The ever-reliable NewsMax (hah!) ran a story today that my friends on the right just can’t resist — that John Kerry, in the middle of a presidential campaign, with every major media outlet haunting each step, on a day honoring fallen American soldiers, flipped the bird to a protesting veteran:
Democratic senator – and certain presidential nominee – John F. Kerry gave the middle finger to a Vietnam veteran at the Vietnam Memorial Wall on Memorial Day morning, NewsMax.com has learned. … Just then Kerry – in front of the school children, other visitors and Secret Service agents – brazenly ‘flashed the bird’ at Sampley and then yelled out to everyone, “Sampley is a felon!”
Look, as anyone who reads my blog knows, I am no fan of the most liberal Massachussetts Senator. I think he’s dangerously vacillating, pompous, and narcissistic. But he’s no idiot, and the last thing John Kerry is going to do is to provide some enterprising photographer with an opportunity to catch him demonstrating his grasp of French.
Not only do I not believe it based on my knowledge of Kerry’s campaign experience, I also disregard it based on the news outlet — NewsMax is to politics as Weekly World News is to science — but also on its hysterical, atonal delivery, as well as its source, former Congressman John Leboutillier, a right-wing crank regularly published on NewsMax. Was Leboutillier there? The article leads with him as the source but he never mentions who supposedly reported the rude gesture. It has all the hallmarks of an urban legend. (“He did it in front of kids! We have to protect the children from a Kerry presidency!“)
However, according to Technorati and Memeorandum, several bloggers have already linked to this “story”, including some I read frequently. Why? For those of us convinced of Kerry’s unsuitability for the Presidency, does unsubstantiated NewsMax gossip really add anything to our understanding of John Kerry? All it does is undermine the legitimacy of their arguments opposing Kerry by diluting it with nonsense, an incident that would be so far out of character for the droning and dull Senator that it might actually convince some that he’s developed a personality.
At least this story only involves Kerry and Sampley and not innocent victims (except “the children”). In a related twist, Alexandra Polier writes a compelling and sympathetic article in the New Yorker relating to the last breathless and unsubstantiated Kerry rumor. Polier, you may recall, is the young woman who the Sun alleged had an affair with John Kerry after Drudge broke the bimbo eruption without naming the paramour. The media chased her down in Kenya, got quotes from her parents by deception, and in general embarrassed themselves and us.
Bloggers obsessed on this story, including some (again) that I read on a regular basis. After all, the media provided the coverage, and it’s no secret that we have a strong symbiotic relationship to the major news outlets. At the time, I wrote this:
I’ve seen just enough of the details to see that none of this applies to Kerry, and anyone who pursues this as an election strategy will find themselves covered in the muck almost as much as Kerry, including Drudge and any other news sources. It’s silly, it’s pointless, and it will only serve to generate sympathy for Kerry in the long run. (See Bill Clinton and Gary Hart.) Let’s bury this garbage and focus on the issues.
And that was me assuming the story was true. Of course, it turned out to be entirely false, based on nothing except innuendo, circumstance (Polier dated a member of Kerry’s campaign team for a brief time), and probably something significantly more malevolent; Polier explores some possible origins of the scandal, most convincingly Chris Lehane. In the end, Kerry wound up the least damaged of all. Polier lost her reputation and her privacy, and like it or not, those of us who dabbled in the schadenfreude of the story lost a piece of our credibility.
Perhaps we all live a little too close to this contest, me included, so that the attraction of such a slam-dunk moment like Kerry flipping a bird at a Vietnam vet in the midst of schoolchildren sounds too good to be too good to be true. In the one alleged gesture, all the tumblers click and we grasp the opportunity to portray the man as we see him; to us, it’s true whether it really happened or not. When it’s that easy, that’s when we should take the most care not to overreach.