Trail Dust: Kerry's War Record

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," August 14, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: The press coverage of the controversy surrounding John Kerry's (search) war record is the subject of this week's trail dust. It was John Kerry himself who put his military service in the forefront of his presidential campaign, made it the centerpiece.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that questions and even concerns about the accuracy of some of his claims have come up. But has the press reported responsibly or accurately, or have they become a part of the Kerry smear campaign?

Well, I don't think, Juan, they have ... a part of a smear campaign, but here's what I think the press's duty, obligation, is, and it's not meeting this obligation, and that is, if charges come out that have some substance behind them, the press needs to check it out.

Now, I don't know whether any of these accusations about Kerry, that he really didn't deserve these Purple Hearts and ... and his stories have changed about whether as a swift boat commander he went into Cambodia or not or whether what he, the way he reported his action that got him the Silver Star was really accurate, and there are all these, there are all these charges made with some evidence behind them.

The press needs to not just say, Oh, that's just a bunch of Republicans trying to smear him. Its obligation is to check them out. And, and then...

BARNES: ... and then report on it. The press is not doing that. It is not meeting its obligation. It is derelict in its duty.


BARNES: It's as simple as that.

WILLIAMS: ... you know what? I think, in fact, this is a smear campaign. I think this is a terrible action. I think if you think back for a second, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, every opponent that Senator Kerry has had in his years, his campaigns for Senate, have checked this out. In addition to which, the United States government has checked this out. There are records on this.


WILLIAMS: And everybody comes back and says, It's, but, you know, what, what you see here is that the press is saying, It's President Bush who can't account for his time during the Alabama National...

BARNES: ... he's...

WILLIAMS: ... Guard, and he's the one who has the power...


WILLIAMS: ... to keep the Pentagon and others from revealing their records. That's why the press gets involved in that story.

BARNES: Look at Kerry's record as aggressively as the press looked at Bush's record. And Kerry, of course, if he fills out one of these forms, 180, can have all his military and medical records released. Why won't he do it?

WILLIAMS: Well, I tell you, you're mad at the press, but I got to tell you, if you look at cable...


WILLIAMS: ... and you look at talk radio... the conservative talk radio, they're going to town on this story.

All right, let's take a look at this week's battleground polls. The big change this week is in the Sunshine State. In the past few weeks, Florida has been tight but remained in Bush's column. This week, Florida takes a 6-point jump for Kerry. And I don't think anyone needs to be reminded about what happened in Florida in the 2000 presidential race.

The only other changes in the battleground states were that Kerry widened his gap in Michigan from 5 to 7 points. Remember that Gore won by 5 points in Michigan in 2000. Also, Bush closed the gap in Pennsylvania, giving Kerry a 5-point lead in the Keystone State, the same margin with which Gore won Pennsylvania in 2000.

BARNES: So the race isn't as tight as it was last week. Kerry leaps ahead to 307 Electoral College votes to Bush's reduced 231. But November is a few months and an uncountable number of campaign stops away. And after all, these are just polls, and they fluctuate, no question about that. OK.

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