The media plays 'trick or treat'

Posted: Oct 27, 2004 12:00 AM

 The media are too busy repackaging old Iraq news in an October offensive against President George W. Bush's reelection to investigate truly startling evidence unearthed this week that the Communist Party may have been directing John Kerry's anti-war activities in the early 1970s. The evidence, contained in captured communist records on file at the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University, shows a well-coordinated effort by the Communist Party to recruit American servicemen and officers to become part of the American anti-war movement. The objective was to organize high-profile activities to undermine support for the Vietnam War, including holding hearings on alleged war crimes, lobbying Congress to oppose the war, exploiting the families of American POWs and urging servicemen to return their service medals.
Not only did John Kerry and his group Vietnam Veterans Against the War follow this game plan, but Kerry went to Paris to meet with the communist official designated as the point of contact for guiding these activities. In June 1970, Kerry met with Madame Binh, foreign minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government (Viet Cong) of South Vietnam and a delegate to the Paris Peace Talks. The documents discovered this weekend -- one titled "Circular on Antiwar Movements in the U.S." was disseminated in Vietnam in the spring of 1971, and the other titled "Directive" was captured by the U.S. in April 1971 -- are available for viewing at They reveal a detailed plan to use antiwar activists in the U.S. as propagandists for the communist cause in Vietnam.

 So why isn't the mainstream media all over this story? If John Kerry -- wittingly or not -- was carrying out directives from Hanoi, or perhaps even Moscow, the American people have the right to know before they decide whether to elect him president on Tuesday. But the networks and major dailies were too busy covering a hysterical report that 380 tons of explosives went missing from an Iraqi depot in the early days of the U.S. invasion to inquire into John Kerry's dubious activities in the anti-war movement.

 On Monday, the New York Times "broke" the story of the purported looting of weapons from an Iraqi arms depot. "Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished from Site in Iraq" screamed the front-page Times headline, which was picked up by all the major networks and newspapers, not to mention the Kerry campaign. CBS's "60 Minutes" was also set to air a story on Sunday -- two days before the election -- aimed at convincing viewers that the administration had carelessly let the al Qaqaa depot be looted of its powerful explosives, the kind that might even be used to detonate a nuclear device. "Our plan was to run the story on Oct. 31, but it became clear that it wouldn't hold," CBS executive producer Jeff Fager said in a statement.

 In fact, the "missing explosives" story was more media campaign ploy than real news. There is substantial evidence that most of the explosives were either destroyed by U.S. bombing prior to the invasion or were already gone by the time U.S. troops arrived at al Qaqaa on April 10, 2003, according to NBC, which had a reporter embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne Division at the time. Furthermore, the U.S. has already destroyed or is in the process of destroying more than 400,000 tons of similar material in Iraq, a fact conveniently ignored by much of the media.

 The media rule seems to be if a story might hurt George W. Bush, play it up big; if it might help Bush, bury it; and if might hurt John Kerry, ignore it altogether. In an election as close as this one, the media's role could be decisive. We used to expect the candidates to unleash their own October surprise in an effort to sway the voters at the last minute. Now it's the media that plays that game. Come Halloween, it's media tricks for Bush and treats for Kerry.