The Times Botches Kerry's "Botched Joke" Once Again

Why is it so hard for the Times to obtain the basic facts of Sen. John Kerry's "botched joke"?


Political reporter Adam Nagourney, like Kate Zernike before him, spins Kerry's November gaffe about U.S. troops "stuck in Iraq" at a political rally in California to make them seem less harmful, in Thursday's "Kerry Will Not Enter Presidential Race."


"But Mr. Kerry's hopes were probably most damaged by what he said was a botched joke he told while campaigning on behalf of Congressional candidates in the final week of the 2006 election campaigns.


"Mr. Kerry's prepared remarks called for him to say, 'Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.' In his delivery, he dropped the word 'us.'"


In fact Kerry "dropped" more than just the one word "us," although from reading Nagourney you'd think that was the only difference between Kerry's prepared remarks and what actually left his mouth in California.


In fact, what Kerry said had little similarity to his prepared speech, and it would have been far more useful for the Times to have actually quoted what Kerry said at the rally, instead of making excuses for him by citing his prepared remarks.


Kerry actually said: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."Kerry didn't say "Just ask President Bush" at all.


But Nagourney (or the editor who inserted the paragraph) apparently relied on previous botched work by his colleague Kate Zernike, because nearly the exact same paragraph appeared in Zernike's flawed version of the story on the controversy last year.


Here's Zernike on November 2, sounding almost the same as Nagourney on January 25: "Mr. Kerry's prepared remarks to California students on Monday called for him to say, 'Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.' In his delivery, he dropped the word 'us.'"



Nagourney concludes: "For many Democrats, the remark was a reminder of instances of ineptness by Mr. Kerry as a campaigner, including his often troubled efforts to explain his changing views on the war in Iraq. Most famously, he said that he had voted for an $87 billion war appropriation 'before I voted against it,' a piece of videotape that Republicans quickly turned into a defining caricature of him."


One could also quibble with the word "caricature," as if Kerry's remark somehow didn't reflect what he really thought about the war, which even his Democratic allies admitted was rather muddled during the campaign.