I am an expert on the media. Almost a sage, a high priest. That's why I'm the host of Fox News Watch. That's why I write a weekly column for FOXNews.com. I'm knowledgeable. I'm experienced. I'm perceptive.
I'm baffled. That's right, baffled. I haven't the slightest idea, not the tiniest hint of an idea, why the media are paying so much attention to Bob Kerrey. If I were going to apply for a job at Fox on the basis of what I know about the Kerrey coverage, I'd be lucky to get hired as a security guard. A graveyard-shift maintenance man.
Look, there are two versions of the story: Kerrey's is that shots were fired at him and his men by people in a Mekong Delta village and that he and his men fired back and killed them. Only then did they learn that the victims were civilians, mostly women and children.
The other version is that the villagers did not fire first, or at all. They were herded into a clearing by Kerrey and his fellow Navy Seals and murdered in cold blood.
Which version should we believe? Well, based on what we know so far, we should believe Kerrey's; there are, after all, more people supporting it than there are supporting the other.
In which case, why all the newspaper stories and op-ed pieces and TV reports and talk show diatribes by pundits, the fulmination-on-cue clique? Why so many people who don't know what the hell they're talking about talking about it anyhow? Kerrey and his men acted in self-defense — they were assigned to a free-fire zone during a time of government-sanctioned violence, for heaven's sake — and rather than being ruthless in his actions, Kerrey is humane in his reactions, continuing to feel haunted as he does three decades later for his part in what was purely and undeniably an accident of war.
Or was it? Not if you believe the other version. But how can you? Only a few people espouse the massacre theory, and there are reasons to question the veracity of each of them.
So, what do we have here? We have, plainly and simply, a non-story. Either this is a non-story because what Kerrey and his men did in Vietnam is something that anyone, of any nationality, could have done and did do in similar conditions, or it is a non-story because there are conflicting versions of what happened and there is no way to know the truth and the only thing that has been accomplished by reporting it is the whipping up of old enmities into a new froth, giving the hawks a chance to rage anew against the ignoramuses and panty-waists on the left, and giving the doves a chance to rail once more at the United States of America, the most warped and vicious and genocidal nation ever to terrorize the planet.
That's right, a non-story, which means that if it had been up to me, it would not have run.
What I would have done is this: I would have said to the guy who wrote it — a guy who, by the way, has a track record of looking for shadiness or deception in the pasts of America's military men — I would have said: "I'll run your story if you can prove to me that Kerrey and his men committed an atrocity. Not if you get a few statements to that effect from people of dubious background, but if you prove it, 100 percent, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Otherwise, what's the point?"
I would have said: "The purpose of journalism is not to open old wounds, stir up old controversies. If that happens as a result of telling the truth, fine, so be it, let the wounds ooze and the controversy roil. But if the story cannot make a fair claim on truth, if it can only present possibilities, and if its subject matter belongs now to the historian more than the journalist, let it lie. Sleeping dogs and old speculations should have a similar fate."
So why did The New York Times Magazine and 60 Minutes II tell the tale anyhow? Why have so many other journalists reported their own versions of the story? Why has every opinion merchant in the United States offered an interpretation and then gone on to interpret everyone else's interpretation?
Damned if I know. I'm just the guy who checks your ID at Fox reception. Or empties the garbage just before dawn.