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Look What Kitty Dragged In

How did one of Kitty Kelley's sources end up in a Nicholas Kristof column?

4:32 PM, Sep 15, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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WHAT DO New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof and tabloid biographer Kitty Kelley have in common? They share a source.

Not that Kristof admits it, of course. In his September 15 column, the Pulitzer Prize winner tells the dramatic story of Yoshi Tsurumi, who taught President Bush at Harvard Business school. What you won't find in the column is any mention of the fact that Kitty Kelley broke the Tsurumi story in her new book, The Family.

Here is Kristof:

One fall day in 1973, when Mr. Bush was a new student at Harvard Business School, he was wearing a Guard jacket when he ran into one of his professors. The professor, Yoshi Tsurumi, says he asked Mr. Bush how he wrangled a spot in the Guard.

According to Tsurumi, the young Bush told all. "He said his daddy had good friends who got him in despite the long waiting list," Tsurumi told Kristof. "He said he'd gotten an early honorable discharge," Tsurumi went on. "I said, 'How did you manage that?' He said, oh, his daddy had a good friend . . . Then we started talking about the Vietnam War. He was all for fighting it."

And apparently Bush enjoyed confiding in his business school professor:

Professor Tsurumi says he remembers Mr. Bush so vividly because he was always making outrageous statements: denouncing the New Deal as socialist, calling the S.E.C. an impediment to business, referring to the civil rights movement as ''socialist/communist'' and declaring that ''people are poor because they're lazy."

TSURUMI IS AN EXPERT on the Japanese economy, a professor at Baruch College, a frequent media commentator on Japan, and an oft-published writer of letters to the editor of the New York Times. Also, he figures heavily in those passages of Kitty Kelley's The Family that deal with Bush at Harvard. Turn to page 308, for example, and you read the story Kristof recycles in his Wednesday column, told at greater length, and with many more flourishes. "I once asked him how he ever got accepted [to the Guard] in the first place," Tsurumi told Kelley. "He said, 'I had lots of help.' I laughed, and then inquired about his military service. He said he had been in the Texas National Guard. I said he was very lucky not to have had to go to Vietnam. He said, 'My dad fixed it so that I got into the Guard. I got an early discharge to come here.'"

Charming, no?

Read on, and you find another Tsurumi story, which is equally charming, and which also appears in Kristof's September 15 column:

During his first year George came to the attention of Yoshi Tsurumi when the macroeconomics professor announced his plan to show the filmThe Grapes of Wrath, based on John Steinbeck's book about the Great Depression. 'I wanted to give the class a visual reference for poverty and a sense of historical empathy,' Tsurumi explained. 'George Bush came up to me and said, 'Why are you going to show us that Commie movie?'

'I laughed because I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. After we viewed the film, I called on him to discuss the Depression and how we he thought it affected people. He said, 'Look. People are poor because they are lazy.' A number of the students pounced on him and demanded he support his statement with facts and statistics. He quickly backed down because he could not sustain his broadside.'

Judging by the Nexis database, Tsurumi's paper trail stretches back some 20 years. Yet he did not recall any of these stories publicly until March 2004, when he told the alternative Seattle Weekly, "I still vividly remember [Bush] . . . He was opposed to labor unions, Social Security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools." After the Seattle Weekly interview, Tsurumi lapsed back into silence, only to emerge last Thursday on CNN as part of The Family's public-relations blitz. The next day Tsurumi was written up in the New York Daily News. On September 14, Kitty Kelley mentioned Tsurumi on the Today Show. Then came the Kristof column, which appeared, of course, in the nation's paper of record.

Tsurumi's charges--Bush "was opposed to" public schools?--are just the sort of hearsay you'd expect to find in a Kitty Kelley book. For example, one review this week said The Family is a "snarky exercise in gossip." Which review? The one that appeared in the New York Times.

Matthew Continetti is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.