blogenlust
11.07.2004

Sitting on Stories


I was watching The Chris Matthews Show this morning and he had on Evan Thomas, a Newsweek reporter who just published a very long and informative inside piece on each of the candidates' campaign. Matthews pointed out that Kerry's now infamous statement that he "voted for the $87 Billion before he voted against it" was actually a Republican set up. Here is what Thomas wrote:
In the third week of March, the BC04 team learned, Kerry was headed to West Virginia to talk about national security. The Mountain State was a critical swing state, full of veterans who could go either way. (By summer Bush was spending so much time there, his advisers were joking that their unofficial slogan was "If it's Sunday, it's West Virginia!") On Monday, March 15, McKinnon repaired to his ad shop, Maverick Media, to crank out a spot that would air on the West Virginia airwaves just in time to greet Kerry. In the ad, a grave baritone voice intones, "Mr. Kerry?" calling on the senator to cast his vote for or against more funding for the troops in Iraq. Kerry appears to vote no again and again (in fact, it was a single vote). At 7 the next morning the ad was digitally whisked to West Virginia, where it began playing on local TV. That noon, when Kerry addressed a veterans group in West Virginia, a heckler kept demanding to know why he had voted against more funding for the troops. In his considered but long-winded fashion, Kerry tried to explain that he had wanted to vote for the funding, but only if the Senate passed an amendment that would whittle down President Bush's earlier tax cut for the rich. Kerry voted for the amendment, but when it failed, he voted against the funding. The heckler pressed, and Kerry, losing patience, fell into senatorial procedural shorthand. "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," he said. At Bush-Cheney headquarters, Joe Kildae, a 25-year-old campaign intern who monitored the war room (and never seemed to sleep), was watching. In his cubicle he kept three televisions and a battery of TiVos and VCRs. As soon as he saw Kerry make his remark on Fox News, he stood up in his cubicle and caught the eye of his boss, Steve Schmidt. Schmidt had seen the clip, too. The two men nodded at each other. Kildae thought to himself: "We're going to be seeing this a lot." He immediately hit pause on his digital recorder, wound the clip back and copied it to tape. Using a program called TVEyes, he pulled up an instant rough transcript. He e-mailed the transcript of Kerry's "flip-flopping" to an "alert list" of top aides, who could then click on a link to see the video. "You gotta see this," Kildae told campaign communications adviser Terry Holt. "Oh, my God," Holt replied. "You have to send that to me on my BlackBerry." The video of Kerry's shooting himself in the foot flew around Bush-Cheney headquarters and, very soon, into the hungry ether beyond.
Now, on the program this morning they made it pretty clear that the heckler was planted by the local Republicans, and Matthews went on to congratulate Thomas for his reporting of the story. My question is why is this something that comes out after the election? Wouldn't that have changed the way people understood Kerry's comment in a fundamental manner? I would think so. Of course, this isn't necessarily a partisan complaint. These types of things can go both ways. But what is the responsibility of the media if not to give us the whole story? Why did Matthews congratulate Thomas for telling us important information only after it became important? In effect, Thomas took a story with possibly serious implications for the campaign and turned it into a cute anecdote about the effectiveness and skill of the Republican spin machine (which, of course, deserves praise but in this instance I think it needs to be presented in the proper context). It is hard to say what type of implications the real story would have had on the election. It probably would have been marginal, at best. My biggest problem is not getting the story when it was a story.