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April 1, 2004
Boston Globe Minimizes Assassination Plot

Today's Boston Globe manages to surpass other American broadsheets in covering John Kerry's association with the Phoenix Project, the assassination plot cooked up by Scott Camil and debated at the November 1971 meeting of the VVAW, where Kerry was present as one of the organization's leaders. However, as reader Pat Curley notes, the Globe tries its best to minimize the seriousness of the plot in order to limit the damage to the home-town candidate:

Senator John F. Kerry said through a spokesman this week that he has no recollection of attending a November 1971 meeting of Vietnam Veterans Against the War at which some activists discussed a plot to kill some US senators who backed the war.

Quite frankly, although Pat feels that the Globe didn't bury the lede, this is one of the weakest lead paragraphs I've read on a major news story (as opposed to human-interest stories, which have more latitude to use artistic prose). Is this news story about John Kerry's faulty memory? No; it concerns itself much more with the plot and the alleged lack of seriousness. Whether or not Kerry remembers being there is a moot point anyway; both FBI surveillance and informant reports put him at the meeting.

Kerry has long been portrayed as not being at the Kansas City, Mo., meeting because Kerry recalled quitting the organization at an acrimonious July 1971 session, four months before the November meeting at which the assassination plot was discussed.

But last week, the Kerry campaign seemed to leave open the possibility that he had attended the November session, after historian Gerald Nicosia said he had found an FBI document that he said indicated that Kerry was there. As a result of Nicosia's assertion, Kerry's campaign said in a statement that while Kerry did not remember being at the meeting, "If there are valid FBI surveillance reports from credible sources that place some of those disagreements in Kansas City, we accept that historical footnote in the account of his work to end the difficult and divisive war."

At best, this is charitable, but I would call this portion a very concerted effort to avoid stating the obvious: Kerry fudged the dates and he got caught, forcing him to backpedal. Even if a newspaper didn't want to be that blunt, the paragraph's passive voice -- Kerry has long been portrayed, the Kerry campaign seemed to leave open the possibility -- really waters down the objective fact that Kerry's campaign changed their story due to solid proof unexpectedly surfacing.

... Camil confirmed historical reports that he had suggested a vague plot aimed at prowar senators, but he said he has no recollection of seeing Kerry at the meeting. "He had nothing to do with this," Camil said. "I don't remember seeing him there."

Another person at the Kansas City session, Larry Rottmann, also said he does not remember seeing Kerry there. A third key player, Randy Barnes, who headed the Kansas City chapter that hosted the meeting, has been quoted in the media as saying Kerry was there. But in a telephone interview, Barnes said he may have confused that session with an earlier one in St. Louis and now is unsure whether Kerry attended the Kansas City function.

"Quite honestly, I am not absolutely certain that John Kerry was at that meeting," Barnes said about the Kansas City session. "A meeting occurred in St. Louis and one occurred in Kansas City. I thought the Kansas City meeting was first."

The Globe tries a bit of misdirection here, quoting Scott Camil and Randy Barnes as saying he didn't recall seeing Kerry at the meeting. However, the Globe doesn't mention that both men are or will be working on Kerry's campaign, as Thomas Lipscomb's excellent original article in the New York Sun noted:

Mr. Kerry denies being present at the November 12-15, 1971, meeting in Kansas City of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and says he quit the group before the meeting. But according to the current head of Missouri Veterans for Kerry, Randy Barnes, Mr. Kerry,who was then 27,was at the meeting, voted against the plot, and then orally resigned from the organization. ...

In a phone interview with the Sun this week, Mr. Camil did not dispute either the account in the Nicosia book or in the oral history.He said he plans to accept an offer by the Florida Kerry organization to become active in Mr. Kerrys presidential campaign [bold emphasis mine].

The Globe manages to find one other former VVAW member, Rottmann, who doesn't recall seeing Kerry there -- but again, what does that matter if contemporaneous reports and other witnesses place him there? It seems that this article wants to go back and forth between memory loss on one hand, and crystal-clear recollection from the same people insisting that Camil wasn't really serious when he asked several people at the meeting to become assassins for his plot.

Overall, one cheer to the Globe for even mentioning the Phoenix Plot, joining CNN as the only mainstream media outlets to do so. However, their deceptive couching of the circumstances, burying of their witnesses' connections to the Kerry campaign, and just plain poor writing demonstrates the effort that the Globe put into discrediting Lipscomb and Gerald Nicosia.

(cross-posted at Oh, That Liberal Media)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 1, 2004 7:03 PM

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