- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2001

The day after "60 Minutes" aired the possibility that Bob Kerrey had commanded his team of Navy Seals to execute civilians at close range, including women and children, in the Vietnam village of Thanh Phong, he was interviewed in what used to be his hometown newspaper when he was a United States senator the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star.
During the CBS program, Mr. Kerrey denied that there had been any intent to kill civilians in that 1969 night action in a free-fire zone, maintaining that the Seals had returned fire after being fired upon.
Relaxed, Mr. Kerrey told the Nebraskan interviewer that, as the reporter put it, "The end of the publics fixation on that night in Thanh Phong could be over." Added Mr. Kerrey, "Enough is enough."
Indeed, even before the accusations and denials on the "60 Minutes" show were broadcast, the board of trustees of New Yorks New School University, of which Mr. Kerrey is president, declared "unqualified support" for him.
And in the weeks since the thunderstorm of media coverage of this story, Mr. Kerrey is off the front pages and seldom mentioned on television news, including the 24-hour news stations. Nor is there much discussion of Mr. Kerrey on radio talk shows.
Still, for some Americans, including a few journalists, questions remain. Why and how, for example, did five of Kerreys Raiders, after years of silence, suddenly decide to confirm Mr. Kerreys version of the incident?
The seventh Seal, Gerhard Klann, told "60 Minutes" and the New York Times that Mr. Kerrey had commanded him and the other five Seals to line up women and children and to shoot them to death.
On April 30, the New York Post reported that Mr. Kerrey had brought those five members of his squad to New York City "from all over the United States" three days before. A high-powered public-relations operative got rooms for them at an Upper East Side hotel. They then traveled to Mr. Kerreys home, where "the group met until 2 a.m., thrashing out a consensus of what they say happened" that night in 1969. "By late Saturday afternoon, Kerrey was emboldened to claim that sections of the media were involved in a conspiracy against him."
Gerhard Klann, who works in a steel mill, cant afford to hire a PR firm.
The May 7 issue of Time magazine reported that on April 7, five members of Kerreys Raiders "dined at Mr. Kerreys house and talked the raid over for the very first time." The next evening, they issued "a statement of facts."
This reminded me of a New York City policy. When one or more New York City police officers are accused of a particularly brutal action, they are given 48 hours during which they need not speak to anyone, including the police departments internal-affairs investigators. There are some, including me, who believe that this 48-hour rule allows the accused to agree on an account of what happened.
Another murky part of this story concerns the misapprehension by many that Mr. Kerrey finally broke his 32-year silence this year to the New York Times and "60 Minutes" because he needed to heal himself, to exorcise the nightmare that had caused him such anguish for so long.
However, as Howard Kurtz has reported in The Washington Post, Mr. Kerrey recounted his memory of that night to Newsweek magazine two years ago at a time when he had decided not to run for the presidency.
Newsweeks assistant managing editor, Evan Thomas, told Mr. Kurtz: "We could have run the story. We had Kerreys confirmation. We just didnt want to do it to the guy when he wasnt running for president."
And Newsweeks editor, Mark Whitaker, adds, "We all agreed theres a higher level of scrutiny that goes on for presidential candidates."
Its the first time Ive heard this criterion for not running a story about what might have been a war crime. Was it really not right to run the story because the officer in charge that night was no longer a presidential candidate?
Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism said to The Washington Post: "Its hard to imagine by what definition this isnt news. Even if Kerrey never intended to run for president, the story of one of the more admired figures in political life, who won a Bronze star for this action, speaks to something beyond just Kerrey. It raises all kinds of questions about what the Vietnam War was like for grunts and young officers."
And what it was like for the women and children killed by Kerreys Raiders.
But theres more to Newsweeks holding the story. According to the May 7 issue of Newsweek, the magazine says it "did reach an informal understanding with Kerrey that when and if he decided to go public, he would turn to Newsweek." That was two years ago.
So that Newsweek could have a scoop, the publics right to know a right that is hallowed among journalists was deep-sixed.


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