Sunday, September 5, 2004

With one stroke, candidate John Kerry could do a lot to lift the fog of the media war over his four-month tour of duty in Vietnam if he were finally to authorize the release of all his service records in the current resurrection of that deadly conflict.

Deep in a long front-page article in The Washington Post by Michael Dobbs, “Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete,” there is a smoking gun. In the Aug. 22 piece, Mr. Dobbs largely gives credit to Mr. Kerry’s version of one of the controversies — whether there was enemy fire on March 13, 1969, the day Mr. Kerry rescued James Rassmann from the water. But the smoking gun appears later:

“Although Kerry campaign officials insist they have published Kerry’s full military records on their Web site (with the exception of medical records shown briefly to reporters earlier this year), they have not permitted independent access to his original Navy records.”

On tumultuous cable talk shows, Kerry defenders repeatedly maintained that all of Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam records are on his Web site. But, writes Mr. Dobbs:

“A Freedom of Information Act request by The Post for Kerry’s records produced six pages of information. A spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command, Mike McClellan, said he was not authorized to release the full file, which consists of at least 100 pages.”

What is in these 100-plus pages? Since the centerpiece of Mr. Kerry’s presidential campaign is not his 20-year Senate career, but what he did in Vietnam, including his medals, aren’t voters entitled to look at the entire record? If not, why?

In the same article, Mr. Dobbs points out that while both sides in this volatile debate have a lot of information on their respective Web sites, both “the Kerry and anti-Kerry camps continue to deny or ignore requests for other relevant documents,including Kerry’s personal reminiscences (shared only with biographer Brinkley)” and the boat log.

On the anti-Kerry side, says Mr. Dobbs, the diary of Jack Chenoweth on the events of March 13, 1969, has also not been released. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth should disclose it.

However, why can’t we also see what Mr. Kerry shared with Douglas Brinkley during the preparation of Mr. Brinkley’s “Tour of Duty” about Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam service? According to the story in The Washington Post, “Brinkley, who is director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, did not reply to messages left with his office, publisher and cell phone” requesting the information.

The Post story continues: “The Kerry campaign has refused to make available Kerry’s journals and other writings to The Washington Post, saying the senator remains bound by an exclusivity agreement with Brinkley.” (In a subsequent Post story, Mr. Brinkley said those papers are in Mr. Kerry’s “full control.” Why not release them?)

I have written biographies, and have never experienced an exclusivity agreement such as the one Mr. Kerry’s campaign staff claims. When I wrote about John Cardinal O’Connor, the late cardinal was very candid during our interviews, including his renunciation of a book he had written, “A Chaplain Looks at Vietnam,” about his experiences there, in which he thoroughly endorsed our involvement in that war.

In the biography, Mr. O’Connor said, “That’s a bad book, you know. It was a very limited view of what was going on. I regret having published it.” He and I did not have an exclusivity agreement, even though the cardinal knew that his self-criticism was going to be in my book.

The Washington Post carefully researched “the climactic day (March 13, 1969) in Kerry’s military career” finding errors in both Mr. Brinkley’s “Tour of Duty” and John O’Neill’s “Unfit for Command,” the book that ignited the firestorm over Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam record.

What I find strange is that Mr. Dobbs writes that “Kerry himself was the only surviving skipper on the river then who declined a request for an interview.”

Why did more than 250 Vietnam veterans testifying in Mr. O’Neill’s “Unfit for Command” make themselves vulnerable to a libel suit by Mr. Kerry, which, if they lost, could do great damage to their careers and incomes? After all, in such a suit, both sides would have to testify under oath. Are they all liars for Mr. Bush?

Would Mr. Kerry then really release all of his original Vietnam records to be scrutinized in the lawsuit’s depositions? In a challenge to Mr. Kerry, Mr. O’Neill says, “Sue me!”

A post-Vietnam fog of war does indeed hover over the Kerry candidacy. And why has most of the mainstream media not followed up on this smoking gun about Mr. Kerry’s failure to release all of his Vietnam documents?

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