ROBERT SHRUM DISPUTES JOE KLEIN'S ACCOUNT OF KERRY CAMPAIGN. Robert Shrum, the chief strategist for John Kerry's presidential campaign, is disputing some aspects of a forthcoming account by Joe Klein of the 2004 campaign, saying Klein's version is "inaccurate" and "misleading." In his latest Time magazine column, Klein published an excerpt of the book, one which offers a scathing look at the inner dynamics of Kerry's campaign.
In the piece, Klein asserts that Kerry allowed himself "to be smothered by his consultants," and cites as a key example the campaign's handling of the Abu Gharib scandal:
Perhaps the worst moment came with the Bush Administration torture scandal: How to respond to Abu Ghraib? Hold a focus group. But the civilians who volunteered for an Arkansas focus group were conflicted; ultimately, they believed the Bush Administration should do whatever was necessary to extract information from the "terrorists." The consultants were unanimous in their recommendation to the candidate: Don't talk about it. Kerry had entered American politics in the early 1970s, protesting the Vietnam War, including the atrocities committed by his fellow soldiers in Vietnam. But he followed his consultants' advice, never once mentioning Abu Ghraib -- or the Justice Department memo that "broadened" accepted interrogation techniques -- in his acceptance speech or, remarkably, in his three debates with Bush.
But now Shrum is disputing Klein's version of events. When I contacted Shrum, he said that Klein's characterization of the campaign's response to Abu Gharib is "inaccurate." "It is misleading to say that the campaign reaction to Abu Gharib was to hold a focus group," Shrum told me, adding that while the torture scandal may have come up from time to time, there was never a session devoted to it: "We held focus groups all the time. In those focus groups I have no doubt that Abu Gharib was mentioned. But coming out of that there was no recommendation to the candidate that he should never talk about it. I would have known if this recommendation was going to be made."
Shrum added: "[Kerry] never received any advice not to talk about Abu Gharib. I certainly never gave him that advice."
The dispute is noteworthy, because Klein's version of Kerry's focus-grouping appears to be a key piece of his indictment of the campaign, at least in the excerpt. The book, a broad indictment of the "pollster-consultant industrial complex," is called Politics Lost.
When we contacted Klein about Shrum's comments, he dismissed the accusation, saying that Shrum refused to speak to him for the book. Klein emailed us the following statement:
Everything in the Kerry section of the book was double and triple-sourced. I spoke directly to the person who conducted the focus groups. A Kerry pollster told me that the consultants' view of Abu Ghraib was unanimous, which was confirmed by Kerry staff members and other Kerry consultants. And, of course, the proof is on the record: Kerry did not mention Abu Ghraib -- or, equally important, the Bush Justice Department Torture Memo -- in either his acceptance speech or the three debates. I like and respect Bob, but I find it odd that he was willing to talk to you and not to me, despite repeated requests during the writing of this book.
It's worth noting that Kerry himself has said that he called for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld based partly on Abu Gharib. Either way, this fight is only going to get worse in coming days, when Klein's book comes out and those indicted in the book blast back.