By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Who among us hasn’t misquoted Kerry?

Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan today laments John Kerry’s loss four years ago, observing that Kerry’s brain is “about 100 times bigger than that of our foggy, confused, pushed around by his Machiavellian advisers, can- I- ever- get- a- sentence- out- straight embarrassment of a president.”

So why does Eagan think Kerry lost? Among other things, she writes, “Lots of us didn’t like Kerry: the faux Kennedy thing. The Brahmin-esque cadence. ‘Who among us,’ he bellowed as often as McCain says ‘my friends.’ “

Actually, he didn’t. Bear with me. I’m about to write way too much about a small matter, but it galls me. Eagan should know better. We all should know better. To the extent that the haughty “who among us” construction was used to demonstrate that Kerry was not a man of the people, it’s important to point out that it was all based on a falsehood.

First, let’s deal with the origin of “who among us” — a Maureen Dowd column in the New York Times in which Kerry was quoted as saying, “Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR?” She got it wrong. She wasn’t even there when he said (or rather didn’t say) it. The Daily Howler’s Bob Somerby has demonstrated conclusively that Kerry actually said, “There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t like NASCAR and who isn’t a fan.” Case closed.

Except that it wasn’t. Because the NASCAR quote was used over and over during the 2004 campaign to show that Kerry was a pompous fake who undermined his own attempt to appeal to NASCAR fans with his phony Brahmin language. As Somerby shows, Times people themselves did it over and over, but they were not alone. I dove into LexisNexis and found numerous examples. Here are just a few instances of writers either mocking Kerry’s diction or falsely quoting him:

I’m sick of Kerry pretending to be a normal guy. Killing a goose to get the gun vote. Saying, “Who among us doesn’t like NASCAR?” to get the racing vote. (Michael Goodwin, New York Daily News, Oct. 27, 2004.)

Unless you’re a teetotaling philistine, few things go better together than a good read and a good stiff drink. As John Kerry might say, who among us does not like to curl up with a Tom Clancy novel and can of Bud? (Jerry Salamon, Austin American-Statesman, Oct. 24, 2004)

As John Kerry himself has asked: “Who among us does not like NASCAR?” (Bruce Feirstein, New York Observer, May 17, 2004)

Believe me, this is just a tiny sample, and I’m leaving out what Dowd’s colleagues at the Times did, since you can read Somerby for yourself. Which brings me to the next question. The NASCAR falsehood aside, does Kerry favor the “who among us” construction? Not particularly. I did a search from Jan. 1 through Nov. 15, 2004, and came up with just a few examples, all from formal speeches or prepared remarks. Here they are:

In the wake of Sept. 11, who among us can say, with any certainty, to anybody, that those weapons might not be used against our troops or against allies in the region? Who can say that this master of miscalculation will not develop a weapon of mass destruction even greater — a nuclear weapon — then invade Kuwait, push the Kurds out, attack Israel, any number of scenarios to try to further his ambition to be the pan-Arab leader? (Kerry spoke these words in 2002, and they were quoted on numerous occasions during the 2004 campaign to demonstrate that Kerry had believed Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.)

Who among us is more vulnerable today than the 8 million Americans who are out of work? Who is more vulnerable than the 45 million Americans without health insurance? Who is more vulnerable than the parents who have to choose between food and medicine for their children? (From a speech Kerry delivered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 24, 2004.)

Who among us thinks it’s right to say so quickly, on short notice, before you even know where your next paycheck’s going to come from; before you know, if you haven’t been working, what skill you can apply to be able to earn a paycheck; before you’ve been able to adjust to the loss and begin to be able to get back into life? (From a Kerry speech cited by John Harris of the Washington Post as evidence that Kerry was something of a fumblemouth. According to the text of the speech, Kerry was supposed to say, “Who among us could move on short notice when you don’t even know where your paycheck will come from?”)

And that’s all I could find. That’s not to say there aren’t other examples out there. But it’s ridiculous to think Kerry is wedded to “who among us” as any sort of rhetorical crutch, at least based on the available evidence.

By the way, at the Republican National Convention in 2004, John McCain said:

All of us, despite the differences that enliven our politics, are united in the one big idea that freedom is our birthright and its defense is always our first responsibility.

All other responsibilities come second.

We must not lose sight of that as we debate who among us should bear the greatest responsibility for keeping us safe and free.

Not to pick on Margery Eagan. The journalist who bears the responsibility for this is Maureen Dowd. But can we finally put this urban legend to rest?

Kerry photo (cc) by the World Economic Forum and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. Anonymous

    Dan, my friend. And my fellow Amercians.Let me make this one thing perfectly clear.Who among us can disagree?Bob in Peabody

  2. Robin Edgar

    “But can we finally put this urban legend to rest?”Probably not. . . All too often too many people prefer mythology to reality.You can quote me on that. 😉

  3. Larz

    Yep. Too much of the country weighs the wrong criteria in choosing a president. My neck’s worn out from shaking my head so often.

  4. Anonymous

    Could you include a link to the New York Times correction?

