John Kerry took the floor of the United States Senate on March 27, 1986, and delivered a dramatic oration indicting the foreign policy of the Reagan Administration. As is his habit, Kerry drew on his Vietnam war experience in explaining his opposition to the policy.
"I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia," he said. "I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and having the President of the United States telling the American people that I was not there."
To emphasize the importance of this incident to his subsequent political development, Kerry asserted: "I have that memory which is seared—seared —in me, that says to me, before we send another generation into harm's way we have a responsibility in the U.S. Senate to go the last step, to make the best effort possible to avoid that kind of conflict."
The story of his 1968 Christmas in Cambodia is one that Kerry has told on many occasions over the years. He invoked the story in 1979 in the course of his review of the movie "Apocalypse Now" for the Boston Herald. Most recently, Kerry told the story—with remarkable embellishments involving a CIA man who gave him his "lucky hat"—last year on separate occasions to reporters Laura Blumenfeld of the Washington Post and Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe.
Certain elements of Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia story were incredible on their face. Kerry attributed responsibility for his illegal 1968 mission to Richard Nixon, despite the fact that Lyndon Johnson was president at the time. The Khmer Rouge who allegedly shot at Kerry during his "secret" mission did not take the field until 1972.
Moreover, there is no record that Swift boats—the type of boat under Kerry's command—were ever used for secret missions in Cambodia. Their size and noise make them unlikely candidates for such missions in any event. Indeed, the authorized biographer of Kerry's Vietnam service—historian Douglas Brinkley in his book Tour of Duty—omits any mention of such a covert cross-border mission to Cambodia at any time during Kerry's service.
Over the past few weeks, the Christmas in Cambodia tale, a keystone of John Kerry's Vietnam autobiography, has been revealed to be fraudulent. On Christmas 1968, Kerry was docked at Sa Dec, 50 miles from Cambodia in an area from which the Cambodian border was in fact inaccessible.
Last week, after the falsity of Kerry's account became public, the Kerry campaign issued a statement "correcting" the story. According to the Kerry campaign, the mission referred to took place in January 1969 when Kerry "inadvertently or responsibly" crossed the border into Cambodia. However, three of Kerry's Swift boat crewmates have denied entering Cambodia at any time, and no one has corroborated Kerry's claim.
The suggestion that Kerry may have "inadvertently" strayed into Cambodia—leaving aside whether that was even possible—constitutes a complete retreat from the point of Kerry's original story: that he lost his faith in government because the President lied about having sent American troops into Cambodia. And, of course, it contradicts his story about ferrying a CIA man to Cambodia.
Given the attention lavished on President Bush's service in the Air National Guard earlier this year, we thought that newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times would want to devote comparable attention to John Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia story. We also thought they would want to consider what the falsity of Kerry's story might have to tell us about the uses to which Kerry is putting his Vietnam service in the current presidential campaign.
To date, however, we have been wrong. Neither the influential mainstream newspapers nor the broadcast television networks have reported the meltdown of Kerry's Christmas in Cambodia story. Only readers of Internet weblogs such as ours have stayed on top of the exposure of Kerry's tall tale. Or on the Kerry campaign's lame efforts to resurrect a version of the story that contradicts what Kerry has said for the past 25 years, but allows Kerry to continue using his Vietnam experiences, real and imagined, for his own political purposes.
Whatever the reason—and we have our suspicions—when it comes to scrutiny of Senator Kerry's veracity, the mainstream media are saluting, but they are decidedly not reporting for duty.