Friday, August 20, 2004



Matthew Yglesias points to Keith Olberman on the Chris Matthews/Michelle Malkin kerfuffle. Since Mr. Olbermann wrote about it so well, I'll just post the whole thing....

Self-inflicted politics (Keith Olbermann)

My producer handed me a piece of paper, unexpectedly blank except for a brief quote that had just been clipped from Chris’ 'Hardball' interview with Larry Thurlow. He told me he thought the brief sound bite would fit ideally at the end of page A-2, our story on the conflict between Thurlow’s current version of the day John Kerry got his Purple Heart, and the Navy’s official records of 35 years ago— records that should have been written by Thurlow himself.

“I’m saying that he had a plan that included not only being a war hero, but getting an ‘early out.’”

There wasn’t much time to reflect —Countdown was to start about 20 minutes later— but the question formed quickly in my mind. “An ‘early out’? What the hell does he mean by that?”

The answer magically appeared moments later: “The Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” are going to steer the Kerry-Shot-Himself flotsam into the mainstream media.

Michelle Malkin, the unfortunate and overmatched author of a self-loathing book that attempts to justify our World War II internment and robbery of Americans of Japanese heritage, became the harbinger of the next mucky smell of low tide. She raised the story— heretofore consigned largely to Robert Novak and everybody to his right— in that delightful, Teflon way of modern politics: ‘I’m not saying that John Kerry shot himself. But in the Swift Boat Veterans’ book, they ask whether or not his wounds were self-inflicted.’

If Ms. Malkin isn’t seen on television, or moving on her own power, in the next few days, it’s understandable. My colleague Mr. Matthews forced her to hang herself out to dry ten or eleven times (never prouder of you, Chris). He may have directed the momentum, but her wounds were ultimately, uh, self-inflicted.

As Chris rightly pointed out, nobody has produced an iota of evidence that John Kerry’s wounds were anything other than the result of combat. Even in the book, the references to it are speculative and without provenance. Ms. Malkin wouldn’t even go so far as to attribute the suspicion to herself. It was in the book.

Late Thursday, the Swift Boat gang announced a second commercial to premiere in the morning, and to this writing, nobody’s been tipped about what it contains. Yet the Thurlow comment (“he had a plan”) and Malkin’s humiliating performance reek of a trial balloon. The story of the wounds will appear somewhere— probably soon.

When I raised this prospect with John Harwood of 'The Wall Street Journal,' several viewers e-mailed to chastise us for not recognizing the difference between wounds that are “self-inflicted” and those that are deliberate attempts to injure one’s self. Throw a grenade, wipe out an enemy enclave, and get a piece of shrapnel in your head in the blow-back, and you’ve received a self-inflicted wound. It isn’t intentional and it isn’t dishonorable.

But of course that’s not what Thurlow said. He spoke of some vast Swift Boat Conspiracy in which Kerry steered not a crew of soldiers through hell, but rather, steered history. “A plan,” Thurlow said. “Included not only being a war hero,” Thurlow said. “But (also) getting an ‘early out’,” Thurlow said.

He’s not talking about an inadvertent blow-back wound. It was all a plan. And if the wounds weren’t deliberately self-inflicted (again, kudos Chris— he immediately told Malkin that such an act constituted a criminal offense), they must have occurred thanks to the timely cooperation of the Viet Cong, who were good enough to shoot Kerry on cue so he could go back home with all those medals and ribbons. You know, the ribbons he threw away in protest.

We’ll save the logical disconnect that pops up right there for another time.

This is about the politics of the Smear Thrice Removed. I’m not saying this, but questions have been raised by others.

It is a perfected version of what many of President Bush’s opponents have tried in the murky depths of his reservist days. It is execrable no matter who presents it, no matter which party benefits from it.

We will hear from the very jaded that it is nothing new. It was Winston Churchill, 70 years ago, who so succinctly, and so English-ly, noted “Politics are foul.” But with instant communications, the internet explosion, and the 527 Groups, they are foul at warp-speed. The blur between an accusation with at least a thimble of evidence upon which it can rest, and the whole cloth fabrication, is so rapid as to appear as a solid line.

It is remarkable to think that we are living in the same country where a vast majority of the population never knew that Franklin Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, and where four different Republican presidential challengers, successively more and more distant of electoral chance and more and more desperate to close the widening gap, actually believed it inappropriate and unfair, just to mention it.

And that one was true.

Could Mr. Roosevelt’s limitations have been self-inflicted? Maybe some historian is asking that question. Because certainly I’m not.

But you have to ask yourself why they say Mr. Kerry's wounds were "self-inflicted" even if they mean the wounds came from a grenade he threw.

It's the association thing.

The Bush Administration did the same thing with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Use the words together in the same sentence and get people to believe the Hussein / Al Qaeda link where none existed.

And the Administration gets to deny they never directly said Mr. Hussein worked with Al Qaeda.

So here comes the self-inflicted wound.

When I hear self-inflicted in a military sense, I believe it's easy to think something along the lines of, 'oh, the person did this to get out of combat' and not 'oh, that was from a grenade he threw at the enemy.'

And that's just what the people who push of this story want you to think. They want to taint the situation with the thought, even if it’s a slight thought in the back of your mind, that Mr. Kerry inflicted a wound on himself for medals and/or to get out of combat.

And I tend to think that those people who sill believe that Iraq had WMD before the invasion, are going to believe Mr. Kerry wounded himself on purpose.

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