Another Setback for Conservative Bloggers: The Great ‘Kerry Photo’ Flap

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By: E&P Staff

As if the finding of the allegedly non-existent Associated Press source in Iraq, Capt. Jamil Hussein, wasn’t enough, conservative bloggers suffered another setback Friday in the far more trivial flap over a photo of Sen. John Kerry.

The “controversy” started last week when rightwing bloggers cackled over a photo sent to one of them which allegedly showed Kerry on a Dec. 17 visit to Iraq being shunned by troops at breakfast. Indeed, it did seem to show Kerry at a dining hall table with only a couple of non-uniformed people nearby. The blogs charged that this proved that the troops had completely turned on the senator (and decorated Vietnam vet) after his so-called “botched joke” in October, if not before.

Michelle Malkin, for example, wrote that “lonely John Kerry” had been “spurned by the troops,” and some other comments were far more mocking. She and others maintained the attack even when other photos surfaced of Kerry surrounded by troops on that visit.

On Friday, the full truth emerged.

Here’s how Greg Sargent at the liberal blog Talking Points Memo (for its TPM Cafe offshoot) revealed it today.

Specifically, it turns out that Kerry was at that table to conduct an off-the-record breakfast discussion with two reporters, so there would have been no reason whatsover for troops to be sitting with them. In fact, Kerry and the reporters even sought out empty seats, I’m told.

The two reporters who met with Kerry that morning are Marc Santora of The New York Times and Mark Danner of The New York Review, The New Yorker and other publications. Both Santora and Danner confimed to me that they met with Kerry — on the morning of Dec. 17, according to Kerry’s office and to Danner. (The person who posted the photo also confirmed that it was taken that morning.)

Danner confirmed to me that he’s the guy with his back to the camera, saying his jacket and the back of his head looked the same as in the photo. He added that his position in relation to Kerry was the same as the photo showed. And here’s what Danner had to say to me about the empty seats: “If there were empty seats it’s because we sought them out. We wanted an empty table so we could talk. It’s that simple.”

Let me back up a sec. No question, this is a silly, trivial affair, and in a way it’s embarrassing to spend so much time on it. But it’s important to knock these things down whenever they come along — and it’s fun, too….

Recently I emailed the Kerry people to ask them what they had to say about the photo. They claimed the photo was taken on Dec. 17 and sent along a statement from Frank Lowenstein, Sen. Kerry?s foreign policy staffer, who said he was “there when the photo was taken.” From the statement:

Snubbed? Alone? Hardly. Sen. Kerry isn?t eating alone. In fact that photo is at an off the record breakfast meeting Senator Kerry conducted early Sunday morning with the very real Marc Santora of the New York Times Baghdad bureau and his younger colleague from the newspaper. The man shown in the green shirt across from Sen. Kerry is Marc Santora….

A couple days ago I got in touch with Santora. He confirmed that he’d met with Kerry and Danner. Kerry’s staffer, it turns out, was wrong on two points: The man across from Kerry wasn’t Santora. And the person accompanying Santora wasn’t a “younger colleague from the newspaper.” Rather, Danner was the one who went on the trip with Santora. (I’d contact the person who first posted the photos, but he’s saying he won’t say any more on the issue.)

Told that the Kerry people had confirmed that the meeting was an off-the-record talk with reporters, Danner replied: “The discussion was off the record, but given the fact that the Kerry people have confirmed it, I suppose it’s all right if I confirm it.”

“Santora was to my right,” Danner also said. “It was very early in the morning at about 8:30, in the green zone. The reason that people weren’t sitting directly around us was that we were having a private conversation.” Asked if the troops showed animosity to Kerry, Danner said: “Not in any way that I noticed. A number of soldiers came up and asked to have their photograph taken with him.”

Does the above constitute spending too much time on a trivial matter? Yeah, probably. But what the heck.

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