Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I have and will continue to defend Bob Novak's right to refuse to divulge the names of the sources who leaked to him the identity of Valerie Plame. But there's no defending Novak against the charge of being a first class hack.

Today he's got an interview with another Swift Boat fellow questioning the severity and nature of one of John Kerry's war wounds.

And at the end of the piece he writes: "Schachte said he never has been contacted by or talked to anybody in the Bush-Cheney campaign or any Republican organization. He said he has been a political independent who votes for candidates of both parties."

Apparently, he's the kind of independent who gave George W. Bush a thousand bucks in 2000 and in 2004. He's also the new law partner of one of the guys running the Republican National Convention.

This week I was talking to one of the few Republicans who hasn't lost his honor over this Swift Boat business and we were discussing with amazement and amusement all the middle-aged conservatives who ducked Vietnam who are now writing editorials and hitting the shows dissecting what John Kerry did on the Mekong Delta thirty-five years ago. (For laughs, check out stuffed-shirt Bill Bennett, who served his country in graduate school.)

But now I think I've found the best one so far.

Marvin Olasky coined the term 'compassionate conservatism' for the president and is one of his house intellectuals. And now he's got an OpEd out explaining that John Kerry joined the Navy to stay out of Vietnam. The premise of the piece is that Olasky (1971), Bush (1968) and Kerry (1966) each graduated from Yale ...

Neither Kerry nor Bush nor I wanted to fight in Vietnam, and we all did what we could in our situations: Naval Reserves (Kerry), Texas Air National Guard (Bush), draft lottery No. 278 (me), which meant immunity from having to serve. In his circumstances, Kerry's choice was smart: Navy or Coast Guard folks were much less likely to see combat service than their counterparts in the Army or Air Force, and the safest Navy spot may have been that of a Naval Reserve officer.

A combination of unlikely circumstances placed Kerry, despite his plans, in a combat situation for three months during 1968 and 1969. How he performed during that period is now a matter of intense dispute. I've gone through the claims and counter-claims, and suspect he was valiant in one incident and a whiner or exaggerator in others.

I spoke to two Navy officials today who told me Olasky's got the US Navy Reserve issue all wrong. (My understanding from them is that it was standard that you'd end up with a USNR designation at first if you went in through NROTC.) But his analysis also seems a bit belied by the fact that Kerry specifically requested service in-country (i.e., on a Swift Boat) rather than simply in-theater (on a blue water naval vessel).

Not only is Olasky's piece shameful. He's also seriously off-message. Doesn't he know Kerry made sure he could get into 'Nam to string together a few bogus injuries so he could head back to the states and crank up the political career?

I mean, doesn't he read the papers?

I dropped Olasky a line to ask him about the ducking service in Vietnam bit. I'll let you know if we hear back.

Late Update: Olasky responds ...


In 1986, in The Vietnam Experience: A War Remembered, Kerry wrote about his Swift Boat request: "At the time, the boats had very little to do with the war. They were engaged in coastal patrolling and that's what I thought I was going to be doing. Although I wanted to see for myself what was going on, I didn't really want to get involved in the war."

On the Navy Reserves, I'll see if I can find out more, but let me quote from a note I received from a 1960s naval recruiting officer: Kerr was in "the navy's cache or delayed entry program. The cache program was and is nothing more than an official, legally binding, informal holding pool for volunteers to delay entry into active duty for the mutual convenience of both the member and the service branch... For Kerry it allowed him to continue & finish college while holding the draft wolf at bay once he had lost his student deferment, and it allowed him to choose to a large degree how & for whom he would serve."

The key question, to me, is John Kerry's insistence upon being right in every situation. He's said that his language about atrocities was a little exaggerated, but let me know if he's said he was wrong about content. I messed up enormously in the early 70s, and George Bush has acknowledged his own difficulties. As I wrote, Kerry deserves credit for serving, but his emphasis on his own moral perfection is troubling. We're having lively debates on this at www.worldmagblog.com.

Cordially, Marvin Olasky

Here's something else to look into. As we've noted in recent posts, Republicans are arguing that they've been the victim of 527s (i.e., "shadowy groups") just as much as Sen. Kerry has been the victim of SBVT.

Now, my guiding assumption in this case is that Republicans are having difficulty -- willful or otherwise -- in distinguishing between negative and/or hard-hitting ads and ones that peddle demonstrable falsehoods -- i.e., smears. (You know, it's that old, hard distinction between 'mean' and 'untrue'.) And, frankly, everything I've seen thus far lends credence to my assumption.

