It is tempting to accept news as fact if it’s coming from a neighbor, a funny blog, a likeable person, or someone else who seems to start from a grain of truth. But there are people who like to take that small truth and use it as a talisman to lend credibility to some spurious idea they may have, however fantastic or untrue. They use false analogies, deliberate misquotes, they change the context entirely, or they omit key facts to distort the meaning of the original fact or statement. Check out Bill O’Reilly and Michael Moore, to see two very popular propagandists who are experts at this art of distortion, It is appalling that both are becoming rich not as satirists and propagandists, but as “truth tellers.” Beware of the way they string together their facts! Two and two do not make ten.
The Swift Boat controversy is another frustration to those of us who care about accuracy and accountability. Cable TV pundits are reporting on this without doing their core job of determining who is telling the truth. Thank heaven some newspaper journalists are tracking down the facts. Some veterans who profoundly dislike John Kerry for his leadership in the anti Vietnam War movement, and resent his testimony (which Kerry acknowledges now was over the top) about soldier atrocities, have decided to say that he did nothing good during the war, didn’t deserve his medals, didn’t get wounded very badly, and thus is lying and doesn’t’ deserve to be commander in chief. Meanwhile, virtually everyone who served most closely with Kerry, on his own swift boat, — including a guy whose life he saved–say that these complaints are nonsense and that he was a courageous, creative and effective leader during his Vietnam service. Even President Bush has acknowledged belatedly that Kerry should be proud of his war record, something Bush cannot say about himself since he didn’t fight in the Vietnam war he supported and it’s not even clear that he served out his full alternative service in the National Guard.
This acrimonious dispute has apparently hurt Kerry in the polls, but it may backfire on President Bush in the end, as more and more favorable character witnesses for Kerry from the Vietnam War pop up out of obscurity, and as GOP operatives turn out to have funded and helped to organize the supposedly independent Swift Boat critics. This whole episode has turned up a surprise for me personally: my former colleague at the Los Angeles Times, Bill Rood, emerged as a Vietnam Swift Boat veteran who broke decades of silence about his own experience to vouch for Kerry’s side of the story. When I worked with Rood, he was a very professional but tightly-wound reporter and editor, who never talked about the Vietnam experience. He was obviously reluctant to open up those painful memories, either then or now.
I trust Rood, who now works for the Chicago Tribune. If he says Kerry did the right thing-and in fact, was an exemplary leader under life-threatening and difficult circumstances-I believe him. In the meantime, please join me in blowing the whistle on those who deliberately lie or distort the truth.