On the front page


On the front page of the Washington Post website, the headline for Michael Dobbs’ piece on the Swift Boat controversy reads: “Both Sides Flawed on Swift Boat Accounts: Kerry’s critics and supporters offer incomplete version of war episode.”

(I let my subscription to the WaPo electronic edition lapse because the interface is so poor. And I’m not in DC; so I don’t know if that’s how the headline on the print edition read too.)

But I have a hard time reconciling that headline with what the article actually says. To me, the headline implies that both camps are telling only partial versions of the real story and in some way thus tilting the story in their favor.

In other words, noone is telling the whole truth and the Post is here to give it to you straight.

But after reading the piece, I don’t know what that’s based on. The article shows that there are two camps (one pro- and one anti-Kerry). They agree on some points and disagree on others about the incident in question. The heart of the disagreement is whether Kerry was under fire when the incident with Rassman happened. Everyone on Kerry’s boat says, yes. Several people in the same five boat flotilla say, no. (The Post found another sailor, not on Kerry’s boat, who also remembers being under fire, and thus supports Kerry’s account.)The available naval records (from after action reports and award citations) also say there was hostile fire.

The anti-Kerry folks say those reports were either written by Kerry or influenced by him — a charge for which they provide no evidence and for which there appears to be evidence to the contrary.

(What also come across clearly, if never explicitly, is that this whole episode happened more than thirty years ago to a bunch of men who were either teenagers or in their early twenties. All of them were gunned up with adrenaline, thinking they might be about to get killed. And thus, none of the accounts are precisely the same.)

That’s pretty much the story, and the nature of the conflicting accounts, as we’ve already understood them. But I read the whole thing and couldn’t find where either side was holding back key details. What Dobbs seems to be referring to is the fact (noted in the graf that begins “Some of the mystery …”) that there are documents — diaries and logs, mainly — which both sides have not yet made publicly available, or at least didn’t make available to Dobbs.

That seems worth pointing out. But it hardly seems to merit the headline — which, as it so often does, ends up shaping the reaction to the story. Perhaps I missed the points the headline refers to. If you think I have, please drop me a line.