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by Brian Wise
Friday, Jan. 30, 2004 at 12:30 PM
"Hmm, didn't you mean Bob Kerrey? It was Bob Kerrey, Nebraska, accused of taking part in the killing of those Vietnamese civilians. Not John Kerry."
Mea Culpa -- How I switched John Kerry with Bob Kerrey, and ruined the Rush Limbaugh show.
January 29, 2004
Although I have a deal that affords me a certain percentage of revenues produced by the website IntellectualConservative.com, websites primarily featuring political opinion never make profits, as a rule. Therefore I have a job, one of those slow third shift deals; it allows me plenty of time to write and take notes for upcoming columns.
Regarding the column "On John Kerry and Vietnam," released on Tuesday the 27th, I took several longhand notes on Sunday the 25th, among them: "B. Kerrey (fmr. D. Sen., Nebraska) thought to have killed Vietnamese; J. Kerry, McCain, others stood up for him." Some nonsense, then later: "Book has Kerry killing Vietnamese, with boat (?)."
To the second point first: I learned the book in question was Douglas Brinkley's Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War. After much research, Brinkley discovered Senator Kerry had killed Vietnamese civilians with his Swift boat; by all accounts, an accident. Senator Kerrey, on the other hand, had been accused of taking part in the deaths of twenty-one Vietnamese citizens; Senators Kerry, John McCain, Max Cleland and Chuck Hagel came to Kerrey's defense, essentially saying it was harder then one might think to always tell the difference between regular citizens and the enemy during the commission of the Vietnam war.
The first draft of "On John Kerry and Vietnam" was completed before bed Monday morning. It was rewritten and, I must admit this, edited no fewer than three times before distributed to Intellectual Conservative and my mailing list at approximately 5.30pm. In that column I wrote: "So New Hampshire Democrats (Democrats everywhere, really, but New Hampshire Democrats today) are supposed to be considering which man is better qualified to be president given their experiences, but things get in the way. For example, the same John Kerry who served with such valor and distinction in Vietnam came home and decried American savagery, saying in his 1971 congressional testimony that he sought to 'destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our hearts, to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more,' while saying nothing of the twenty-one innocent Vietnamese he helped kill just two years earlier."
That last bit, of course, was wrong.
At approximately 12.36pm Tuesday afternoon I woke and checked e-mail; the first was from my editor: "BRIAN WISE QUOTED ON RUSH SHOW!!!" Well, it could only have been the Kerry column released earlier that morning; I was thrilled. The euphoria lasted until exactly 1pm, when someone e-mailed to say, "Hmm, didn't you mean Bob Kerrey?" What do you mean? "It was Bob Kerrey, Nebraska, accused of taking part in the killing of those Vietnamese civilians. Not John Kerry."
Dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit.
Rifling through my desk, I found my notes. There it was: "B. Kerrey (fmr. D. Sen., Nebraska) thought to have killed Vietnamese; J. Kerry, McCain, others stood up for him." Even though my research was correct, I made the mistake of my professional life, accidentally flip-flopping John Kerry, Bob Kerrey and their stories for the world to see. I was devastated.
A conservative columnist works for several things; one of those things is a mention on the Rush Limbaugh program. It means you've reached a certain level of thought, that you've gotten into the ear of the most powerful conservative in American broadcasting. And there it was, for five million people (and Lord knows how many millions more on the Limbaugh website) to hear: Such a simple, easy-to-correct mistake, one I missed. How does someone possibly rebound from this?
There was no point in saying I hadn't made a mistake; admit it, I thought to myself, get a correction out there as quickly as possible and bother your editors until appropriate corrections are made to the column, which they were, at about 2.30pm eastern time Tuesday. Write a statement and send it to as many people as humanly possible explaining what happened; to the Limbaugh show (as if he'll ever see it), the New York gossip columnist who wrote and asked for my reaction to my own oversight, my mailing list, those people who e-mailed to tell me what an idiot I was, so on and so forth.
In my statement I explained the corrections made to the column. The above paragraph was changed to read, "So New Hampshire Democrats (Democrats everywhere, really, but New Hampshire Democrats today) are supposed to be considering which man is better qualified to be president given their experiences, but things get in the way. For example, the same John Kerry who served with such valor and distinction in Vietnam came home and decried American savagery, saying in his 1971 congressional testimony that he sought to 'destroy the last vestige of this barbaric war, to pacify our hearts, to conquer the hate and fear that have driven this country these last ten years and more,' while saying nothing of his defending Senator Bob Kerrey's killing of Vietnamese civilians in 1969, or his own killing of civilians with his Swift boat." Another superficial correction was made in the next paragraph; nine words were removed in order to help clear up the mistake.
By 4pm I had done all I could.
Someone, a doctor, wrote to say I was a fine man and a good American for undertaking such immediate effort to admit I was wrong. And the odds are, someone else wrote, the vast majority of the people subjected to my column before it was corrected won't know it was inaccurate, no matter how accidental. Those are beside the point. I regret that I have mislead the readership (and, for those moments today, a large portion of Limbaugh's audience) and can think of no better way to correct my error than to just sit still for awhile, saying nothing.
Brian S. Wise quietly switched from liberalism to Republicanism (and eventually conservatism) on August 26, 1993, and began writing instantly. On April 10, 1997, a small weekly newspaper in lower Michigan offered him a weekly column, which he accepted.
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||Saturday, Jan. 31, 2004 at 6:05 PM
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