John Leo

Like the issue of President Bush?s National Guard service, the Cambodian Christmas story is important only for the light it may shed on a candidate?s mind and character. But unlike the Bush story, Kerry?s Cambodian story set off no media frenzy. Glenn Reynolds wrote of the big media: ?They?re damaging themselves as more and more people notice that they?re ignoring it.? Boston Globe reporter Anne Kornblut was asked to comment on the Cambodian Christmas story on Meet the Press. She blew off the question, possibly because her paper hadn?t yet bothered to report the story.
When the Los Angeles Times finally decided to notice the story, it had an obvious problem: How should it report news it had ignored for 11 days? Simple: Lump it in with Kerry?s other Vietnam controversies in a long, boring, and indecisive report (?what actually happened about 35 years ago along the remote southern coast of Vietnam remains murky?). And high up in the story, let readers know that the Times thinks the issue is old, irrelevant, and narrowly partisan (?the [anti-Kerry] ad, the book and the people behind them have become staples of conservative talk shows and Internet sites?). Of course, one reason it was a ?staple? of conservative media is that the major news media ignored it.
The Times did come up with one nugget of information: An archived Navy report said Kerry?s boat destroyed a junk on a beach on Christmas Eve. A coordinate used by the military fixed the site at 40 to 50 miles south of the Cambodian border. This information seemed damaging to Kerry, but the Times helpfully pointed out that the junk incident occurred so early in the day (7 a.m.) that Kerry had plenty of time to take his boat over the Cambodian border before nightfall. Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan offered a slightly different explanation -- Kerry was on or near the Cambodian border on Christmas. This seems like a smooth way of withdrawing the Christmas-in-Cambodia claim.

This is odd. Previously, Kerry was very specific -- it was definitely Christmas or Christmas Eve and he was 5 miles inside Cambodia, not at or near the border. The event was ?seared? into his memory. Perhaps Kerry is vague because he was on a secret mission, but if it was so secret, why did he spend 25 years talking about it? Perhaps the Christmas in Cambodia was just a self-dramatizing touch that Kerry made up and never expected to get called on. He has said he was heading upriver like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. An interesting story. It isn?t too late for a big-time media outlet to grow curious about it.

John Leo

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

Be the first to read John Leo's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.