The Magazine

Never Apologize, Never Explain

From the November 1 / November 8, 2004 issue: John Kerry's real record as an antiwar activist.

Nov 1, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 08 • By JOSHUA MURAVCHIK
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JOHN KERRY SAYS HE IS "PROUD" of his activities in opposition to the Vietnam War. Why, then, have he and his spokesmen consistently misrepresented them? Indeed the Kerry camp has been so effective in obscuring this history that both the New York Times and the Washington Post were forced to run corrections on the subject recently because their reporters relied on misinformation that the Kerry camp had succeeded in putting into wide circulation.

When the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth unveiled the fourth in their series of television ads--this one accusing Kerry of having "secretly met with the enemy" in Paris--both papers went into full debunking mode. The Post ran 600 words under the headline: "Ad Says Kerry 'Secretly' Met With Enemy; But He Told Congress of It." The story explained that the Swifties were "referring to a meeting Kerry had in early 1971 with leaders of the communist delegation that was negotiating with U.S. representatives at the Paris peace talks. The meeting, however, was not a secret. Kerry . . . mentioned it in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April of that year."

The next morning the Post ran a correction. The previous day's story, it noted, "incorrectly said that John F. Kerry met with a Vietnamese communist delegation in Paris in 1971. The meeting was in 1970." The correction did not acknowledge, however, that this apparently minor error invalidated the entire point of the Post's impeachment of the Swifties' ad. Kerry's visit to Paris took place in or around May 1970, eleven months before his Foreign Relations Committee testimony. In other words, his meeting with the Communists (while he was still a reserve officer in the U.S. Navy) appears to have been kept secret for nearly a year.

In downplaying Kerry's meetings with the Communists, campaign spokesmen have deliberately sown the impression that Kerry was in Paris on his honeymoon, a story that has been repeated in the press and on the Internet. The Boston Globe reported: "After their May 1970 marriage, Kerry traveled to Paris with his wife, Julia Thorne, on a private trip, [Kerry spokesman Michael] Meehan said." But various biographies agree that Kerry and his bride honeymooned in Jamaica, an ocean away. The exact dates of their trip to Paris have not been established: It came just after or before or even in the midst of this honeymoon, and the trip seems to have been made expressly for the purpose of meeting with the Communists, although Meehan denies this.

Almost immediately upon returning from his discussions with Communist leaders (and perhaps at their suggestion), Kerry joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. (Over the previous months he had garnered attention by speaking out against the war but had operated independently.) He was immediately appointed to the group's executive committee by its director, Al Hubbard, a radical affiliated with the Black Panther party. From then on, Kerry twinned with Hubbard as the organization's principal spokesmen.

One thing that may have contributed to the Post's confusion about the year was that Kerry did go to Paris to meet the Communists in 1971, some time during the summer, probably in August. But this was a second trip, and Kerry's advocates have done their best to veil the fact that there was more than one trip. Indeed, FBI files reveal that Kerry planned a third such trip together with Hubbard for November of that year. But, as it turned out, Hubbard went without Kerry, perhaps because the two had by then fallen out over revelations that Hubbard's repeated claims to have been an officer and a Vietnam vet were fabricated. (He had been an enlisted man and had never been in Vietnam.) The fact that there was a second and a planned third trip exclusively to meet with the Communists strengthens the inference that this was also the nature of the first trip, despite Meehan's denials.

The correction that the New York Times ran also stemmed from the Swifties' ad. It had to do not with the date of Kerry's visit to Paris but with the identity of his interlocutors there. "In another broadside against Mr. Kerry," the paper had reported, "the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose past accusations have frequently been unsubstantiated, says in a new commercial that Mr. Kerry went to Paris in the 1970s and 'secretly met with the enemy.'" Then the Times rejoined: "Mr. Kerry testified shortly thereafter that he had met with both sides at the Vietnam peace talks to discuss the status of prisoners of war." In a follow-up two days later, the paper repeated this account.