BORA BORA BORA! As usual, Russert made a bogus attack. And as usual, Bob Kerrey didnt know it:
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2004
PART 4A STILL TOMORROW: We still plan to bring you closing remarks of your Big Major Press Corps Scribes. (Meanwhile, if its mordant humor that you enjoy, do not miss Chris Wallace on last Sundays Booknotes!) For today, though, lets review a closing episode as a certain Nantucket Squire seemed to dive-bomb Candidate Kerry. He seemed to yell, Bora Bora Bora!!
BORA BORA BORA: When Russert says it, we swing into action, assuming that its most likely wrong. And on Sundays Meet the Press, it happened again! Russert hit Dem spokesman Bob Kerrey with a familiar charge from the late campaign. After the bin Laden tape appeared last Friday, John Kerry had criticized Bush again, saying he had allowed bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora. But was Kerry playing fair? Or was he just talkin smack? At the outset of his Meet the Press session with Bob Kerrey, Russert tossed his grenade:
RUSSERT (10/31/04): In December of '01, Senator, John Kerry was on CNN after Tora Bora. He was being asked about this [bin Ladens escape from Tora Bora]. He said, I think our guys are doing a superb job. I think they've been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well. We're on the right track. Why the change? Politics?Russerts insinuation was obvious. John Kerry had appeared on CNN after Tora Bora—and he had praised the way the operation was run! Bob Kerrey gave a weak, evasive reply (text below). So Russert jumped him again:
RUSSERT: But it was after Tora Bora and he seemed to be praising them back then and now hes—Bob Kerrey interrupted and evaded again. Viewers had heard Russert say it two times: Even after Tora Bora, John Kerry had praised the operation—but now he was saying something different. And two separate times, they had seen Kerrys spokesman interrupt, hem and haw, and evade.
But Russert was wrong on his facts, as usual—and as usual, Kerrys spokesman showed no sign of knowing it. This incident offers Dems one way (out of many ways) to examine the 2004 race.
Is it true, this claim we heard again and again in the campaigns closing weeks? Did John Kerry go on Larry King after Tora Bora and praise the way the campaign there had been conducted? Actually, no—Kerry did no such thing; Russerts statement on Sunday was plainly inaccurate. John Kerrys Larry King appearance was on December 14, 2001. But guess what? This was not after Tora Bora—the operation there was still underway. Indeed, on the front page of that mornings New York Times, John Kifner discussed the ongoing manhunt. His story ran beneath a hopeful headline: ALLIED FORCES SAY THEY'VE CORNERED OSAMA BIN LADEN:
KIFNER (12/14/04): American-backed forces believe that they have surrounded Osama bin Laden and the last of his hard-core fighters in a complex of caves between two valleys just south of here, a senior American military official said tonight.That was the Times front-page report on December 14. That night, Kerry made his appearance on Larry King, where he offered general statements in response to general questions about events in Afghanistan (text below). The following morning, Kifner continued his page-one reporting about the Tora Bora campaign:
KIFNER (12/15/01): American and British commandos, operating behind a screen of local Afghan fighters, had the last remnants of Osama bin Laden's followers—and perhaps the terrorist mastermind himself—cornered here this morning in a narrow stretch of a ridge line, canyons and caves high in the White Mountains.Was bin Laden among the surrounded forces? Tommy Franks wasnt sure, but was hopeful:
KIFNER (12/15/01): General Franks said the fierceness of the battle near Tora Bora provided one indication that Al Qaeda forces might be shielding Mr. bin Laden.That was the Times front page the morning after Kerrys appearance. American officials have gleaned other snippets of intelligence suggesting that Mr. bin Laden remains holed up in a steadily shrinking region south of Tora Bora, Eric Schmitt wrote in a separate article that day. After listing three signs that bin Laden was present, Schmitt quoted a senior military officer about the likelihood that bin Laden was cornered. No single one of these things would be enough, but put all three together and you pay close attention, the unnamed honcho said.
So Russert was wrong on his facts, as usual, when he lectured Bob Kerrey this Sunday. Indeed, on December 16, 2001—two days after John Kerrys appearance on Larry King—the New York Times continued reporting indications that bin Laden had been surrounded. Here was the start of James Risens report:
RISEN (12/16/04): The United States has intercepted radio communications in recent days that officials said appeared to record Osama bin Laden giving orders to Al Qaeda troops in the mountainous region around Tora Bora, where Afghan and American soldiers are engaged in fierce combat with the enemy.Again, that was the New York Times two days after Kerrys appearance. In fact, it wasnt until Monday, December 17 that the Times reported bin Ladens possible escape. Three days after Kerrys appearance, the bad news finally hit page one. Prepare for a Russert-ripe irony:
KIFNER (12/17/04): American officials said today that Al Qaeda had been effectively destroyed in Afghanistan, and Afghan commanders here declared victory in the fierce battle for the mountain stronghold of Osama bin Laden's organization. But neither Americans nor Afghans said they knew where Mr. bin Laden was...Omigod! Powell spilled the bad news on Meet the Press—two days after Kerrys appearance on Larry King Live. But even then, Kifners quote was somewhat selective—and Powell remained hopeful that bin Laden might be surrounded. What did Powell tell Russert that day? With respect to Osama bin Laden, we have no reason to believe that he has either been killed or captured yet, of course, and we don't know where he is at this moment. He might still be in that area that the Eastern Alliance forces are closing in on, or he might be somewhere else. We don't know. In short, two days after Kerrys appearance on Larry King, Powell told Russert, right there on his very own show, that bin Laden might still be surrounded. But so what? Three years later, Russert said that Kerrys comments came after Tora Bora, and he criticized Kerry for having failed to trash the operation— an operation that hadnt yet come undone.