  5. O-FISH-L

    John Kerry as a NASCAR loving, duck hunting, fascinated by rap Everyman? “Would that it were, would that it were.”**Kerry’s elitist response to a nationally televised question from Jon Stuart Leibowitz, a.k.a. “John Stewart”, on whether or not Kerry receives a nickel every time Leibowitz uses ketchup.

  6. Anonymous

    I suppose. Maybe folks find it so memorable because he used the phrase in his twisted justification to vote for a war he knew to be wrong, only because he wanted to be President. Not to rehash anything, however had he not voted for that war – indeed, had Hillary not voted for that war – both of them would have been President.Ironic too that in the same statement he calls Sadaam the “master of miscalculation.” Bet he’d like to have that one back too.

  7. Richard Lodge

    Wow, Dan, it’s good you got that off your chest. Speaking of urban legends, it’s worth going to the source,, to explore many urban legends about John Kerry. I punched in his name and came up with 84 listings, everything from “Quotes from Swift boat veterans about John Kerry” to “Would the Secret Service have to provide lifetime protection for all of John Kerry’s homes?”I think there’s even a couple of urban legends about Dan Kennedy listed on the site. 😉

  8. Don, American

    NASCAR isn’t a political issue. It’s a matter of energy, and we’re wasting far too much of it so we can watch cars going around in circles. Auto racing began as an opportunity for manufacturers to demonstrate that travel by automobiles was viable. I, for one, have long since been convinced.

  9. Suldog

    “Auto racing began as an opportunity for manufacturers to demonstrate that travel by automobiles was viable.”Maybe some auto racing did, but certainly not NASCAR. It has it’s roots in running moonshine.”Bootlegging began to create competition among the drivers of the moonshine cars and it was sport to see who had the fastest car. Over time, they would even collectively get together and have races on Sunday afternoons. All the local people would come out and spend a Sunday afternoon watching the races and that night, the drivers would turn their sport into work and run the illegal moonshine to secret buyers.In 1938, Daytona Beach Florida would become the place of the first NASCAR race. Daytona Beach was a good place for racing because the beach sands were firm and the beach area was wide.”From—The-Backwoods-Roots&id=786944(There are other sources, as well.)I know this isn’t germane to the original posting, Dan, but I know so little, and when I come upon something I do know about, I like to show off…

  10. Rick in Duxbury

    DK,So if I follow you, you’re outraged that lazy journalists write stuff that echos their familiar, comfortable narrative rather than the facts? In other news, it got dark last night and water is wet. In a democracy, we also get the PRESS we deserve.

  11. Nial Liszt

    Kin ah git me a huntin license heah?

  12. Anonymous

    It’s the second time in less than a month that a Herald columnist has based a column around a misquote. Last month they ran a correction after Joe Fitzgerald wrote a piece on George Carlin, in which he quoted from his favorite “Carlin” piece — a syrupy piece of nonsense which actually turned out to have not been written by Carlin. Carlin disavowed it on his web site. At least Margery Eagan was basing her research on a columnist for the nation’s paper of record and not on one of those annoying chain e-mails.

  13. Dan Kennedy

    Joe Fitzgerald still writes a column for the Herald? Who knew?

  14. Bruce

    Guilty as charged.Okay, mea culpa. As you found in Nexis, I misquoted Kerry — although I did it in the New York Observer, not the New York Sun.My only explanation for this is that at the time, I saw it in the NY Times, heard it on CNN, Fox and NPR, and didn’t bother to check. I took it on face value that the quote was real, having heard it repeated in so many news outlets. Which is also why it’s not attributed.Had it only been in one publication, or cited by one columnist, I would have found a way to rewrite the sentence and squeeze it in, ie: “As New York’s Kurt Andersen tells us John Kerry has asked..”)So yes, I’m guilty as charged – and just as I tell people you can’t use Wikipedia, or Google as a primary source, the real lesson here is that we all have to double check everything.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Bruce: Fixed the Observer reference.Who among us wouldn’t rely on the New York Times to quote Kerry correctly? I wouldn’t have double-checked, either. At the time you were writing, the quote hadn’t been debunked.

  16. o-fish-l

    DanYou’ll know when Joe Fitzgerald is gone, because the Herald will likely be gone the next day. It’s great to know that he irritates you so much that you resort to the kindergarten tactic, “let’s pretend he doesn’t exist.” How appropriate for a guy who appears on the same channel as Sesame Street.I think I speak for many of the 200,000 or so who pick up the Herald each day that we can easily get Eagan-like drivel, AP filler and endorsements of Nikki Tsongas from the Globe but the Globe just can’t deliver a Joe Fitzgerald. Fitzy and Carr are the only two saving the Herald from extinction. When it becomes all liberal (like Eagan) all the time, we’ll choose the real thing.

  17. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Joe Fitz doesn’t irritate me in the slightest. I haven’t read him in years. I almost always read Howie, because he’s interesting when he’s not just recycling his radio show. I think you know I don’t agree with him, either. It’s not the ideology.

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