The Real “Nuisance?� Interviews Like This.

On CNN’s “Live From” broadcast today, anchor Miles O’Brien, talking to Democratic strategist Morris Reid, alluded to John Kerry’s recent “New Yorker interview, where he referred to terrorism as something akin to a nuisance, a matter for law enforcement.”

Kerry “was widely criticized for saying that,” according to O’Brien. He went on to ask Reid: “Why was he criticized? Is that a poor choice of words and does that fall flat among voters, saying this terrorism is a nuisance?”

There are so many things wrong here that it’s hard to know where to start. First, the interview was with the New York Times Magazine, not The New Yorker. (But hey, it’s hard to keep all those New Yorky-sounding magazines straight.)

Second, Kerry’s comments weren’t “widely criticized.” They were criticized by the Bush campaign and its surrogates, who latched onto the now-notorious N Word to help make the case that Kerry isn’t committed to fighting terrorism.

Third, and most important, Kerry never referred to terrorism as a nuisance. To the contrary, what he said was that his goal is to weaken terrorism to the point that it becomes little more than a nuisance. Here is what he told the Times Magazine:

”We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance. As a former law-enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”

Reid, the clueless Democratic strategist, didn’t correct O’Brien. He simply agreed that this had been a “terrible choice of words.”

There’s room for disagreement with Kerry’s stance: Some argue that we should aim to eradicate terrorism entirely, rather than settling for a mere reduction in attacks. But before we can have that debate, we need to be clear on what Kerry actually said.

We expect candidates to simplify, distort and twist each other’s words. Call us eternal optimists, but we expect more than that from CNN.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.