Dear Campaign Journalists: Please do your jobs
by Virginia Postrel • Aug 18, 2004 at 12:12 am
I am not a political reporter. That means I don't have to listen to a candidate give the same stump speeches 50 million times and then desperately find a new angle to write about for tomorrow's paper. It means I don't have to go to crowded nominating conventions that are more usefully watched on television. And it means I don't have to spend my time tracking down sources who might be able to shed light on John Kerry's claims about his adventures in Vietnam and Cambodia.
I don't have to do these things because I don't want to and because they are not my job. But there are a lot of fine journalists who do have the job of political reporting, they are not doing it when it comes to Kerry's past, and they are making our whole profession look bad. Come on, folks. If you can't find out any independent sources on Kerry's own story, at least report the "he says-he says" allegations. And help out your audience with some context: Dig up some more-or-less unbiased (or at least nonpartisan) sources to provide some historical context for the bizarre Cambodia story. Never mind John Kerry specifically, what were U.S. operations during that period? Are any of his various accounts plausible and, if so, which ones? Or give readers some background on the procedures for awarding medals during Vietnam. There was a lot of medal inflation and, presumably, some politics in how medals were awarded. What, if anything, does the broader context tell us about Kerry and his critics?
This story would be a lot easier on news reporters--who, after all, are supposed to write history's first draft, not to figure out what happened long ago and far away--if Douglas Brinkley were a better (I'm tempted to say "real") historian.
UPDATE: An armchair analyst beats the beat reporters to a plausible explanation of the Cambodia story.
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