If you look at the talking points out of the Bush campaign in the last few days one of the key slanders that Democratic 527s have made against the president is the claim that he has been "poisoning pregnant women"

On August 20th Bush campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin said that Democratic 527s had been "accusing President Bush of poisoning pregnant women."

The same day on Wolf Blitzer's show Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Repya, a Bush surrogate debating Kerry surrogate Retired U.S. Air Force General Tony McPeak, said that Democratic "527 groups [had been] alleging that the president is poisoning pregnant women."

And to top it all off, the same night on Lou Dobbs show, Jill Dougherty decided simply to cut to the chase and repeat the claim on the Republicans' behalf, telling Dobbs: Republicans "say that groups funded by the Democrats have accused President Bush of everything from 'poisoning pregnant women' to complicity to with what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison."

(When you get to the end of this post you might consider contacting Dougherty at CNN and asking whether she made any effort to find out what was behind the charge she repeated.)

Now, I won't force upon you every time this has been said by a Bush campaign surrogate or employee in the last week. But I should add that Chairman Marc Racicot has been saying this repeatedly on shows across the dial all week.

So what's the story?

As nearly as I can figure the culprit here is an ad run in March by Moveon.org and the Environmental Working Group Action Fund. Here's a segment from CNN from March 26th, 2004 in which Karenna Gore Schiff -- Al Gore's daughter -- discusses the ad with CNN anchor Heidi Collins (it also includes the text of the ad) ...

Turning now to an important health issue. There's an ongoing debate about how safe it is to eat fish, especially for children and pregnant women. Karenna Gore Schiff, daughter of the former vice president says the Bush administration isn't doing enough to lower the level of dangerous pollutants. I spoke to Karenna Gore about her latest efforts.


COLLINS: Karenna, you paired up with Moveon.org in a campaign that includes an ad that's very critical about pollution and mercury and I want to go ahead and take a listen, for just a minute, to that ad.

AD ANNOUNCER: Mercury is a dangerous poison still be produced by coal-burning power plants. It gets into the air, the water, and then into the fish we eat, causing brain damage in children. President Bush has taken a lot of money from the people who own those power plants and now he wants the EPA to change the law to say that mercury isn't so dangerous. That means our children will go on eating mercury in their tuna, risking brain damage. Tell the EPA not to let this happen.

COLLINS: Are you really suggesting that the Bush administration is putting babies at risk?

KARENNA GORE SCHIFF, AL GORE'S DAUGHTER: I think that this policy does put babies at risk, because mercury is a very potent neuro toxin. We know that it comes from coal-burning power plants and we know that the emissions can be reduced dramatically with available technology. But the Bush administration is preventing the plan that was in place from going forward which would make our children safer.

(Here's some more information from a press conference held in conjunction with the launch of the commercial. Also, for what it's worth, it's not clear to me that the ad was funded by Moveon's 527 arm -- Moveon Voter Fund -- or its PAC. But frankly I'd just as soon not buy into the Bush campaign's argument that the legal structure of these different groups is the point at issue rather than the content of the ads.)

Now from there we have to make our way to a blurb put out by Senator Inhofe's staff on the Environment & Public Works Committee ...

The financially loaded liberal special interest group Moveon.org, the Sierra Club and many other liberal special interest groups well known for their “Anyone but Bush” smear campaign are reaching deep into their bag of dirty tricks to defeat President Bush this fall.

Their claim this time? President Bush is poisoning pregnant women and their unborn child with mercury found in fish.

The reference to the Sierra Club would appear to be a reference to ads they ran on the Mercury issue in April 2004, one of which refers to "birth defects and learning disabilities" which can be caused by mercury. You can find links to the text of those ads along with pro-mercury counter-points from the scientists at the Journal editorial page and the Washington Times on this RNC Adwatch site (scroll down to April).

So here we're from the ad about the mercury levels debate to the claim that "President Bush is poisoning pregnant women and their unborn child." Presumably this charge was going to get mixed in with similar charges that President Bush was cutting off the head's of the poor and sticking them on pikes surrounding the White House grounds.

(In any case, I put in a query to the folks at the Bush campaign and asked whether this was indeed the ad they were talking about. I received back word from Alison Harden at the Bush campaign who told me: "I believe that is the ad he is referring to - the ridiculous move on ad that has the pregnant woman drinking water w mercury.")

I'll let you be the judge of what this amounts to. But it seems pretty clear to me that the Bush camp is lying almost as much about the Democratic independent expenditure ads as they're lying in the smears they're running about John Kerry's military service. (For another like example see this.)

