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Chicago Trib. Investigation: Kirk Can't Recall Every Detail from 1976 Incident

4:50 PM, Jul 23, 2010 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The Chicago Tribune ran a positively earth-shaking expose on the front page today, proving that Illinois Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk does not perfectly recall events that happened over three decades ago.

Chicago Trib. Investigation: Kirk Can't Recall Every Detail from 1976 Incident

Kirk apparently has long told a story about how he decided to enter public service after he nearly drowned in Lake Michigan one day in 1976. He had to be rescued by the Coast Guard and was treated for hypothermia. When he first ran for office in 2000, Kirk told the Chicago Tribune that “I should be at the bottom of the lake.” “And to be given a second chance means it has to mean something. For me, that means making a difference through public service, and it all comes from the lake,” Kirk went on.

The Chicago Tribune smelled a rat, and tasked not one but two of its political reporters to dig into Kirk's story. Here's what they found:

1. Kirk incorrectly claimed that his accident happened in the evening instead of the afternoon.

2. Experts who were not there question what Kirk's body temperature was when he was rescued.

3. Kirk may have incorrectly remembered the distance he swam after he lost his glasses in the water.

Shocking, right? Unfortunately the reporters had to stick to flimsy inconsistencies because the basic facts of the case are indisputable. The Tribune even acknowledges,

Basic elements of Kirk's story are not in dispute. He did capsize his boat, was pulled from the water by the Coast Guard and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. He said any inconsistencies in news accounts or his own words are minor and do not diminish the significance of the traumatic, life-changing experience.

The local paper ran a story two days after Kirk’s accident in 1976, confirming all of the basic facts. So why run the piece? The authors explain: "The Tribune examined the boating story in light of Kirk's acknowledgment that he overstated his military career." Anything to keep attention on Kirk's one big gaffe.


But even some of the minor inconsistencies the Tribune did find are in dispute. The Kirk campaign provided the Chicago Tribune with two statements, one from Kirk's friend who was in the boat with Kirk for part of the day, and later visited him in the hospital, and another from Kirk's mother who was with him in the hospital.

Kirk’s friend, Dr. Bill Hartel, states that he visited Kirk at the hospital roughly an hour after Kirk was brought in, and that Kirk's body temperature at the time was around 89 degrees. The Tribune omitted Dr. Hartel's statement from its article entirely. Apparently third-party confirmation that Kirk’s body temperature was still in the 80s more than an hour after rescue doesn't warrant mention. The statement from Kirk’s mother, which also states that Kirk’s body temperature was in the 80s, is mentioned only in passing.

Kirk may have brought this scrutiny upon himself by misrepresenting his military record, but if the Tribune is going to report on something this tedious, shouldn't they be looking more into Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias’s loans to mobsters? Or to Tony Rezko? The findings of such investigations would at least be newsworthy.

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