How hard is it to explain what John Kerry meant to say on Monday? Pretty easy. Even Chris Matthews can do it:
Let me read you two points again, if I have had to do this five times during this hour I will do it. Just so when we walk away from the show you will have the facts, you can interpret them as you will.
This is the Associated Press story of what happened yesterday at Pasadena City College. After several one liners saying at one point that President Bush lived in Texas but now lives in a state of denial. He said then, “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you work hard, you study hard, you do your homework, you make an effort to be smart you do well, if you do not, you get stuck in Iraq.”
The context is he's trashing Bush for not having studied the region of the Middle East, not being prepared for what we face over there, the Sunnis and the Shias and everyone else fighting with each other, being stuck in that quicksand. That was his point.
Even National Review's John Derbyshire admits Kerry wasn't talking about the troops:
John Kerry is awful, and anything we can do further to degrade his political prospects is worth doing. But really, I saw a clip of him making the much-deplored remark, and it was obvious that the dimwit in Iraq that he referred to was George W. Bush, not the American soldier. It was a dumb joke badly delivered, but his meaning was plain. My pleasure in watching JK squirm is just as great as any other conservative's, but something is owed to honesty. There's a lot of fake outrage going round here.
Even former Republican leader Dick Armey is defending Kerry:
"Look, I think John Kerry's right. He's making a defense of himself. He's saying, 'Look, I was not maligning the troops. I was maligning the president of the United States.' "
As Greg Sargent pointed out on The Horse's Mouth (where I used to blog before quitting), the New York Times managed to print the prepared text of Kerry's joke (“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.”) but the Washington Post omitted it, giving the reader no frame other than Bush's with which to understand Kerry's remarks.
The problem is that studies show that misinformation is very hard to correct. Once incorrect factual information has been internalized by a reader, it continues to influence their beliefs even after you have told them it is wrong. And news coverage like the Post's provides only a single frame with which to understand what Kerry was saying, creating the impression the White House wants in people's minds. Is this going to be the next "invented the Internet"-level myth?
Update 11/1 4:48 PM: Media Matters has more:
In their coverage of the controversy surrounding Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) recent remarks on Iraq, numerous news outlets -- including The Washington Post, USA Today, NBC, and CBS -- have left out the full context for Kerry's comment. Each of these outlets aired or quoted Kerry's October 30 statement to a group of students in California that "if you study hard ... you can do well," but if "you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." They then highlighted the subsequent attacks from President Bush and other Republicans -- who have claimed that Kerry insulted U.S. troops and demanded that he apologize -- while noting that Kerry claims it was a "botched joke" intended to specifically criticize Bush.
But in presenting the issue of whether Kerry intended to criticize the troops as a he-said/she-said conflict, these outlets omitted the evidence supporting Kerry's account. Indeed, according to his staff, his prepared remarks demonstrate what he meant 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." Also overlooked is the fact that Kerry's remark came after several one-liners, including one in which he personally accused Bush of "liv[ing] in a state of denial." Furthermore, these outlets ignored entirely the remarks by several prominent Republicans -- such as former Bush campaign chief strategist Matthew Dowd and former House Majority Leaders Dick Armey (R-TX) and Tom DeLay (R-TX) -- conceding that Kerry did not intend to disparage American soldiers. Armey even acknowledged that Republicans were making political hay by "misconstru[ing]" what Kerry said.