The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, February 15, 2004

It's been three days now since Drudge dropped his bomb about a possible intern scandal involving presidential frontrunner John Kerry. Here is what you get if you type "Kerry intern" into the San Jose Mercury News' search for articles in the last week:

1. President facing 'credibility chasm'

By DAVID GOLDSTEIN / Kansas City Star

President Bush's political strength has been his image of honesty. After Sept. 11, polls showed he was trusted by a phenomenal 80 percent of the American people. ... a scandal over his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, public trust had ... appears likely to be Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, will ebb and flow. They also said ...
Friday, February 13, 2004

i.e., nothing. The Merc, like most American media, is sitting on the story for now.

I should state before going any further that I do not really care whether Kerry porked an intern, or what George Bush was doing in the National Guard thirty years ago. I dislike Kerry because he is an opportunist and a phony, and because of his political beliefs. (Except for his conduct in prosecuting war on radical Muslims, I don't much care for Bush either.)

I can understand how the Mercury News editors do not want to be caught up in rumors and scandalmongering. But I claim that it is nonetheless a mistake for the Merc to suppress this story, for these reasons:

  • Whatever policy the Merc uses to judge newsworthiness is not being applied in a consistent way. Here are the results of a search for "Bush deserter" -- not "Bush AWOL" or "Bush National Guard," but Bush deserter:

    1. `Deserter' label is an insult to millions

    Richard Cohen (Opinion, Feb. 10) refers to the ridiculous accusation by filmmaker Michael Moore that by serving in the National Guard, President Bush was a ``deserter.''
    Thursday, February 12, 2004 (Mercury News)

    2. Payroll records leave gap in Bush's military career

    By Ron Hutcheson / Knight Ridder
    President Bush on Tuesday released payroll records and other documents tracking his service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, but the paper trail didn't close all the gaps in his military record. ... Michael Moore branded the president ``a deserter'' during an appearance with ...
    Wednesday, February 11, 2004 (Mercury News)

    3. Everyone knew how to dodge Vietnam War -- including Bush

    By Richard Cohen
    During the Vietnam War, I was what filmmaker Michael Moore would call a ``deserter.'' Along with President Bush and countless other young men, I joined the National Guard, did my six months of active duty (basic training, etc.) and then returned to my home unit where I eventually dropped from sight. In the end, just like President Bush, I got an honorable discharge. But unlike President Bush, I have just told the truth about my service and he hasn't.
    Tuesday, February 10, 2004 (Mercury News)

    4. White House releases National Guard documents

    By RON HUTCHESON / Knight Ridder Newspapers
    President Bush on Tuesday released payroll records and other documents tracking his service in the National Guard, but the paper trail didn't close all the gaps in his military record. ... filmmaker Michael Moore branded the president "a deserter" during an appearance with ...
    Tuesday, February 10, 2004

    You don't even need to follow the links to know that there is a double standard operating. The Merc won't report what Matt Drudge says, but they give a platform to Michael Moore? Please.

    There is just as much evidence that Bush did not fulfill his National Guard service (never mind "deserter") as there is that Kerry had relations with an intern. The whole National Guard "scandal" rested on the testimony of one man's negative evidence: A general who said that he did not remember seeing Bush on his base.

  • The Mercury News is setting itself up for considerable awkwardness in the near future. Let's say Kerry does a little worse than expected in the Wisconsin primary. If Kerry gathers 5% fewer percentage points than polled, that's not necessarily due to the intern murmurings. It could be polling error, or just the whim of the electorate. Will the Merc say anything about the intern allegations? What if Kerry is significantly short if expectations? What if he completely tanks?

    What if Howard Dean wins the primary and makes a veiled allusion to the scandal? Will the Merc explain it to us? That's kind of Journalism 101, right -- explain references that readers may not be familiar with? What if an AP reporter does the same thing? Will the Merc carry the story? Will it excise the reference?

  • If the Mercury News feels that sex scandals are tawdry and beneath its notice, then the question arises as to whether it will report other unsavory news. Whatever you think of the whole Lewinsky affair -- the recorded phone conversations, the cigar, the semen stain -- surely it was not as uncomfortable to read as, say, the details of the suffering of victims of war, or what happens to this or that high-profile murder victim, or the German cannibal who ate someone who was still alive. Will the Mercury News stop covering Iraq or Israel because the details of what happens in the aftermath of a suicide bombing are gruesome?

    Would you trust a doctor who said that he thought pus was "gross," and didn't want to deal with it unless absolutely necessary?

  • Let's say you are a good little California citizen who wants to do your civic duty at the polls in two weeks. So you carefully read the Mercury News, and take note of their information on the candidates. (None of that Internet for you! The Mercury news is respectable and trusted.) The intern scandal bumps along, not really going anywhere -- and suddenly, on the day before voting the scandal explodes. On your way to the polls you see the 72-point headlines in the morning Merc screaming about Kerry's intern scandal. Bemused, you buy a paper and read the article, and you get to this sentence:

    The scandal was first reported on the Drudge Report Internet site on February 12. It spread throughout the Internet and was reported in the British press and some American newspapers. On February 13 radio talk show host Don Imus asked John Kerry if there was any truth to the allegations...

    How would you feel?

    Or let's say that the scandal does not erupt before the California primary. You cast your vote for Kerry because, like millions of other Democrats, you think that he is the best candidate to defeat George Bush ... based on the evidence you read in the Mercury News.

    After Kerry has the nomination sewed up, the intern scandal explodes. Kerry goes down in flaming defeat.

    How would you feel about that?

Update: The Merc cracks:

Searched for 'kerry intern'

(Showing Results 1-2 of 2)

1. Woman denies affair with Kerry

By Steven Thomma / Knight Ridder

A woman linked romantically by Internet and tabloid rumors to Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts denied Monday that she had any personal relationship with the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. ... reports that referred to her as a former Kerry intern. ``I never interned or worked for ...
Tuesday, February 17, 2004 (Mercury News)

Though the story was posted yesterday it doesn't seem to have stayed on the website long. I didn't find a link on the "Nation/World" page.



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