Kirk fails to set the record straight

Chicago Sun-Times - - We Think Commentary - CAROL MARIN

There is a stage­craft to po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns. And Mark Kirk’s re­turn from 25 days of dodg­ing the press re­quired care­ful stage­craft on Tues­day.

As you know, the North Shore Repub­li­can con­gress­man who once had his Demo­cratic Se­nate op­po­nent, Alexi Gian­nou­lias, on the run has in­stead been on the run him­self. Even dash­ing out the back door of a ho­tel kitchen last week with the press in hot pur­suit. All be­cause de­tails of Kirk’s Navy Re­serve mil­i­tary record and short-lived teach­ing ca­reer (in­clud­ing awards, Iraq war ser­vice and prox­im­ity to com­bat) that he had proudly re­counted over the years turned out to con­tain a se­ries of fic­tions rather than facts.

So we in the me­dia were all there at the Re­nais­sance Ho­tel in North­brook for a long-awaited 10:30 a.m. news con­fer­ence.

I counted 16 re­porters, seven tele­vi­sion cam­eras, a hand­ful of still pho­tog­ra­phers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of three ra­dio sta­tions.

What do you, the can­di­date, do when that many press peo­ple are bear­ing down on you?

Rule No. 1: Pack the room

Mil­i­tary vet­er­ans, cam­paign in­terns, Kirk sup­port­ers and GOP of­fi­cials — about a hun­dred of them — ar­rived to out­num­ber re­porters and avail­able chairs. Kirk ar­rived to a stand­ing ova­tion and con­fi­dently walked to a podium flanked by four Amer­i­can flags. Rule No. 2: Set the stage That means hav­ing some­thing clear, strong and con­struc­tive to say.

Kirk did. In a states­man­like man­ner, he gave a 10-minute out- line of the chal­lenges that con­front the United States. Eco­nomic cri­sis. Job­less­ness. Govern­ment debt. Two wars. Too much par­ti­san­ship.

All of that was a pre­lude to talk­ing about what he had to talk about be­fore the ques­tions came. Rule No. 3: Hu­mil­ity, not hubris The last few min­utes of Kirk’s re­marks were to say, “I have made mis­takes re­gard­ing my ac­com­plish­ments. I pledge to cor­rect those er­rors. I am not per­fect, and will make sure it never hap­pens again.”

Over­all, it was a solid per­for­mance that nonethe­less did not ad- dress the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion.

There are, by my count, ap­prox­i­mately 10 mis­state­ments or ex­ag­ger­a­tions of his mil­i­tary ser­vice. When, I asked, is a mis­state­ment a mis­take and when is it a will­ful un­truth, a lie?

The con­gress­man’s re­sponse: “I, I would say that some are quite small when you reach back 30 years. And with re­gard to the mil­i­tary award, that was my er­ror. And I owned it and apol­o­gized for it. And like I said in the speech, [this] is to cor­rect the record, to apol­o­gize, to re­lease your of­fi­cial Navy record and then stand on that.”

Kirk’s sup­port­ers in the au­di­ence voiced their dis­ap­proval with those of us who sought more can­dor, less care­fully parsed re­sponses. That’s OK. They’re par­ti­sans. We’re the press. And this is pol­i­tics.

Un­less there are new rev­e­la­tions to come, it’s time to move on.

One Kirk sup­porter told me the prob­lem with these cam­paigns is that can­di­dates have to be so care­ful about what they say and how they say it for fear some­one like me will go over their claims with a fine-tooth comb. That’s right. But it’s not a prob­lem in my view. Part of the job of the press. And part of the peril of any­one ask­ing the pub­lic to put them in of­fice. There’s a long cam­paign ahead. And there will be time to put it all in some larger per­spec­tive.

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