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Mark Kirk causing more trouble for himself

Monday, Jun 7, 2010

* Mark Kirk constantly uses his position as a Navy intelligence officer to buttress his foreign policy insights. But the Sun-Times checked into two of his stories and found them lacking

But some of the stories Kirk tells on the stump seem a bit too good to be true. When he last ran for re-election to his congressional seat, he got into trouble for saying China was drilling for oil off the coast of Cuba, which was not true, he acknowledged Thursday in a meeting with the Sun-Times editorial board.

Speaking to the City Club of Chicago last year just after President Obama authorized the shooting of Somali pirates who kidnapped American Capt. Richard Phillips, Kirk got a whole lot wrong talking about pirates attacking ships off Africa.

“We began to see some backbone, not from the U.S. but from France,” Kirk said. “France was always good for a quick $2 million ransom until the election of President Sarkozy. When his first ship was seized, he authorized the standard ransom payment — with a transmitter in the box. As that went into the pirate compound, he then authorized French Special Forces to roll in. And they killed everybody. . . . It kind of shocked us in the Pentagon. But it sent a clear message and I don’t think the French have had many problems since.”

Here’s the problem: Much of the answer was fiction. It wasn’t the first ship attacked after Sarkozy took office; and the French Special Forces didn’t kill everybody. In fact they didn’t kill anybody, Sarkozy has said.

* The Tribune editorial board discloses something the paper’s reporters did not, then goes on to whack Kirk but good

[Kirk] spoke for an hour to the Tribune editorial board — and called back later to volunteer that during the interview he had displayed too much defensiveness, and too little candor. Before our eyes, he had tried to writhe away from questions about whether he repeatedly had embellished his service record. Not until his subsequent phone call did he say in plain English that the simple answer to those questions is Yes.

Why had he stretched the already admirable truth? We don’t know the motive. Taken together, though, Kirk’s misstatements demonstrate how deeply he had succumbed to the I-must-sell-myself temptations of politics, elevating the importance of what “I” accomplished in the military. Most veterans instead speak of what “we” won or lost. There is no Army — or in Kirk’s case, Navy — of One.

Kirk’s reluctant acknowledgement of his errors has been maddening but also saddening. For a decade this page has respected naval intelligence officer Kirk and Congressman Kirk. Thus the dilemma: What are we — what are all the voters of Illinois — now to make of candidate Kirk? He has weakened one of the most compelling arguments for electing him to the Senate. […]

For us, the disclosures of Mark Kirk’s career inflation are not excusable. For military families in particular, this is serious. Neither, though, are his offenses a reason to discount his service or to declare him unfit for the Senate. Kirk made arrogant errors and now he has apologized. He may not go one day between now and Nov. 2 without having to offer his personal regrets to the people of Illinois.

* Mark Brown has a good summation

But the [Navy fitness] reports also make clear what Kirk isn’t. He isn’t a battle-tested combat veteran as he seems determined to portray himself. […]

Judging from what his superiors say about him, Kirk has had a very honorable, impressive military career. It’s a shame he didn’t realize that was enough to take him where he wanted.

* And my syndicated newspaper column is also about this issue

Political reporters and pundits have a bad habit of saying: “If present trends continue.” The truth is, in politics, “present trends” almost always change.

Last week, Illinoisans were treated to a classic example of how that overused phrase can so often be horribly wrong.

Let’s take a look back, shall we?

For years, the Republican powers that be in this state have dreamt of finding a “perfect” statewide candidate.

Social liberal, fiscal moderate without a hint of scandal. That’s the key to winning statewide in Illinois. Finding that person hasn’t been so easy, however.

Then GOP Congressman Mark Kirk decided to move up the political ladder to U.S. Senate. Kirk is pro-choice, pro gay rights, tough on guns, but a fiscal hawk in the tradition of Jim Edgar.

Best of all, Kirk serves in the Navy Reserves. Reporters, as a class, love military men, and Kirk’s stories about his daring feats of bravery have made the tough-nosed Chicago media drool all over him.

A decorated Naval intelligence officer works great with voters as well. Kirk could separate himself from average politicians by pointing to his honorable service. Despite some bumps along the way, the military has long been one of the most respected institutions in this patriotic nation.

