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TAKING IT BACK! Keller seemed to retract his comments on Kerry. But why did he make them at all?:


KELL’S BELLS: In his August 10 New York Times column, the great Bill Keller trashed Al Gore, then had his way with all other Democrats (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/13/02). Here was his passage about Massachusetts Senator John Kerry:

KELLER (8/10/02): So what’s the alternative? John Kerry, the ersatz J.F.K., who fancies himself a global strategist because 30 years ago he faced down a Vietcong ambush? (And, by the way, with all due respect for his exploit, how utterly weird is it that he then took out his handy 8-millimeter camera and re-enacted his heroism on film?)
This was part of a general trashing, in which Keller expressed his eye-rolling superiority to all possible Democrat hopefuls. Joe Lieberman, for example, was “Al Gore’s sad-eyed second banana,” John Edwards a “newbie heartthrob.” Readers, it’s utterly weird but plainly true: In the face of all known evidence on the face of the earth, our pundits do believe themselves to be part of a vastly superior class. Is any pol, of either party, as dumb or dishonest as our pundit corps is? No. But the Kellers live a privileged life—their cohort controls the press, after all—and they are therefore free to say what they please, immune from all prospect of criticism.

What results from that life of privilege? The upshot was found in last Saturday’s Times. Was it true? Did John Kerry, while in Vietnam, “t[ake] out his handy 8-millimeter camera and re-enact his heroism on film?” Last Saturday, Keller seemed to retract this statement, although—true to the lifestyle of his unaccountable cohort—he lacked the courage and the character to come out and do so directly:

KELLER (9/7/02): A couple of columns ago, while plowing through a crowd of Democrats who want to be president, I threw an elbow at Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. I suggested that his claim to be a global thinker leaned rather excessively on his 30-year-old heroism in Vietnam. And, relying on a report in the usually dependable Boston Globe, I mocked him for pulling out a movie camera after a shootout in the Mekong Delta and re-enacting the exploit, as if preening for campaign commercials to come.
Like Lizzie Grubman, the great Keller had been “plowing through a crowd of Democrats” when he offered his unflattering portrait of Kerry, which he got from the “usually dependable Boston Globe.” But as he continued in last Saturday’s piece, he seemed to say that his portrait had been wrong. “Just plain wrong,” Kerry’s aides had said about Keller’s description of those home movies. Indeed, Kerry had run the film for Keller. Here’s what the great man observed:
KELLER: The first thing to be said is that the senator’s movies are not self-aggrandizing. Kerry is hardly in the film, and never strikes so much as a heroic pose. These are the souvenirs of a 25-year-old guy sent to an exotic place on an otherworldly mission, who bought an 8-millimeter camera in the PX and shot a few hours of travelogue, most of it pretty boring if you didn’t live through it.

According to the Swift Boat Sailors Association, a group of veterans who manned those “Apocalypse Now” riverboats in Vietnam, lots of enlisted men did the same. Senator Max Cleland has hours of film from his service in the First Air Cavalry, which he has had edited into a three-minute meet-the-senator video.

Keller seems to say that his portrait was wrong. “Kerry is hardly in the film,” he says. “The senator’s movies are not self-aggrandizing.” But great privileged classes don’t admit outright error. Keller never quite says that his portrait was wrong, and—Lord knows!—he doesn’t name or critique his fraternity brother at the Globe, whose original portrait may have led him astray.

Did John Kerry, while in Vietnam, “t[ake] out his handy 8-millimeter camera and re-enact his heroism on film?” Keller seems to say that he didn’t. But in his pair of silly pieces, he gives us a portrait of an addled press corps, gearing up for a new election. Just how hapless is the crew which now controls our public discourse? A new White House race will soon be upon us. Keller’s columns offer a worrying preview of the way they’ll be covered. More on this subject all week.

YOU’LL NEVER KNOW: Did John Kerry, while in Vietnam, “t[ake] out his handy 8-millimeter camera and re-enact his heroism on film?” Keller took his claim from a lengthy profile by Charles Sennott in the 10/6/96 Boston Globe. After describing a dangerous raid in the Mekong Delta, Sennott got to the heart of the matter:

SENNOTT: And Kerry just happens to have captured it all on film.

“I’ll show you where they shot from. See? That’s the hole covered up with reeds,” says Kerry, showing the films on a recent evening, his hand tightening on the remote control as he clicks the images down to slow motion.

“This is just something that I improvised…The point was not to just take an ambush, but to go directly at them,” adds Kerry, pointing to where he brought the boat ashore, and explaining how he returned later with a Super 8 millimeter hand-held movie camera to record highlights of the mission. “That’s me right there. One of my crew was filming all this.”

The films have the grainy quality of home movies. In their blend of the posed and the unexpected, they reveal something indelible about the man who shot them—the tall, thin, handsome Naval officer seen striding through the reeds in flak jacket and helmet, holding aloft the captured B-40 rocket. The young man so unconscious of risk in the heat of battle, yet so focused on his future ambitions that he would reenact the moment for film. It is as if he had cast himself in the sequel to the experience of his hero, John F. Kennedy, on the PT-109.

According to Sennott, Kerry was “so focused on his future ambitions that he would reenact the moment for film.” According to Keller, “Kerry is hardly in the film, and never strikes so much as a heroic pose.”

Whose account is correct? You’ll never know. Nor will you be told why any of this nonsense matters. But so it goes when your pundit corps assembles the scripts for your White House elections. More on these topics to follow.

NO PLAN TO STOP: The Washington Times doesn’t plan to stop pushing its NEA slander. Yesterday, the paper published an essay by Lisa De Pasquale of the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute. Here we go again, dear readers. Lying has become second nature in certain press corps quarters:

DE PASQUALE (9/8/02): The left-wing National Education Association recently announced that it is providing lesson plans for teachers to use in conjunction with the anniversary of September 11. The materials caution teachers to not “suggest any group is responsible” (save America itself) for the September terrorist attacks.
Even now, they keep printing these lies. And why are the De Pasquales (and the Times) so emboldened? Because they know that your mainstream pundits will stand by and say nothing. Your major pundits are extremely well-paid, and your major pundits have extremely nice lives. They don’t dirty their hands, or worry their heads, with slanders against the lower classes. From March 1999 through November 2000, they allowed the dissembling to proceed against Gore, explaining the way the last election was decided. Now they stand by, saying not a word, as these new inventions move forward. Is your public discourse turned into a joke in the process? Fairly clearly, your pundits don’t care.

Two teams are out on the field. Only one team is actually playing. Your “good guy” pundits have been bought long ago. Next week, we’ll review their well-known names so you can recall who keeps betraying you.