"I just returned from a 10-day trip to Iraq," begins GOP candidate Howard Kaloogian's Web essay on his experiences visiting troops in the country. The page, part of his campaign Web site, includes photographs and captions which illustrate his point: the situation in Iraq is "absolutely counter" to what the "old-line media" reports.
His web page, like his argument, is loosely knit. And when independent researchers yesterday tugged at one string -- the veracity of a photo caption -- the rest of it has begun to unravel.
A bit of checking revealed Kaloogian did not "just return" from his trip, but in fact got back to California in July 2005. "I talk about my trip that way," Kaloogian told me when we spoke late this afternoon. "I speak to groups that way -- I didn't mean I did it this week. That was my trip last year. . . I took my vacation time to go to Iraq." He wrote the piece late last year, he said, when he launched his candidacy for convicted felon Randy "Duke" Cunningham's old House seat.
As we now know, the key photograph, purportedly showing a "more calm and stable" Baghdad, is actually of a streetcorner in Istanbul. Funny story: Kaloogian didn't actually take that picture. (His Web page caption read "We took this photo".) In fact, he didn't go to Istanbul; his return trip went through Athens. "Everybody in the group, we all shared pictures," Kaloogian told me. "I'm sorry, I don't know who took it."
What's more, Kaloogian didn't write the caption, either. That was written by the same staffer who chose the snapshot for the Web site, Kaloogian told me in an earlier interview. But the error will be fixed, he said: his campaign plans on replacing the photo with one which was definitely taken in Baghdad.
"You're being really picky on this stuff," Kaloogian told me. "It's not that big a deal. It was a mistake. I'm sorry."