And, again, was it that Republicans seem to have such a hard time distinguishing between ads with a factual basis and ones that include malicious falsehoods. It's such a mystery. I have to assume it's another example of the GOP's embrace of epistemological relativism -- all truths are equal, there is no truth, only opinion masquerading as truth, etc.

From the AP: "Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said Friday that the country will face 'abrupt and painful' choices if Congress does not move quickly to trim the Social Security and Medicare benefits that have been promised to the baby boom generation."

This could use some elaboration.

To the degree there's urgency here, it is because of the mammoth deficits the president has run up. The president runs up a big deficit and now you've got to pay for it with cuts to your Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Where are the president's priorities?

Shouldn't the Kerry campaign be banging this drum? Especially since it's true (only an added benefit these days, I grant you.)

Following up on the last post, let's put some of the hate-mailers and falangists to work. Let's hear some entries for the worst, most offensive, least true -- whatever measure of badosity suits your fancy -- 527 TV spots that have been run against President Bush.

Have at it ...

Speaking of moral cowardice, the prize line from Bush's interview with the Times: "I understand how Senator Kerry feels - I've been attacked by 527's too."

Here's what the reporters should have asked as a follow-up, and what someone still should ask: Can Bush or McClellan point out a specific ad they thought was so bad?

I doubt they'll never rise to that bait since the 'attack' ads they're whining about -- those from Moveon and so forth -- are so terribly soft-soap it would make them look like idiots.

Of course, it's understood as a given in Washington -- among Republicans as much as among Democrats -- that Karl Rove is behind these ads. But publicly we have to go with the ludicrous notion that he has no connection with them -- a willing suspension of disbelief that allows the president some room to express mock sympathy over the results of his own acts.

A friend of mine has a magazine article coming out in a few weeks which I'm told gets some of the goods on Rove's history of political bad acts. So we'll see if that moves the bar for him at all.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Friday editorial, reproduced in <$NoAd$>full ...

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign is taking on water. Hole after hole has been blown in the group's credibility. We hope the damage is sufficient to finally sink 30-year-old anguish over the Vietnam War as a campaign issue.

The campaign to smear Sen. John Kerry took three more direct hits this week.

Despite repeated assertions that the Bush campaign had no connection to the anti-Kerry group, the campaign's counsel, Benjamin Ginsberg, resigned, conceding that he'd provided legal advice to the swift boat bunch. One of the group's founders was commander at the time of a task force whose report confirmed that on March 13, 1969, Kerry's boat was involved in "an enemy-initiated firefight." And an Oregon lawyer who appeared in a Kerry-bashing ad faces a state bar association complaint that he was misleading in a sworn affidavit alleging that Kerry had not earned his Purple Heart medals.

One man who can -- and should -- blow this nasty campaign out of the water is President Bush. His recent call to ban all campaign advertising by all such outside groups -- known as 527 committees -- is not only insufficiently critical of the swift boat campaign but also restraint of free speech.

The answer, Mr. President, is not to restrict the use of political free speech, but to condemn its abuse.

Exactly right.

Later we will discuss the unfortunate fact that the Executive Editor of the Washington Post doesn't seem to understand what his job is.

Lede from an AP article ...

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry bowed to the wishes of popular maverick John McCain on Thursday, as the president embraced the Republican senator's legal fight against big-money special interest groups airing negative ads and the Democratic nominee scrapped a commercial that featured McCain.
Does anyone want to go out on a limb and say who got the better part of this deal? Unbelievable.

Another blog to recommend: NewDonkey.com.

It's housed at the Democratic Leadership Council. But it's not their 'official blog' in the sense of enunciating party-lines. The author is a good friend of mine who works there. But I think his authorship is technically anonymous -- so I won't spill the beans.

Given the stresses the Democratic party went through in 2003, many readers probably have a rather manichean sense of the DLC's role within the Democratic party. That's not a view I share, even though I can think of a certain someone who's done a lot to give weight to that view. And I think the NDN has much the better part of the recent intramural squabble between the two groups.

But that's all insider mumbo-jumbo which is really neither here nor there. This guy's as sharp as a tack and I respect his opinions immensely. So check him out.

More of the continuing decline of CNN.

Daryn Kagan from Tuesday morning ...

KAGAN: And so here comes a new ad by the Swift Boat Veterans and they're not just attacking the medals that John Kerry might have won but they are attacking what he did after he came back from the war. Is that going to be effective?

Pitiful ...