Tuesday, March 16, 2004

WHAT KERRY SAID. You've got to feel sorry this morning for Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healy. It was his transcription of a March 8 speech by John Kerry at a fundraising event that led to a week of controversy over the senator's alleged assertion that "foreign leaders" had told him they hoped he would beat George W. Bush. Healy was the pool reporter, which means that the entire media relied on his transcript. And now it turns out that mistakes were made.

It was an easy mistake to make, and I'm sure Healy is unhappy about it - make that very unhappy. The larger question is whether the corrected transcript changes the meaning of what Kerry said. I don't think it does. But unfortunately, and characteristically, the Kerry campaign is using the error to back away from this mini-controversy.

Here's an excerpt from a Glen Johnson piece in today's Globe:

A Globe reporter was present for the fund-raiser as a representative of the newspapers covering the campaign. The reporter initially sent out a report to his colleagues saying that Kerry had told the crowd, "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy' - things like that."

Yesterday the reporter listened again to the tape, previously transcribed on a bus and campaign airplane, and said Kerry actually said: "I've been hearing it, I'll tell ya. The news, the coverage in other countries, the news in other places. I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy' - things like that."

Kerry never used the term "foreign" or, as some accounts have reported, said he had "met with" foreign leaders. His comments were preceded by a statement from Milton Ferrell, Kerry's Florida fund-raising chairman, voicing foreign displeasure with the current president. Ferrell said, "Europeans and elsewhere, they're counting on the American people. They hate Bush, but they know we're going to get rid of him."

Based on that context, I'd say that Healy got Kerry's meaning right, even if he didn't capture his exact words. But the Los Angeles Times reports today that the Kerry campaign is now trying to back away from the controversy. Matea Gold writes:

[T]he campaign said Monday that the Globe's clarification demonstrates some ambiguity about what Kerry meant. His reference to "more leaders," said Kerry's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, "could mean anybody." The media's repeated references to "foreign leaders" allowed critics to suggest he was talking about heads of state. "He was misquoted," said Cutter. "Had he not been misquoted, this wouldn't be a story."

Really? Kerry has been pounded at over this miniature issue. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, who doesn't normally get involved in partisan politics, challenged Kerry to name the foreign leaders he'd supposedly met with who support his candidacy. Yet Kerry did not really contest the accuracy of Healy's transcript, at least not until Sunday - and then, according to this account in the New York Times, he challenged something that Healy actually got right:

Mr. Kerry said on Sunday that he had used the word "heard," not "met," prompting Mr. Healy to revisit the recording. On Monday, he sent out a corrected transcript, clarifying that the quotation actually began, "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly."

Here's what White House spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis told the LA Times:

The White House, when asked about the Globe reporter's clarification of the original remarks, said Kerry should have denounced the reported comments earlier if he had been misquoted.

"It seems to us that Sen. Kerry has affirmed the quote by his own reaction to it," said Suzy DeFrancis, a White House spokeswoman." He's had plenty of time to disavow it if he didn't agree with it … so I think he was clearly probably describing foreign leaders."

I can't disagree.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. "Al Sharpton yesterday conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to John F. Kerry ... He now says he is close to signing a contract to host a radio or cable television talk show." - Boston Globe, 3/16/04

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