A recent USA Today poll found that by a margin of 2 to 1, Americans would “rather vote for a candidate who has never served in Congress over one with experience.” And since “Republican congressman” polls even lower than “congressman,” Congressman Kirk would be at a serious disadvantage without that Naval service.

Until last week, Kirk looked to many like a slam-dunk winner - or as much of one as a Republican could be in this state. The trend against the Democrats was certainly working in his favor. And Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias had been pummeled left and right over stories about how his now-defunct family bank had made loans to mobsters and had other nefarious ties.

Giannoulias endured one of the worst three months of any candidate I’ve ever seen starting shortly after he won the February Democratic primary. He was hammered relentlessly in the media, and the pack was full-on engaged the day his family’s bank was seized by federal regulators.

Unsourced speculation abounded that the youthful state treasurer would be pushed out of the U.S. Senate contest by the White House. Nobody had any real basis for those claims except a strong belief that the horrific trend dictated that Giannoulias would be gone any day.

But then something happened which turned all of that smug punditry on its head.

It turns out that Congressman Kirk is a serial exaggerator.

The Washington Post reported over Memorial Day weekend that Kirk had falsely claimed for years that he had won “the Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year” award when his unit actually won an award from a private group, but recommended by Navy brass.

Over the next few days, Kirk was forced to admit a whole host of untruths. He hadn’t served in 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom. He wasn’t a veteran of 1990-91’s Operation Desert Storm. Kirk had to backtrack from bravado comments he made about being shot at by the Iraqis. He hadn’t “served in Iraq,” as his recent TV ad claimed. He also didn’t “command” the Pentagon’s “War Room.”

Kirk didn’t pull it off well, either. “I simply misremembered incorrectly,” was his excuse to the Chicago Sun-Times, whatever that means. “You should speak with utter precision,” he admitted to the Chicago Tribune, even though most of these false claims had little to do with “precision” and much to do with overstating his service record.

So, will this years-long stream of prevarications ruin Kirk? Well, he has certainly damaged his credibility, particularly with his many friends in the media. The “current trend” would say he’s in bad shape indeed.

Still, this is a long campaign. There will no doubt be much more mud slung back and forth before it’s over.

If I had to guess, I’d say Kirk’s bizarre overstatements will most likely knock him off his high horse and force him to actually engage with Giannoulias, rather than be content to constantly deride the treasurer as unfit for office. But he’s showing no sign of that yet.

Just remember that this race isn’t over for either candidate. Don’t let anybody tell you it is. Politics is always full of surprising twists and turns and I’m sure there are lots more ahead of us.

What we’ve seen here is an equalization of sorts. Both candidates are now damaged goods. But the trend on election day is the only one that matters.

* Related…

* Illinois VFW Commander on Kirk Controversy: ‘It Isn’t a Good Situation’

* Illinois Senate race: All insults, all the time

* Marin: Independents will decide Senate race

* Roskam’s FDIC Ignorance

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - 10th Indy - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:20 am:

    “But the [Navy fitness] reports also make clear what Kirk isn’t. He isn’t a battle-tested combat veteran…”

    Except for that part of his fitness report that calls Kirk “One of the most experienced, combat-tested Aviation Intelligence Officers in the Naval Reserve.”

  2. - Objective Dem - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:22 am:

    In regard to Kirk’s foreign policy expertise, about a year ago he warned the Chinese government that the US budget deficit was much higher than the official numbers and apparently was discouraging them from buying US treasuries. This strikes me as a pretty dumb move.

  3. - the Patriot - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:27 am:


    I think discouraging the Chinese from buying up as much of the US as possible may not be all bad. Let’s face it, they own us and we have to pay it back.

    That being said, I will give Kirk the same advice I have been trying to give Brady. Your opponent is an idiot and has nothing good to offer the people of the State of IL. Go on vacation and come back mid October. The only think keeping your oppenent in the race is you. Shut up and disappear for a while.

  4. - Skeptical Cynic - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:32 am:

    Just as much as the veteran schtick, I used to be as impressed that Kirk is a former schoolteacher. Are we now going to find out he misrembered that too? Oy.

