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Trust, But Verify

John Kerry's Form 180 and what the Old Media still haven't learned.

12:00 AM, Jun 14, 2005 • By DEAN BARNETT
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DURING THE MOST RECENT PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, various antagonists repeatedly urged John Kerry to sign a Standard Form 180; by signing Form 180, Kerry would have released the entirety of his military records for public consumption. The senator stubbornly refused these pleas. (Actually he "stubbornly refused" in a uniquely Kerry-esque manner. While he kept promising to sign the form and get the information out there, he never quite managed to do so.)

During Kerry's appearance on Meet the Press almost four months ago, Tim Russert once again broached the issue of Kerry signing a Form 180. As he did during the campaign, Kerry promised to sign the form and then spent the ensuing 100+ days taking no action on that front.

But last week finally brought deliverance for those anxious to exhume the carcass of Kerry's political career. According to the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, Kerry signed a Form 180 and his precious military records were issued to them and them alone. Since the released records revealed no new information (other than the fact that Kerry had been something of a dullard during his time at Yale), one would have thought the issue would be closed. In actuality, the interesting dimensions of the story were just beginning to reveal themselves.

IN ORDER TO FOLLOW THIS TALE, it's important to be familiar with some of the minutiae surrounding Form 180.

First, there's the matter of logistics. When one signs a Form 180, he specifies the party or parties to whom the documents will be released. In Kerry's case, the specified parties were apparently the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times, two newspapers not known for their hostility towards liberal politicians. Other than the parties you specify on your Form 180, no one else gets the records.

Next, there's the issue of completeness. One can sign a Form 180, but doing so doesn't necessarily mean that you intend to have all of your military records released. If you follow the link and look at an actual Form 180, you'll see an entry for "other information and/or documents requested." Below this point, a veteran can limit the information request in any way he sees fit.

So, did Kerry limit the scope of his release? As if answering those who might be inclined to cynicism about their story, the Boston Globe was rather unambiguous in characterizing Kerry's request. Reporter Michael Kranish's story put it this way: "On May 20, Kerry signed a document called Standard Form 180, authorizing the Navy to send an 'undeleted' copy of his 'complete military service record and medical record' to the Globe."

Assuming one trusted the Globe and its reporter implicitly, such strong language would have settled any questions regarding the nature of Kerry's Form 180 execution. As Kranish repeatedly put it during our brief interview, "My story speaks for itself."

After poring through Kerry's records, Kranish's sole piece of new news was the relatively trivial fact that the putatively intellectual senator had a college transcript one would more readily expect from an SEC offensive lineman. But given the charges that various antagonists had lobbed at the senator during and after the campaign, the scoop on Kerry's grades had to be a disappointment for his foes. They had hoped that his full military records would show a chronicle of embarrassments including medals that weren't fully earned, or perhaps even a dishonorable discharge from the Navy because of his meeting with delegates from North Vietnam at the Paris Peace Talks in 1971.

STILL THERE REMAINS AN IMPORTANT QUESTION: Should we trust the Globe and the Times? Both papers are asking their readers to take their word regarding the precise nature of Kerry's Form 180. Had they the inclination, of course, the papers could easily allay any suspicions regarding the nature of Kerry's Form 180 by publishing a reproduction of it or linking to a PDF of it on their respective websites. Members of both the old media and the new media have suggested as much.

The fact that the papers eschewed these options is curious. After all, when the Globe ran a front -page story on the enormous cost of parking at Fenway Park, the paper saw fit to publish a reproduction of its photographer's receipt which proved that he did in fact pay $100 to park his car for the Opening Day festivities.