Thomas Sowell

 As if Dan Rather's use of forged documents to try to discredit President Bush shortly before the election was not enough of a clue to the mainstream media's political agenda, ABC News has now joined CBS News in the political spin game.

 What ABC News has done was too elaborate to be called a "mistake." Now that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have become too well known for the mainstream media to continue ignoring them, ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel has broadcast its "investigation" of one of the Swift Boat veterans' charges against John Kerry.

 The charge was that Kerry received a medal for an incident in Vietnam that he falsely reported. How did ABC's Nightline try to establish the truth? Interview crew members who were on Kerry's boat at the time? No! Interview veterans who were in other boats near John Kerry's boat at the time? No!

 Nightline went to Vietnam to interview people whom they had been told were among the Communist guerrillas involved in the disputed incident.

 It would be an unwarranted insult to Ted Koppel's intelligence to believe that he does not understand the unreliability of what is said publicly by people living in a totalitarian society, especially when it is said in the presence of a Communist official who took Nightline to the people who were to be interviewed.

 What is the Communist government's stake in all this?

 In recent years, high officials of the Vietnamese government have openly admitted that they were losing the Vietnam war on the battlefields but hung on, waiting for a political victory, based on their belief that the anti-war movement in the United States would eventually force American withdrawal.

 When much of the American media became part of the anti-war movement, the gamble obviously paid off. One of the Vietnamese Communists' museums pays tribute to the American anti-war movement in general and features a picture of John Kerry in particular.

 Against that background, how surprising is it that what was said in the interview backed up John Kerry's version of the disputed incident? Yet Ted Koppel described the people interviewed as "witnesses" who "have no particular axe to grind."

 The clincher, according to Mr. Koppel, is that the interviewee's version of what happened matches the combat report and the official Navy citation with the medal. Surely ABC News knows that the combat report was written by John Kerry and that the Navy citation was based on what Kerry said in his report.

 Nevertheless, according to Koppel, John Kerry's awards "should have been the most unassailable part of Kerry's record."

 This kind of reasoning reminded me of an episode in a New York department store some years ago when I bought a sweater and gave the sales lady a credit card. She pointed out that there was no signature on the back of the card.

 After I signed the credit card in her presence and then signed the bill, she compared the two signatures that she had just seen me write and, since they matched, it was OK with her. But at least she didn't say that this procedure was "unassailable."

 Who would have dreamed that ABC News would compare what Kerry said in his report with what was said in a citation based on that report and find it convincing that they matched?

 Everything about the Nightline program reeked of contrived "ambush journalism," to ambush John O'Neill with the words of Vietnamese villagers who were put on the program before him, and thereby exonerate John Kerry from O'Neill's charges.

 If this program were a serious attempt to get at the truth, it would hardly have completely ignored all those Americans who were on the scene during the disputed incident and instead go to the other side of the world to talk with people in a Communist country with a Communist official present.

 Other boats from John Kerry's unit fought that day in the same vicinity. Even with the best of intentions, the Vietnamese villagers interviewed on Nightline had no way of knowing which of the many Americans who opened fire that day 35 years ago was John Kerry. The Americans in that unit knew -- but they were not interviewed on Nightline.

 That is what stamps this as spin, rather than news.

 Do media elites think we are all fools? Probably.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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