Jewish World Review Oct. 6, 2004 / 21 Tishrei, 5765

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Scribes and those they report on: A response to my readers | She was more than an hour late. She spoke softly and very slowly, as if she were on medication. And she said one nutty thing after another.

As a journalist, I am hermaphroditic. I write this opinion column, but I also do straight news stories. Last Sunday, I covered Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech at a dinner for the Westmoreland County (PA) Democratic party. The little story I wrote on her remarks was picked up by Matt Drudge and several other web sites, and generated a ton of email, so much so that the only way I can respond to them all is in this column.

Because of the constraints of space (I had only a 9 inch hole to fill) and time (because Teresa started late, I had only 30 minutes to write before deadline), my story consisted simply of reporting what she said. Some readers liked this. Susan from Skokie, Ill. said: "I appreciate a journalist who just reports the news."

But many more agreed with Mark from Houston, who asked: "Are all your stories just barfing up rhetoric and spin? It's called journalism, not transcription."

"Aren't you supposed to show where she is every single statement she makes?" asked Stephen from the University of Pennsylvania. Some wondered why I reported on Heinz Kerry's speech at all. "None of your story on Heinz Kerry is believable, so why did you write it?" asked Bernard.

The short answer, Bernard, is that she is the wife of the Democratic candidate for president, a (sort of) local girl speaking at a local event.

The shorter answer is my editor asked me to cover her speech.

I think reporters too often inject their opinions into news stories. We're usually better off just reporting what was said or what happened, and letting readers sort out the implications for themselves, as my hundreds of emailers did.

But Mark and Stephen have a point. We ought not to let public figures get away with blatant misrepresentations of fact.

Heinz Kerry blasted President Bush's conduct of the war on terror, saying among other things that "the Taliban is back running Afghanistan." Ten million Afghans are registered to vote in national elections that will take place this weekend. That could not have occurred if the Taliban were still running Afghanistan.

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With regard to Iraq, she said: "No American boy or girl should lose their lives for oil." Michael Moore, move over. It's getting crowded on the loony left fringe.

Teresa also praised her husband's proposals for national health insurance, and to provide four years of college tuition for every student in America after completion of a mandatory two years of national service.

"Every child in America will receive health care from Day One if John is elected. Period," Heinz Kerry said.

Having grown up in Mozambique, then a dictatorship, Teresa seems still to be unaware that in the United States, Congress must approve new legislation.

The chances that Congress would approve Kerry's health care program at all are slim. The chances that this would be done the day of Kerry's inauguration are zero.

Kerry's plan also would pay 75 percent of all medical costs above $50,000 for all Americans, and would provide tax subsidies to business owners to provide health insurance for their employees, his wife said.

I'd have gotten a lot fewer emails if the editors hadn't cut the last sentence of my story: "Heinz Kerry didn't say how much these programs would cost, or how her husband plans to pay for them."

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, Jack Kelly