As the story of Kerry's Vietnam-era history played out, the Bush campaign and the White House made it a point to avoid addressing the allegations directly. The strategy was clear: Rhetorically honor Kerry's war service, selectively question his protest activity, repeatedly savage his "votes and quotes" on national security over the years, and make sure the Old and New Media received the results of their top-notch opposition research in a well-timed manner.
Most of this was on display during two critical days in late April -- Sunday the 25th and Monday the 26th. First, Bush's close con?dante Karen Hughes appeared on CNN and was asked by Wolf Blitzer if too much was being made of Kerry's past. Hughes said she wanted to divide her answer into two parts, the ?rst of which was a splendid critique (and denunciation) of the Freak Show's basic dynamics as she experienced them in Bush's 2000 campaign:
[D]uring our own campaign, there was all kinds of gossip and innuendoes and rumors, and many of them were reported, and they were put on the Internet, and then the mainstream media thinks they have to pick them up. And I think that's very troubling to people. It's almost as if . . . a candidate has to disprove a negative, rather than someone has to come forward and make a charge against the candidate. And I worry that does prevent good people from entering the democratic process.
Hughes then went on to say that she was "very troubled" by Kerry's charges of atrocities committed by Americans, although she acknowledged that Kerry had retreated somewhat from his statements of the 1970s.
She also said that she was "very troubled by the fact that he participated in the ceremony where veterans threw their medals away, and he only pretended to throw his. Now, I can understand if out of conscience you take a principled stand and you would decide that you . . . were so opposed to this that you would actually throw your medals. But to pretend to do so, I think that's very revealing."
It was one of the ?rst (and last) times that a Bush campaign adviser directly raised questions about Kerry's Vietnam-era conduct. Kerry spokesman Phil Singer told CNN that Hughes's remarks "con?rmed her membership in the right-wing smear machine . . . with her misleading attacks."
Whatever impact Hughes's words by themselves would have had was overtaken a few hours later when Matt Drudge posted the following dispatch:
XXXXX DRUDGE REPORT XXXXX SUN APRIL 25, 2004 16:52:38 ET XXXXX 1971 VIDEO: KERRY ADMITS THROWING OWN MEDALS; CONTRADICTS CURRENT CLAIMS
In an interview published Friday in the LOS ANGELES TIMES, Dem presidential hopeful John Kerry claimed he "never ever implied" that he threw his own medals during a Hill protest in 1971 to appear as an antiwar hero.
But a new shock video shows John Kerry -- in his own voice -- saying he did! ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA is set to rock the political world Monday morning with an airing of Kerry's speci?c 1971 boast, sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.
The video was made by a local news station in 1971.
It directly contradicts Kerry's own website headline: "RIGHTWING FICTION: John Kerry threw away his medals during a Vietnam war protest."
Kerry's campaign refused comment Sunday afternoon, citing a policy not to respond to the DRUDGE REPORT. Developing . . .