  5. - A.B. - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:35 am:

    Kirk’s teaching time was while he was studying in Mexico City and London.

  6. - shore - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:37 am:

    Pretty much agreed. To the kirk supporters, of which I count myself as one, this is disappointing but not a deal breaker, because we have seen him for a decade in action and know he’s much better than this. I agree with Brown, no reason for him to do this at all. The only issue I would take is that he didn’t get paid for the last decade of his service, which says something that a congressman in a tough district who already has no time, would take his free time, and do this, it says a lot about his character.

    The suntimes did a broadcast of their session with kirk and I would like to see the tribune’s put up as well. They did this for the primary and I found the sessions much more illuminating on candidate positions than the debates and other opportunities.

  7. - Ghost - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:48 am:

    A few moons back I had commeted that in my oppinion this was Kirk’s race to lose.

    Kirk seems bent on doing just that… whats interesting is so far Ihave not seen anyone linking these exagerations to other previous non-military comments by Kirk. This is not Kirks first eggaeration or re-write of events. There are things like his oting for cap and trade, but speaking against etc floain around out there. if somone were to piece all of these together a distrubing trend appears.

  8. - VanillaMan - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 11:55 am:

    It turns out that Congressman Kirk is a serial exaggerator.

    Yeah, and it turns out that Congressman [fill in the blank] is a serial exaggerator.

    Yeah, and it turns out that Senator [fill in the blank] is a serial exaggerator.

    Yeah, and it turns out that Governor [fill in the blank] is a serial exaggerator.

    Yeah, and it turns out that Candidate [fill in the blank] is a serial exaggerator.

    Anyone over the age of 21 and has voted more than once, knows that serial exaggeration is the norm with most political candidates. We hear serial exaggerations over our fiscal debt, our annual budget, our future, our past, our state rankings on anything from bird population to steel production. The level of serial exaggeration regarding global warming, health care legislation, military strength, bird flu, and Lady GaGa should have immuned American citizens by now.

    Everywhere I turn I hear “experts” telling me what I believe isn’t true on some issues, and I have a gut telling me what the “experts” are telling me regarding other issues is nonsensical garbage.

    Wash away the political spin and the make up worn by politicians and you are left with their accomplishments and experience. Vote on that, not by what they say, their political party, or yard signs. Serial exaggeration is the norm, not the exception.

    This entire story is piffle to those of us too cynical to have believed the crap candidates tells us in the first place.

  9. - Ghost - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 12:07 pm:

    VM I disagree that most people over 21 who have voted twice ae disimissive of fabricating military service. For whatever reason, in my experience with our social conscious that is a no no. exagerate about votes, cars, computers and land for sale, no problem, but military records are perceieved to be on a different level.

  10. - zatoichi - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 12:11 pm:

    Kirk seems like a very decent guy who has worked hard in many areas. He also seems like a guy who has seen too many action flicks/books/games and is misremembering being there with seeing it. Leave the hype to Hollywood and Marvel.

  11. - SilverBack - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 12:13 pm:

    I would rather see this seat sit vacant than vote for either candidate right now.

  12. - VanillaMan - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 12:23 pm:

    Kirk is fabricating military awards, not fabricating military service. This issue is about his exaggerations regarding what is already an accomplished military service.

    So, yes - if we discovered a candidate fabricating military service, then that candidate would not be well received by most voters. That isn’t the case here.

  13. - Ghost - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 12:54 pm:

    How isnot fabricating mitlary service to go from being fired upon and serving in combat to not being fried upon and not having been in combat?

    That aside, I think you are making a distinction without a difference. I have yet to meet a large number of people who support fabricating military awards. But he did fabricate his service experience as well.

  14. - Bubs - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 12:55 pm:

    This is a Senate race between two men, each of whom has, for better or worse, a deep sense of personal entitlement, and are surrounded by staff who share that sense. That generally is not a good omen for dispassionate discussion of key issues in an election. Instead, as it sinks in to each side that they might actually lose this thing, they get very threatened, and the personal mud begins to fly.

