Kirk fails to set the record straight
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.