John Leo

Some people wondered how long the major media would be willing to ignore the Christmas-in-Cambodia story. Well, the answer is in: at least 10 or 11 days. I first noticed the story August 6 on Glenn Reynolds?s blog. Soon it was all over the Internet, the conservative press, talk radio, and some cable shows. But the networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and other major media didn?t run the story. Some papers, like the Kansas City Star, got protests from readers on what appeared to be a news blackout. Finally, after an agonizingly slow response from the Kerry campaign, big media took account of the issue, muffling and burying the story they didn?t want to carry in the first place.

The story is simple and by now well known. For 25 years John Kerry has said repeatedly that on Christmas or Christmas Eve of 1968 he took his swift boat into Cambodia on a covert and illegal mission. He said he got shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians or by ?our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas.? In 1979, Kerry wrote a piece for the Boston Herald noting that ?the absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real.? Kerry was wrong about Nixon, who was not yet president at the time -- a minor and unimportant slip -- but he said the memory of the Cambodian Christmas ?is seared -- seared into me.?

The anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth book, Unfit for Command, argued that Kerry had never been in Cambodia. That charge was easily challenged as partisan. But a book supportive of Kerry and written with his help, Douglas Brinkley?s Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War, said Kerry was on patrol 50 miles from the Cambodia border on Christmas Eve 1968 and spent Christmas Day writing journal entries back at his base. As the Washington Times argued in an editorial, all living commanders in Kerry?s chain of command denied that Kerry had been in Cambodia, and three of Kerry?s swift boat crew denied they or their boat had been in Cambodia during Christmas 1968. Two others refused comment.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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