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Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Kerry foreign leaders brag: what on earth is going on?

If I understand it aright, our old mucker Drudge broke the story at 2116 ET on March 15 (that's yesterday) under the hed

The claim - which was all over, so I'd decided to pass - was that Kerry had met foreign leaders who had told him he had to win [1].

According to the Drudge piece, the journo, Patrick Healy of the Boston Globe, now reports, having listened to his tape again, that what Kerry actually said was this (emphasis mine):
The news, the coverage in other countries, the news in other places. I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly, but boy they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy, things like that.

Healy's story is incredible on a number of counts.

First, this was a public meeting - he was, as Healy says, as quoted by Drudge, in the middle of his stump speech to a crowd of fundraisers and donors - if Healy had misheard so drastically, why didn't any of the rest of Kerry's audience pipe up to correct his report?

Second, how many other people heard that tape? If you were Healy's line editor, for instance, wouldn't you have checked it? Political allegiance aside (I'm assuming that the Globe is not a Bush supporter), a false allegation of so serious a snafu by a presidential candidate-apparent would be embarrassing to the paper.

Third, the reaction of the Kerry camp: when Spin Alley got to work on the speech, of course the foreign leaders point was put Kerry's spinners.

That was their chance to correct the error: the Post piece quotes campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter:
Asked if the "foreign leaders" were heads of state or lower-ranking officials like ambassadors, Cutter said, "That's all I can say."

But Healy is saying that Kerry said more leaders. Why didn't Cutter query where foreign leaders had come from at that point?

Fourth, more leaders makes no sense. What leaders? If not foreign, presumably he's talking about domestic leaders. But of what organisations? Pols and union leaders have endorsed Kerry in dozens. What leaders in the US would it be who support Kerry but
can't go out and say it all publicly

But he's responding to his Florida guy Milton Ferrell, who is clearly talking about support from outside the US:
This is more than just the 50 states. You travel around outside the states, the people are still [inaudible] Europeans and elsewhere, they're counting on the American people. They hate Bush, but they know we're going to get rid of him. They're counting on us. [inaudible] It's a lot more than just [inaudible].

[Three inaudibles in four short sentences? How reliable is that tape?]

Fifth, why has it taken a week of ridicule heaped on Kerry's head for Healy to listen to his tape again?

Sixth, Healy's was a pooled dispatch. A whole lot of other journos had put their bollocks in a vice over this extraordinary statement of Kerry's. And we're supposed to believe that none of them asked Healy to listen to the tape, just to make sure? Not to mention their editors, who might justifiably have questioned the validity of the report.

In order to put the whole matter to rest, we need that tape examined by independent forensic specialists.

And soon.

  1. The quote in the New York Post of March 9 is
    "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this, you've got to beat this guy, we need a new policy,' things like that," Kerry told a crowd while campaigning in Hollywood, Fla.


Was Healy's the only tape recorder running at that meeting? Fine, he was the pool guy. But what about the local rag: was that in the pool? What about the local TV station? Or radio station?

Is there any corroboration of Healy's story - or either of them, indeed?

What about eye-witnesses? Did any hack track down folks who were at the meeting to check that Kerry's amazing assertion had in fact been made?


Rush Limbaugh has what he is pleased to call a montage of Kerry remarks during his confrontation with Cedric Brown at a town meeting in Bethlehem, PA on March 14 (AP report):
No, wait, wait, wait, wait you asked me if I'd met with any leaders. Yes. I have had conversations with leaders, yes, recently. That's not your business, it's mine. I've met with foreign leaders for any (inaudible) purpose - I never said that. What I said was that I have heard from people who are leaders elsewhere in the world who don't appreciate the Bush administration approach and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States. I'm talking our allies, I'm talking about people who were our friends nine months ago, I'm talking about people who ought to be at our side in Iraq and aren't because this administration has pushed them away in its arrogance, that's what I'm talking about.

Caveat maxime lector, given the provenance and the handling: but Kerry seems clearly not to be denying that - whatever word he used in that Florida meeting - he intended to refer to foreign leaders.

In Bethlehem, it seems, Kerry softened the story not by adjusting not the word foreign but the word met. He says conversations and heard from.

Which might mean phone calls and postcards.

Someone's not been getting his story straight, it seems.

But, returning where we came in - to Healy's story - the puzzle remains why no one in the Kerry camp challenged the use of the word foreign.


The LA Times piece today on the farrago suggests confusion in the Kerry camp.

On the one hand,
During the past week, Kerry never disputed that he was talking about foreign leaders when referring to dissatisfaction abroad with Bush.

On the other, his mouthpiece has been taking the opposite tack:
His reference to "more leaders," said Kerry's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, "could mean anybody." The media's repeated references to "foreign leaders" allowed critics to suggest he was talking about heads of state. "He was misquoted," said Cutter. "Had he not been misquoted, this wouldn't be a story."

That's like a guy accused of assault claiming an alibi and self-defence!

The Boston Globe sows more confusion today: it quotes the revised version from Healy - who is not namechecked - and then says
Kerry never used the term "foreign" or, as some accounts have reported, said he had "met with" foreign leaders.

But, of course, Kerry does say he
and the context (Farrell's statement, that the Globe quotes in the very same paragraph!) invites the inescapable inference that the leaders he refers to are foreign.

I think the Globe is agreeing with my interpretation (that Kerry said he met foreign leaders who wanted Bush out), but in a way requiring way all too much parsing.

Meanwhile WaPo today has Richard Holbrooke leaping to Kerry's defence:
The Republicans are just having fun with this," he said. "They know it's correct. . . . The overwhelming majority of foreign leaders and leadership want a change in American leadership."

Holbrooke said Kerry "committed candor" and Republicans were jumping him because of it.

Holbrooke assumes that Kerry meant
  1. what he was originally reported as meaning; and

  2. what, in context, is the only feasible interpretation of his remarks,
ie, that Kerry said he met foreign leaders who wanted Bush out.

And says it's no big deal, just politics.

So - to go back where we came in - why did Healy make such a song and dance? When the substance of his original report was completely correct!


Jodi Wilgoren (whose watchblog seems to have stopped watching) explains in the New York Times today that
Mr. Kerry said on Sunday that he had used the word "heard," not "met," prompting Mr. Healy to revisit the recording.

Colin Powell had attacked Kerry on the talk shows, so that would figure. A couple of pieces of the jigsaw that look as if they might fit.

And Wilgoren says Cutter said that
the campaign did not raise questions about the accuracy of the quotation amid days of criticism because there was a problem with its tape recorder, making the word inaudible.

Which is laugh out loud ridiculous! She's admitting they realised a problem just hearing Kerry say the words. What about his entourage? What - brainwave! - about asking Kerry?

And bear in mind all along: the misquote does not change the sense of what Kerry says. That, I'd suggest, sounds more like the real reason for lack of action from the Kerry camp until Powell and Co got going.

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