I just got back and was in the process of editing my final report from Las Cruces on Obama’s Memorial Day visit when I found out about Obama’s Las Cruces gaffe. I had glanced hurriedly through the speech text that day but went on to focus on the reporting and the Bush-like arrangements barring the public from the event, so I never caught it. But what did cross my mind was was the very real possibility that some Vets actually didn’t want Obama at their memorial ceremonies…more on this later in the post…
Of course, by now you’ve heard about the Washington Post‘s awarding of 3 Pinocchios, so here is the bottom line just to go on the record:
“I had an uncle who was one of the, um, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps. And the story in our family is that when he came home he just went up in the attic and he didn’t leave the house for six months.”
–Barack Obama, Memorial Day speech, Las Cruces, NM.
In an attempt to burnish his credentials with America’s veterans, Barack Obama has frequently talked about his grandfather “who served in Patton’s army.” He has now added a new episode to his World War II repertoire: the uncle who liberated Auschwitz. Unfortunately, the story shows that the presumptive Democratic nominee has a poor grasp of European history and geography.
The Pinocchio Test
Before hearing from the Obama campaign, I gave the candidate four Pinocchios for this howler. I am subtracting one Pinocchio in view of the explanation that Obama confused the two concentration camps and that the underlying story was accurate. Three Pinocchios for “significant factual errors.”
As I had mentioned in a prior post, Obama didn’t repeat a gaffe he had made on the language of translators in Iraq, but he more than made up for it with this one. But it also hasn’t gotten any more mainstream media scrutiny than his infamous “the primaries are like the Bataan Death March” attempt at humor which was one heckuva stinker.
Now to a recap of how the media reacted here in Las Cruces/El Paso.
The story written for the El Paso Times was full of fawning quotes about how incredible it was that Obama had answered a few questions, most likely planted. It used the 300 crowd estimate from the blogger, who reported during the speech with obviously breathless awe.
The local paper, the Las Cruces Sun-News in its story entitled Veterans at the Heart of Obama’s Memorial Day Talk came up with an estimate of only 200 attendees. A related story, Obama Gets Warm Reception from Las Cruces Crowd This story reported that “Veterans in uniform sat interspersed throughout the audience,” which doesn’t sound like they got any special treatment after all. This after the banner headline announced that the Obama visit would be EXCLUSIVELY for veterans. The reporter, annoyingly, refers to the event as a “forum,” which was what the the original announcement said…but this was no forum.
This story also quoted adoring supporters:
Numerous attendees at the event, some of whom sat as long as three hours outdoors without shade, walked away with sunburns.
But Margaret Torres of Doña Ana and Raul Alvillar of Mesilla Park, with reddened arms and faces, didn’t seem to mind. The two, because of family ties to a campaign official, were granted a few minutes after Obama’s talk to meet with the senator.
“It’s an honor to be able to be here,” Torres said. “Most people in the city weren’t able to … shake his hand, take pictures.”
Torres said Obama was “very personable” and “down-to-earth.”
I guess being “granted” a few minutes is really “down-to-earth”… Also alon those lines were these comments by another guy I didn’t vote, which were IMMEDIATELY CONTRADICTED by the Obama’s camp refusal to be interviewed by the paper! (Although he answered a few questions from the press corp later on…so, what were the questions and what were the answers???)
“He’s an extremely eloquent speaker,” said McCamley. “But the best part of the event was his willingness to answer questions. A lot of politicians won’t do that. They won’t put themselves out there to truly talk with people. I’m very impressed a candidate for president would do that.“
The campaign declined several requests by the Sun-News for an interview with Obama, though the senator did answer some questions for the press corps later in the afternoon. Obama acknowledged the importance of campaigning in western states, including New Mexico.
A key part of the story was the attention paid to the excuses for the event not being open to the public.
The event was invitation-only, not open to the public at large.
Asked about why a larger venue wasn’t chosen so more people could attend, Obama campaign spokeswoman Amy Brundage offered this response:
“Due to the holiday, Senator Obama wanted to have a discussion with a smaller group of veterans and hear from them about the issues of concern to them,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Therefore, we worked with local veterans groups and elected officials to reach out to local veterans and their families in Las Cruces and surrounding areas to participate.”
Doña Ana County Democratic Party Chairwoman Melinda Whitley said she received her own invitation to the town hall forum about 9 a.m. Monday and had heard of some Democrats who were likely inadvertently skipped over. She said, however, she understands because that’s how campaign events sometimes go.
