dental records from the period of his Air National Guard days, the very interesting years in Kerry’s life following his return from Vietnam have been allowed to remain obscure. There is plenty of interest in these years, and many questions for Kerry to answer. Take the Alcatraz incident, for example. If another “occupation” occurred on his watch as president, what would John Kerry do? Did he approve of Nixon’s actions in June 1971? Etc., etc., etc.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for a Judy Woodruff or similar softball pitcher to ask Kerry any uncomfortable questions. Too many of the television heavies (Chris Matthews, Rather) don’t want the anti-war days brought up for a whole bunch of reasons. The biggest reason: Most of the big names in the media of today threw in with the anti-war crowd of the late ’60s and early ’70s – either as participant or reporter – and the devastation that followed in the wake of the American withdrawal from southeast Asia is an inconvenient obstacle to the illusions of the media as to their own morality. Don’t expect Uncle Walter, for example, to ever speculate on his contribution to the chain of events that led to the collapse of South Vietnam and the savaging of Cambodia.
This unwillingness to confront the consequences of individual action underlies most of the collective American attitude toward the anti-war movement. When America cut and ran in Vietnam, a very predictable holocaust followed – a real holocaust, not a rhetorical one. Did the anti-war movement hope for such a thing? Of course not. But ought Fonda, Hayden, the SDS, the marchers in the Mobilization Against the War, the VVAW – and its superstar witness, John Kerry – and hundreds of thousand of others in “the movement” to have seen it coming?
Of course they should have. And they ought to have admitted error and professed grief long ago, but they haven’t. Well, a very, very few have. Joan Baez has at least confronted the agony of the region that America abandoned. John Kerry never has. Before he becomes president or even gets close, he needs to sit down with a serious journalist – not an enabler like so many in D.C. with ties to the anti-war left of that era – and address his actions from the years that media seems to have forgot.
There have already been demands from Kerry sympathizers that these questions be dropped. These are transparent attempts to guard Kerry from any focus on an era that will inevitably harm his campaign. One of the most interesting aspects of campaign 2004 will be to watch and see if the censors have their way with their self-serving definition of the relevant past vs. the divisive past. To them, a focus on Bush’s National Guard record was relevant, but questions about Kerry’s radicalism are divisive.
To me, it is simple. Present the story of Kerry’s past in detail and let the public decide. Let’s start with a chronology of where Kerry was and when, and what he said and why he said it. Put all of the audio and video from the network archives in an accessible place. The audio of Kerry’s Aug. 18, 1971, “Meet The Press” appearance should also be made available to the public.
When I noted on my blog on Saturday that Tim Russert had allegedly sequestered the video from Kerry’s 1971 appearance on “Meet the Press,” I heard from an associate producer of the program that I had the date of Kerry’s appearance wrong and that the video of the program no longer existed – only the audio. I was pleased to hear from the program and to correct the date, but the e-mail avoided the issue of the availability of the audio to the public. So I wrote back immediately with a request for the audio, and as of this writing I haven’t heard back. Russert will get fairness points if he releases the audio, but if he doesn’t, he’ll be guilty of manipulating the information available to the public. Journalists shouldn’t do that – they should let the original materials be available to the public, especially when they concern a presidential candidate.
Given the intense interest in the candidate and in this part of his past, why is it that the networks haven’t produced their own archives on Kerry’s testimony or their own reports on his radical days? Self-censorship in support of a candidate is a sort of huge contribution, isn’t it? Bottom line: If the video of Kerry’s testimony surfaces, his campaign will be doomed. If NBC really is preventing the release of Kerry’s long ago appearance on MTP, then NBC is engaged in censorship during a campaign year, a conscious decision to help Kerry hide his past. So much for the argument about media bias. If NBC holds the audio tape in its vault, any future debate on the topic of the media’s left-wing tilt should begin with this fact: NBC wouldn’t allow the public to hear its own interview with John Kerry from 1971 when that interview might have been inconvenient for Kerry’s campaign.
Yeah, that’s journalism.