September 20, 2004

The Michael Moore Strategy

By: David Freddoso

My favorite professor at Columbia’s journalism school was a cantankerous middle-aged woman, formerly an editor at New York Newsday, who was fond of bellowing, “You think your mother loves you? Check it!”

It’s too bad Dan Rather didn’t consider these wise words two weeks ago, when he represented obvious Microsoft Word documents as 30-year-old records in an investigative report on 60 Minutes. The records were meant to prove that Bush, the son of a congressman, received special treatment while in the Texas Air National Guard that allowed him to leave for a mostly dormant Alabama unit and skip out of his duties as a fighter pilot.

There’s no serious argument over the memos themselves. They look absolutely nothing like hundreds of pages of records on Bush’s guard service that the White House has already released. Even the “experts” whom CBS originally relied upon abandoned them within days–some within hours–claiming they had not authenticated anything, and that their concerns about the documents were not heeded. The woman who would have typed them–an avid left-winger who thinks Bush was “selected, not elected”–has identified them as forgeries.

‘Operation Fortunate Son’

This is not to say that Bush didn’t cash in on his privileged status. Indeed, even his strongest supporters, while they may hate to admit it, have to believe this deep down in their hearts. Last week’s New York Times poll indicates that 71 percent of voters believe Bush is at least “hiding something” about his service.

But just as cops are forbidden to plant evidence on even the most obviously guilty suspects, journalists are not entitled to use fraud to prove what reasonably seems true, or to keep issues like Bush’s guard service (now in what, its ninth reincarnation?) in the headlines

When sources lie off-the-record, journalists have not an option but an obligation to expose them. This serves as a deterrent against off-the-record lies. Dan Rather now bears that obligation.

So where did the documents come from? So far, the evidence points to Democratic operatives. A former Army National Guardsman named Bill Burkett, who has a personal and passionate hatred for Bush, has been identified as their likely source.

We know from his own injudicious Internet postings that Burkett spoke with former Sen. Max Cleland (D.-Ga.), a member of Kerry’s campaign team, some time before August 21 and told him he had some kind of damaging information.

When confronted by reporters last week, Cleland recalled the conversation. “I couldn’t swear to it whether he used the term documents or information,” he told the New York Times. “It was some kind of stuff, some kind of information he wanted to get to the campaign, or something, regarding Bush’s National Guard service. I referred him up to somebody in the [Kerry] campaign . . . He sounded like he had something.”

Weeks later, the forgeries went on air. In the interventing time:

  • On September 2, John Kerry replied to Bush’s convention speech with a very out-of-place denunciation of Dick Cheney and Bush for shirking service in Vietnam. This speech made no political sense for Kerry after weeks of being pummeled by his fellow Swift Boat veterans. Did his advisors know something was coming?
  • On September 6, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe issued a statement on Bush’s National Guard records, which were not on most people’s radar screens at the time.
  • Two days later, the pro-Kerry 527 group “Texans for Truth” began an ad buy of its own on Bush’s National Guard service.
  • One day later, the Democratic National Committee officially launched “Operation Fortunate Son,” to hit Bush on his guard service. By the sound of it, this had been discussed for weeks in advance.

So there is something fishy here, and it’s not just the possible illegal coordination between the DNC and “Texans for Truth.” Democrats may have known what was coming. On top of it all, consider Dan Rather’s storied connections to Texas Democrats–he spoke at a fundraiser for them in April 2001.

But Why?

The real question, though, is not who did it, or why it didn’t work, but why they did it at all. Did anyone think that yet another attack on Bush’s guard service would work for Kerry? If anything, the controversy hurts Kerry in two ways.

First, it has eaten up two weeks of campaign coverage at a time when Kerry is trailing and needs voters to pay attention to him, not Bush. The man with the right advice for Kerry this month was Bill Clinton: start talking about jobs, health care and other staple Democratic issues. In analyzing its own poll from last week (which shows Bush up by nine points), the New York Times noted: “In one particularly troublesome sign for Mr. Kerry, a majority of voters said he was spending too much time attacking Mr. Bush and talking about the past, rather than explaining what he would do as president.” Only 38 percent said Kerry “has made it clear what he wants to accomplish in the next four years as President.”

Second, attacks on Bush’s actions 30 years ago legitimize the attacks of the Swift Boat Veterans. The Swift Vets have hurt Kerry, but up to now he has at least been able to argue (convincingly or not) that what happened in 1969 is all ancient history. By attacking Bush’s 30-year-old record, Kerry’s people have invited a Vietnam free-for-all. Expect in the coming weeks to hear from POW’s who were subjected to Kerry’s “war crimes” testimony by their Communist captors, and perhaps even some Vietnamese refugees who spent time in re-education camps or had their family members murdered by the Communist leaders with whom Kerry was cavorting in Paris during the war’s waning days.

So is this just a mistake for Kerry? Or is it suicide? Maybe neither. The Dems have found that lefties open their wallets when they run a Michael Moore-esque campaign. Therefore, Kerry and the DNC are discussing and advertising the red-meat issues of the far-left: Bush’s “desertion,” the alleged secret plans to reinstitute the draft, and Halliburton. (Yes, they are actually spending money for ads on Halliburton.)

A cynic might suggest that because scores of consultants are taking a cut of all those contributions Kerry and the DNC receive, they are in the process of looting the Left. Joe Trippi made more than $7 million running Howard Dean’s campaign in this Michael-Moore fashion. In the end, he was rich, and Dean was a loser.

Or maybe this is just a simple case of poor judgment, and there’s nothing more to it.

David Freddoso, Assistant Editor for Human Events, writes for Brainwash.