“I appreciate the fact he’s in Las Cruces and that there a good group of people from every walk of life here,” she said. “There are even some Republicans that are Obama supporters. It’s great this opportunity was offered to us to come and see him.”
I still haven’t seen any evidence of a “discussion” with veterans at this event. A few questions were allowed, but this was NOT the town hall forum that was originally announced!
Furthermore, excuses for not being open to public do not fly, since the visit was announced on the paper’s website on May 22 (Thursday) and on the next day (Friday, May 23) in the top headline the front page of the paper, with a picture of Obama–plenty of time to get more Democrats and also announce a venue to the general public!! In fact, a story I posted in an early blog entry actually stated that the event location was DELIBERATELY being kept secret and only the media knew where the event would be held!
Following the speech, Obama made a “surprise’ visit to Bataan Memorial BEFORE the Vets held their own ceremony. It seems to me that if he had wanted to talk to Vets he could have stayed for their ceremony. Couldn’t he have talked to more personally if he had milled around that group rather than holding a rally with Vets “interspersed” among the crowd? My guess is that Obama wanted to cover his bases for the fall in case the GOP brings up his insensitive “Bataan Death March = primaries” comment: by showing up at the Memorial, Obama could use that quick visit as evidence that he has acknowledged and apologized for the gaffe…although he has done NEITHER. (And just for the record, (Remember, this local paper has NEVER reported the joking comment made by Obama comparing the primaries to the Bataan Death March, so I’m afraid very few even in this area know about it…)
OR MAYBE THE VETS REALLY DIDN’T WANT HIM THERE. Remember…on Sunday, the paper had reported that “An ex-commander with the VFW has said that he had heard that Obama will be showing up a the Veterans Wall at Veterans Park, which is also the site of a dramatic memorial to the Bataan Death March.” But Obama made a quick stop BEFORE the ceremony…
This is how the ceremony went:
Las Crucens Mark Memorial Day by Honoring the Fallen
“We welcome residents’ participation on the special days when we raise and lower the (garrison) flag,” said J.R. Turner, veteran services officer for the New Mexico Department of Veteran Services. “This is far and away the most people we’ve ever had help us.”
Women and children gathered around the garrison flag and together, they helped fold it.
“I was impressed that the crowds were bigger this year,” Archuleta said. “These ceremonies were all nice because each in their own way symbolized to me what Memorial Day is supposed to be all about.”
Memorial Day ended with a moving ceremony at Veterans Memorial Park, where the city’s garrison-sized U.S. flag was lowered with the help of as many as 40 residents.
“It’s a day we remember,” said Army Lt. Col. Bradley D. Gavle, New Mexico State University professor of military science, as his voice began choking with emotion. “How do we remember the estimated 1.72 million men and women who have died, there are several ways. We attend ceremonies such as these. …We remember those Gold Star families who have sacrificed so much. And, you vote your conscience. It’s been paid for by the blood and honor of those who sacrificed themselves to give us that right.”
Moments later, members of the Marine Corps League wheeled a flag-draped coffin and placed it in front of the Veterans Memorial Wall, which includes the names of more than 7,000 Doña Ana County residents who have served in the military from the Spanish-American War through the Gulf War. A wreath was also placed next to the coffin.
Three rifle volleys followed, and “Taps” was played.
Residents who attended the ceremony were then invited to assist veterans in lowering of the garrison flag. At 5 p.m., the flag was lowered, there was a cannon salute — as is military tradition, and a Marine Corps League bugler played “Retreat.”
I can’t imagine anyone wanting Obama to intrude on that ceremony and turning it into a political event…
I capped off my Memorial day by writing to the Las Cruces Sun-News, knowing that what I wrote will never be printed:
So, the vets didn’t get an “exclusive” town hall after all…and the general
public was treated to secrecy and being cut out again by Bill Richardson
(remember how the public couldn’t hear him speak at the school about the
spaceport?) On a day when we’re supposed to ‘honor those who fought for our
freedoms” we’re handed an event in the mold of a Bush event–select audience,
closed to the public, with a complicit press corps in attendance. (When has the
Sun-News ever posted video of entire political event before?) Sounds like the
Soviet Union to me, not the United States we once knew…the event sure didn’t
honor vets…it was pure politics of the most exclusionary kind…
I guess that about says it all…
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