Oh, Man, More Hard Work?

This morning’s New York Times bashes the cable news networks for breathing renewed life into the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth controversy. But if CNN and/or Fox deserves the gold, then the newsweeklies finished in a close second with the silver.

Much like a USA Today piece from August 9, Time lays out the SBVT case charge-by-charge, followed by the relevant evidence. But, while it does sort out thefacts, charges and countercharges, the magazine fails to take the next step by assessing the veracity of the claims in its own voice (as last week’s Los Angeles Times did). Showing, alas, that a publication that comes out just once a week can shortchange readers with he said/she said/we’re mum journalism just as easily as a 24-hour news network with dozens of deadlines a day.

The conservative Weekly Standard is all over the new SBVFT folklore, treating its readers to three pieces authored by a trio of its all-stars — Fred Barnes, William Kristol, and Matthew Continetti. Barnes reaches into the goody bag and picks out a history lesson from post-Civil War America in which candidates used a tactic now copied by Kerry called “waving the bloody flag.” Barnes writes, “In those days, presidential nominees didn’t campaign personally. But Republicans urged people to ‘vote the way you shot.’” Writing in an editorial, Kristol pins the tail on the McGovernite, labeling Kerry, “a creature of the anti-Vietnam war movement.” Continetti takes a trip down memory lane to Christmas 1968, reporting on the only SBVFT claim that that may stand on its two feet — that Kerry did not spend Christmas 1968 in Cambodia as he claimed to have done. In 3,000-plus words Continetti deciphers the Kerry campaign’s non-concession concession that Kerry had previously hyperbolized his experiences on that day.

Newsweek takes a limited shot at fleshing out truth from fiction, and asserts, “An examination of one key incident — Kerry’s rescue of a comrade — tends to support Kerry’s version of events, though questions remain. Official military records certainly back Kerry, but medal citations are known for making combat seem more glorious than it usually is.” Yet Campaign Desk can’t help but wonder why Newsweek, which, like Time, had all of last week to work on the story, begs off examining any more than one small incident.

Even more puzzling is its “Dang ! This is hard work, this reporting stuff!” sign-off. To wit: “Trying to figure out whether any of these attacks are, in fact, coordinated by the campaigns may be as difficult as sorting out what really happened on the waterways of the Mekong Delta in the Vietnam War.” And with Bible talk and Fall sneak peeks to attend to, Newsweek apparently isn’t going to do it for you.

The Economist and New Republic managed to turn out issues that are SBVFT-free. Apparently, last week, Bush announced some plan to radically change the foreign deployment of U.S. armed forces. The Economist leads with the plan’s relevance to the campaign debate, but quickly moves on to greater questions of American security, pegging the plans effectiveness on “a lot of bi-partisan co-operation — a tall order in any year, with or without an election.” The New Republic’s Spencer Ackerman breaks down why America’s last action hero, Gen. Tommy Franks, is a liability on the Bush campaign trail, writing that, “Franks is a symbol of [the post-war Afghanistan and Iraq] failures as much as he is a symbol of the initial military successes that preceded them.”

And, finally, The New Yorker takes a scalpel to the voter’s brain in search of the answer to the eternal question — What makes a citizen vote for Candidate A over Candidate B? Louis Menand examines everything from the color of campaign buttons to the most commonly known fact about George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election (he hated broccoli), before concluding, “For most people, voting may be more meaningful and more understandable as a social act than as a political act. That it is hard to persuade some people with ideological arguments does not mean that those people cannot be persuaded, but the things that help to convince them are likely to make ideologues sick — things like which candidate is more optimistic.”

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.