Yet another book came out yesterday critical of John Kerry’s Vietnam service and calling into question the circumstances surrounding the Massachusetts senator’s three Purple Hearts, on the basis that “none was for serious injuries and two wounds were self-inflicted,” according to the Associated Press. This sort of accusation is nothing new. Back in April Campaign Desk tackled this issue. The problem is not that news outlets report such claims, but that they often do so without providing relevant facts for readers to assess the truth of such incendiary charges.

In this case, the Associated Press fails to inform its readers that the severity of an injury in battle has no bearing on whether a soldier or sailor receives a Purple Heart. A wound is a wound. As we wrote in April, “Paragraph 4 of the ‘Purple Heart Criteria for U.S. Navy’ states that ‘a wound is defined as an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent sustained under one or more of the conditions listed in paragraph 2 [in 1968, those were: in action against the enemy, or as a result of action by ‘any hostile foreign force’]. A physical lesion is not required; however, the wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer.”

The second charge — that the wounds were self-inflicted — would indeed have disqualified Kerry for a Purple Heart, according to Paragraph 4. But there is no official report extant from the time indicating that Kerry’s wounds were self-inflicted; that charge rests on the disputed accounts of other veterans. (As an aside, we can’t help but note that if Kerry did indeed go around wounding himself during the war, he was lucky indeed to get out alive.)

But we digress. The question at hand is: How difficult would it be for AP to dig up those two simple facts? And the answer, alas, is, too difficult, it appears.

And that, in a season of unsubstantiated charges and wild counter charges, is why it becomes an increasingly dubious proposition to rely on the once-dependable wire service.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.