Howard Kurtz, who covers the media for the Washington Post, is usually a reliable reporter. Today he wasn’t. In an article on the fact that the “campaign mantra” of both presidential campaigns is “rapid response” (which often involves writing a response before what is being responded to has occurred), he either let his professionalism slip or his partisanship show (or, conceivably, both).
By now everyone has seen, and re-seen, the clip of Sen. Kerry intoning in West Virginia, by way of replying to Republican criticism that he was weak on defense, that he voted for the $87 billion military funding bill before he voted against it. This gaffe (if gaffe it was) has been well-covered in the press. My favorite: Mickey Kaus last Wednesday:
The Republican attack machine has now gone so far as to have Senator Kerry say memorably mockable things like: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
They will stop at nothing, I tell you.
Kurtz, however, sounding much more like an apologist than a reporter, had this to say today:
What Kerry meant in West Virginia was that he had supported a measure to pay for the $87 billion in military operations by rescinding an equal amount from Bush’s tax cuts. But such legislative nuances get lost in the political crossfire. “This president and his attack-dog vice president continue to distort the record of John Kerry,” [Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie] Cutter said Thursday.
Kurtz seems to have been reading from the same script as Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s foreign affairs correspondent. When Kerry’s vote for/vote against comment was discussed on Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” last Tuesday, Mitchell said she thought the rap against Kerry was unfair.
MITCHELL: Now that is a complete distortion, Kerry would say, and anybody who really covered the $87 billion supplemental has to agree. A complete distortion.
MATTHEWS: Are those [body armor for the troops, etc.] in there?
MITCHELL: They were in there, but he was voting against one part of the bill.
MATTHEWS: But didn‘t he vote against the final? Didn‘t he voted against final?
MITCHELL: He did vote against final.
MATTHEWS: Then he voted against all those elements.
MITCHELL: He voted against those elements of the supplemental, but he was voting against it as a protest, he said, you know, again…
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s what he said; that‘s his spin. I think…
Matthews was right on target, and both Mitchell and Kurtz missed the boat. Kerry explained that he supported the military funding bill when it was to be paid for by raising taxes on the rich, but when that failed he voted against the final version of the bill.
There were no “legislative nuances” here as Kurtz claimed. Kerry was willing to support funding the troops in Iraq if the support came from increased taxes on the rich. He was not willing to support the funding without the tax hike.
Kerry opposes the Bush tax cuts, and so there is nothing surprising, or wrong, with his attempting to try to barter his support for funding the troops in Iraq for rescinding part of the tax cuts. Fine. But when that failed, he could not then vote against funding the troops in Iraq without being subject to the perfectly legitimate criticism that … he voted against funding the troops in Iraq. Nuance schmuance.
Voters would be much better off simply listening to the crossfire of ads for themselves instead of relying on professional parsing from the likes of Kurtz and Mitchell.