Where Were You on Christmas, 1968?

Campaign Desk can’t pass up a good John Kerry Vietnam story, so we eagerly clicked on a FoxNews.com report today about the brewing controversy over Kerry’s previous statements that he spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia. The recent debate was spurred by the release of a book, Unfit for Command, authored by Kerry detractor John O’Neill, that questions the veracity of Kerry’s statements.

The book, says FoxNews.com, “raises questions about Kerry’s claims that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 at a time when the U.S. government was insisting that there was no American military presence in that country.”

As Fox sees it, that 36-year-old government denial casts doubt on Kerry’s stated remembrances. But given the mudded history of Vietnam, an official government stance should hardly translate into certain fact — especially now that it’s known that the U.S. government conducted numerous secret operations throughout Cambodia during the Vietnam War as early as 1967 (as PBS’s “Frontline,” among myriad others, has reported).

Next, the article on the Fox web site lapses into outright error when it moves on to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a veterans’ group critical of Kerry that released a harsh ad last week. FoxNews.com writes, “[w]hile the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have been hammering Kerry’s record, every living soldier who served under Kerry’s command is backing their former commander.” As USA Today reported yesterday, and the Los Angeles Times, along with other organizations, reported last week, there is one member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Stephen Gardner, who served under Kerry on the swift boat PCF-44.

Neither of these infractions is a cardinal sin, but in an election year in which the military history (or lack thereof) of each candidate has become an issue, it’s imperative that news organizations at least get right what’s known and what’s not known.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.