    If Kirk ever turns the discussion to the economy and the issues, he will win going away.

  15. - wordslinger - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 12:56 pm:

    Barring another blockbuster revelation, either Kirk or Alexi will be elected, probably the one who has the best negative spots and the money to air them. It’s too late for either one of them to define himself favorably.

    The funny thing is, Kirk shot himself in the foot trying to define himself. Very sloppy and unnecessary.

  16. - SilverBack - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 1:01 pm:

    VM, Beg to disagree.

  17. - Objective Dem - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 1:04 pm:

    I’m 50/50 with VanillaMan. Yes I anticipate that politicians will spin and I take everything with a grain of salt.

    But with Kirk, it goes beyond just normal spin. It seems to be a clear pattern of purposely misleading people. This was reinforced by his response. Rather than just saying, he was careless with wording; he apologized for lack of “utter precision” when translating miltary language to civilian language. That isn’t apologizing; that is being a weasel.

    I think people understand that all politicians spin and lie to a certain degree, but at some point there is a line that is crossed and it becomes unacceptable. Kirk is standing right on that line.

    One major problem for Kirk is most voters really don’t know him or his record. So now when most of the state is trying to get an understanding of who he is, we are presented information that makes him look like a big “exaggerator” at best. This is compounded by his shifting positions from moderate to conservative, i.e., cap and trade.

  18. - Responsa - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 1:58 pm:

    Kirk has unnecessarily put himself in a tenuous place. He has no one to blame but himself. However, ultimately he will still win for the main reason that he has a record of competence in serving and being re-elected as a 5 term congressman. His 10th district is complex and independent and demanding. Kirk has already demonstrated that he is conversant and engaged on a variety of issues critical to Illinoisans and that he is responsive to constituents in a way that Alexi simply will not be able convince voters he is capable of. Kirk’s team needs to focus on the proven competence.

    When voters get beyond comparing one exaggerated resume against the other exaggerated resume and truly focus on what is real, Kirk will prevail and will be elected the next US Senator from Il. Staying home from the polls in protest of the two candidates (as some have suggested) is not the right answer.

  19. - Rob_N - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 2:25 pm:

    3 things:

    1. Rich, Did you ever get clarification on why Kirk’s campaign sent you details on that association’s Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer of the Year award (since Kirk never earned that award nor the individual Rufus Taylor award with which it might at times be confused)?

    2. The S-T (and Trib, if they’re up for it) would do well to look into Kirk’s domestic policy statements too. Beyond the few foreign policy fibs the S-T mentions, Kirk has many more out there on both national and int’l issues.

    3. Where’d all the Kirk supporters go? Last week’s posts on Kirk broke past 100 comments on occasion.

  20. - Joe - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 2:33 pm:

    The word “we” doesn’t exist in Kirk’s vocabulary. In every event where I’ve listened to him talk, it’s always all about what he alone has done — whether it was in the Navy or the House or the Pentagon. In fact, at a couple of the events, I started counting the number of times Kirk said “I” in reference to what he has accomplished. At the first event, I got to around 75 and at the second one, I lost count after 120.

  21. - Carl Nyberg - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 2:39 pm:

    AP is complaining the U.S. Senate race is all about insults.

    That’s rich.

    When have they written an article explaining the candidate’s policy positions on the economy? Foreign policy?

    Kirk wanted the race to be about personal issues because he thought his narrative was stronger.

    And AP and the other media outlets largely went along with covering the race this way.

    And now AP is turning it around on the candidates.

    Note to AP: if you want to write a policy article, do it.

    Don’t be surprised if Kirk answers every question with a reference to Broadway Bank.

  22. - Carl Nyberg - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 2:41 pm:

    Responsa, if the voters of IL-10 knew how big a liar Mark Kirk is, would he have won in 2000? 2006? 2008?

    Kirk has a thin list of accomplishments legislatively.

    And I suspect many of the claims he makes about accomplishing stuff are embellished.

  23. - VanillaMan - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 3:03 pm:

    But with Kirk, it goes beyond just normal spin. It seems to be a clear pattern of purposely misleading people.

