Minutes before John Kerry marched into the Fleet Center to accept the Democratic nomination, CBS reporter Byron Pitts pulled out the intimate personal information: "Senator Kerry is a very superstitious man. Just before he steps into the hall, he will do what he has always done before a major moment in his life. He will make a Sign of the Cross, then kiss the St. Christopher medallion his mother gave him as a child."
Aside from the confusion of religion and superstition, there is one obvious question for viewers: How does Pitts know this is true? Even if it is true, it's also true that no other reporter has passed this regimen along. A search of the massive Nexis database shows no mention of Kerry's St. Christopher medallion in the last two years, and there's no sign of it in the whole Nexis sample of the Boston Globe.
After the speech, CBS's Pitts resumed serving up the humanizing Kerry spin: "Earlier, as the family was preparing to leave John Kerry's home in Boston, I'm told he whispered to his sister, remember the words of our mother on her deathbed when she said, 'John,' knowing he would run for president some day, 'remember, John, integrity, that's what matters.' Tonight, John Kerry tried to show that integrity." Who can confirm that story? Who cares?
In their natural predisposition to build up Democratic legends, reporters have passed on a bucket of these unconfirmed anecdotes during presidential campaigns: Al Gore's deathbed story of his sister, Nancy Gore Hunger, inspiring his war on tobacco, Bill Clinton's story about breaking down doors to stop his stepfather from beating his mother at 14, and now, John Kerry's tales of Vietnam heroism.
These stories are not easily confirmable, and they are not on videotape. But God help he who would challenge -- even just question -- these legends. That critic is immediately offered a journalistic necklacing: denounced, pilloried, mocked and ultimately banished from the political conversation. The challenge, even just the question, is ignored.
The John Kerry candidacy was built on an audacious rewrite of history. The man who roundly condemned the war effort, accusing his fellow soldiers of unspeakable acts of barbarism, would run as a hero of that war, surrounded by his "Band of Brothers." How could any self-respecting journalist covering this charade remain silent? Amazingly, most have.