Yep! This past Sunday, Russerts memory failed him again. Of course, its always odd to see Russert butcher the facts in this way because of his own incessant bragging about his journalistic brilliance and his brilliant good character. Readers may remember Big Russ & Me, Russerts best-selling testimonial to his own remarkable character. In it, the Nantucket Squire was careful to note that—just like any Boy Scout from Buffalo—he is always prepared:
RUSSERT (page 147): [T]he key to success is preparation. In journalism, its absolutely critical. Like everyone else, I have days when things go well, and days when they dont. But one mistake I have never made is to show up unprepared for an interview.Huh! So Russert must have known the time-line of Kerrys remarks. He simply pretended that he didnt!
Yes, Russerts campaign-closing performance gives us one way to ponder this race. But when Dems review this pungent episode, they might want to question the Kerry campaign as well as the Nantucket Nabob. John Kerry appeared on Larry King Live on December 14, 2001. Plainly, this was not after Tora Bora—and spokesman Bob Kerry plainly didnt know it. We puzzled for months at the Kerry campaigns inability to rebut various charges. Bob Kerreys evasive remarks offer Dems one way to review this campaign, a campaign which now seems to be lost.
WHAT KERRY SAID: Did Kerry appear with King after Tora Bora, as Russert claimed this Sunday? On the 12/13/01 Larry King Live, CNNs Brent Sadler reported in live, right from the scene in Tora Bora. Bin Laden himself, is he up here? the correspondent rhetorically asked. Well, they are still believing he is, but there is no visual evidence of that, of course, as yet—Larry. One night later, Kerry appeared on the show—and it would still be 36 hours before Powell announced bin Ladens possible escape. Indeed, the words Tora Bora were never spoken this night. Here is Kerrrys first statement on the show—the statement for which Russert later smoked him:
KING (12/14/01): We are going to talk about war at the end of this week. We are learning a lot more about it. We seem to, every few years or so, get into one. We are in another one now on two fronts.Incredibly, thats the quote which Russert used in his question to Bob Kerrey (see above). Kings question concerned Afghanistan in general, not Tora Bora, and our major papers would keep reporting, for several more days, that bin Laden was probably there. But so what? Russert—the man is always prepared—pimped this pointless quote to Bob Kerrey. And Bob Kerrey, unprepared, evaded it hard (text below).
What else did John Kerry say this night? As Larry King Live continued, a caller posed a question about bin Laden. But he didnt question bin Ladens escape. Like everyone else, he seemed to assume that bin Laden would soon be captured:
KING (12/14/01): OK, Pikeville, Kentucky for our heroes—hello.We dont understand that first paragraph either. But when Kerry appeared on Larry King Live, people assumed that bin Laden was about to be captured. The next call produced another statement for which Kerry has been specifically criticized:
KING (12/14/01): Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania—hello.When Kerry said what we are doing is the best way to protect our troops, the question was flame-throwers v. non-flame-throwers, not U.S. troops v. Afghan warlords. I think Senator Kerry is right on the mark, Cunningham said (Tom Cruise may have played him in Top Gun). To use a flame-thrower, you've got to get right into the area close in. Meanwhile, Joulwan seemed to assume we were talking about U.S. troops going into those tunnels. The issue of the use of surrogates wouldnt arise for some time.
So no, it wasnt after Tora Bora when Kerry appeared on Larry King Live. But so what? Tim Russert—hes always supremely prepared—went ahead and yelled Bora Bora Bora, even though, according to his own prior boasting, he must have known that his statement was bogus. Russert, of course, has done this for years. But why wasnt Bob Kerrey prepared to tell voters what the Island Squire wouldnt?
BOB KERREY, UNPREPARED: Here is the full exchange between Russert and Bob Kerrey. Dems should wonder how their spokesman could have been so woefully unprepared:
RUSSERT (10/31/04): In December of '01, Senator, John Kerry was on CNN after Tora Bora. He was being asked about this. He said, "I think our guys are doing a superb job. I think they've been smart. I think the administration leadership has done it well. We're on the right track." Why the change? Politics?Kerrey showed no sign of knowing that Russerts basic premise was false. But then, if youre a Democrat and youve followed this race, you probably know theres nothing new about that.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For a guy who admits that hes always prepared, Russert makes an amazing amount of mistakes. And its amazing how often he forgets the things that happened right on his own program! Four years ago, for example, Russert kept saying that Candidate Gore was suspected of committing a crime—although hed been told precisely the opposite, right there on his very own program! Weird, isnt it? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/04, to see the way the flawless Squire made a joke of your prior election.