    To create a pattern, you have to get voters to not only recognize the initial charges, but to get them to believe previous charges linked together. The pattern has to follow a prejudice voters have already in their heads.

    That is a tough sell to make. Those of us who follow candidates over the years, easily see patterns, while voters don’t. Kirk is going to have to build a pattern of mistrust during this campaign strong enough to get a majority of voters to believe in the initial charge. So far he has floundered but hasn’t sunk himself.

    No one can deny that he hasn’t served militarily. If he wishes to continue pushing that basic fact without any embellishments, he will re-establish credibility with voters concerned over this recent situation. Voters like veterans and will cut them slack in the voting booth. Anyone willing to risk their lives for their country could be trusted to run the country - this is a basic ingrained voter belief, regardless of party.

    What Kirk has to do is stop embellishing and simply start stating the obvious. He was an award winning military man. Done. Now tell us how to fix this broken government and broken economy. Tell us now to stop the Gulf destruction.

    We have bigger problems.

  24. - Responsa - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 3:18 pm:

    —would he have won in 2000? 2006? 2008?–

    That’s a reasonable question, Carl. Who knows about winning the first election. But his re-elections from that point on were not because of his military resume but were based on his record of representation. Kirk has a lot of solid cross-party support in the 10th. I think it is fair to say that most constituents here (even those who may not have voted for him) have been generally satisfied with his performance and responsiveness as a legislator over the years, despite what you may “suspect” from your vantage point.

  25. - RFK fan - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 3:32 pm:

    Vanilla Man, I’m an army reserve officer, and I guarantee you that to a lot of us this certainly isn’t “piffle”.

  26. - wordslinger - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 3:35 pm:

    The best thing Kirk has going for him is that Alexi really has nothing going for him.

    Take away all of Alexi’s negatives, what are his positives? At many times, Illinois has led the nation in the Senate, regardless of party. It still should. What does he bring to the party?

    Quinn would have been great for the Senate. Irish Catholic Chicago brawler, picks his issues, beats the heck out of his opponents. He’s a legislator, not an executive.

    Lisa would have been great for governor. A real game changer, smart as a whip, a real good public policy powerhouse that everyone but the yabbos love.

    Too bad. She might not get another chance.

  27. - VanillaMan - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 3:57 pm:

    Vanilla Man, I’m an army reserve officer, and I guarantee you that to a lot of us this certainly isn’t “piffle”.

    I’ll concede that Kirk probably won’t win an award from army reservists on this.

  28. - southern illinoisan - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 4:50 pm:

    Can they add a none of the above blank on the ballot? What pathetic choices we have to choose from in Illinois……..

  29. - Anonymous - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 6:03 pm:

    What I loved was seeing Carl Nyberg, Jill Morganthaler, and other Democratic plants go to Daley Plaza and tell Charles Thomas that they’re upset at Kirk, want an apology, aren’t liberals and/or Democrats, and weren’t encouraged by the Giannoulias camp.

    As a liberal Democrat who lives in the 10th and has only voted for Kirk once (in 2004) AND who will not be voting for the most corrupt politican in Illinois history (Giannoulias), I would love to hear a retraction so that everyone in Illinois knows that Carl, Jill, etc weren’t telling the whole truth on ABC7.

  30. - Rob N - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 10:44 pm:

    Anon 6:03…

    “Most corrupt politician in Illinois history?”

    You may recall that the last Republican Governor is IN JAIL, eh.

    While you’re demanding that voters come clean on which party they tend to support why don’t you go ahead and do so as well, “anonymous”?

    And why don’t you also explain to us whether or not it was ok for Kirk to do the EXACT SAME thing as Nyberg, etc. by publicizing comments ’supporting’ him from Republicans such Kinzinger, Shimkus, etc. and GOP-backing organizations like ‘Vets for Freedom’?

    This ain’t beanbag, “anonymous”. ALL of us voters have a right to speak our peace.

  31. - siriusly - Monday, Jun 7, 10 @ 10:54 pm:

    I was at that Kirk City Club lunch last year. I remember him telling the whole pirates thing. Who knew it was all B.S.

    Maybe he should start using Rod’s “hey aren’t you Mayor Daley?” joke.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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