Topic: Government & Politics

Foreign Leaders for Kerry
(3/15/2004)(3/16/2004)

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Senator John Kerry is running afoul of bushel of ethical principles with his recent claim that he's met with leaders around the world who support his efforts to unseat President Bush in November's elections.

At a fundraiser in South Florida last Monday, Kerry told reporters: "I've met with foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You've got to win this. You've got to beat this guy. We need a new policy.' Things like that."

To begin with, this is an unfair statement to make without including sufficient details for someone to check its veracity. Secretary of State Colin Powell was absolutely correct to demand that Kerry either back up his claim with names, or be quiet. Kerry's answer, that he cannot reveal the names of such leaders without damaging his ability to keep their trust, is no answer at all. If that was an issue, he should have also kept the sentiment as confidential as the identity of the leader. When a questioner at a town meeting pressed Kerry about the identities of the leaders, his response was, "That's none of your business."

Really? If it is worth reporting to the public that leaders expressed such sentiments, it would seem to be the public's business who expressed them. It makes quite a bit of difference to the significance of Kerry's claim who the world leaders are, wouldn't you say? Tony Blair or Bashar al-Assad? Vicente Fox or Osama Bin Laden? Kerry's statement is no more than innuendo, and there is no way for President Bush, or anybody, to counter it; that is what makes it a below-the belt blow. Kerry's willingness to use such a tactic is inherently disrespectful both of Bush and the electorate.

It makes quite a bit of difference to the significance of Kerry's claim who the world leaders are, wouldn't you say? Tony Blair or Bashar al-Assad? Vicente Fox or Osama Bin Laden? Kerry's statement is no more than innuendo, and there is no way for President Bush to answer it. Kerry's willingness to use such a tactic is inherently disrespectful both of Bush and the electorate

In addition to this problem, his statement raises the specter of a US Senator working to undermine a U.S. President with foreign nations during wartime. Exactly how did these opinions come up in conversation? Kerry is legitimately engaged in campaigning for the support of the American electorate, but when he meets with foreign officials, he and President Bush are supposed to be on the same team.

Finally, there are honesty and trustworthiness factors here that Kerry must address.

Kerry has not traveled abroad since he was treated for prostate cancer in February of last year, and his last overseas trip was to England and France about two months before that.

Thus, if these statements were truly made to the Senator as he "met with" world leaders, they occurred long before he clinched the Democratic nomination, and more perplexing, long before the invasion of Iraq, which Kerry now says is the main reason for his world leader fan club. How and where did these "meetings" take place?

"I think what I said [last week] was that I've heard from people around the world who look forward to the day when they'll have an administration they can work with," Kerry now says. "I have consistently said I intend to restore America's place in the world, and I intend to rebuild some of those alliances that were hurt by what I believe has been an arrogant and reckless foreign policy."

Sorry, Senator, that isn't what you said last week. Ethics Scoreboard is inclined to cut the candidate an early campaign season pass on what was probably an inartfully phrased overstatement, but first Kerry needs to clear up the confusion. Such sentiments expressed by world leaders are too significant to play games with, and if there were no such sentiments, the Senator has some serious apologizing to do.

UPDATE: Suddenly, things have gotten messy. Patrick Healy, the Boston Globe reporter who first reported Kerry's remarks, now says he's reviewed his tapes and believes Kerry said "more" leaders, not "foreign" leaders. Needless to say, journalists who are involved in covering this already over-heated campaign have an obligation not to launch controversies by their carelessness; journalistic ethics includes being responsible and competent.

Meanwhile, Healy's "oops!' raises more questions than it answers. If Kerry didn't make the foreign leaders claim, why did his responses to the persistent questioner at the town meeting leave the impression that he did? His back-tracking so far has involved the word "meetings," not the word "foreign." His most recent comment on the issue: "I stand by my statement. The point is not the leaders. What's important is that this administration's foreign policy is not making us as safe as we can be in the world."

Patrick Healy notwithstanding, the ethical problems with Kerry's comments remain. The Senator's use of anonymous and unsubstantiated "opinions" to criticize President Bush is unethical whether it is "foreign leaders", "more leaders," 'born leaders," or "moron leaders." When people refer to McCarthy-like tactics, this was one of them: the Senator from Wisconsin loved citing anonymous sources, vague documents and letters that never saw the light of day. The Senator from Massachusetts needs to do better.

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