Kirk has often told the story of how the Coast Guard saved his life after he capsized his Sunfish sailboat off a beach in Kenilworth when he was 16. He’s used the anecdote to argue for keeping two Coast Guard stations open in the Chicago area.
It’s a great story, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from listening to Mark Kirk tell Navy tales, he likes to embellish his adventures. With that in mind, the Tribune examined Kirk’s near-drowning, and found he may have gotten some details wrong.
In Kirk’s defense, they’re not the kind of details you pay close attention to when you’re trying to save yourself from drowning. The Trib cites an interview Kirk gave to a sailing magazine, in which he says the incident occurred in the evening. The newspaper digs up a witness who remembers it happening in the afternoon. Kirk recalls that his body temperature dropped to 82 degrees. The Tribune quotes medical experts who say that anyone that cold would lose consciousness.
Kirk is responding with a press release that quotes his mother, his sailing companion and a physician. Kirk’s sailing companion, Bill Hertel, remembers seeing Kirk at Evanston Hospital, “his body temperature being roughly 89 degrees at the time. It was about an hour after he arrived in the Emergency Room and he was speaking gibberish.”
The release also quotes a physician, Dr. Jay Alexander, who writes:
It is completely preposterous for anyone to say they can prove or disprove what Mark Kirk’s body temperature was on June 15, 1976 without knowing detailed statistics, including Mr. Kirk’s exact body mass index at the time, his exact time in the water, the exact temperature of the water, the exact weight and type of clothing Mr. Kirk was wearing, the exact wind speeds and air temperatures throughout the experience and the vigor and duration of any activity conducted by Mr. Kirk in the water.
The Kirk campaign says it provided those quotes to the Tribune, but the Tribune focused on a quote from an April news conference in which Kirk stated that his body temperature was 82 degrees.
Every journalist knows that if you look into any incident that took place 34 years ago, you’re going to get conflicting accounts from the participants. The Coast Guard station chief couldn’t even remember the rescue.
Kirk brought this scrutiny on himself by lying about his military record. But he should get a pass on his imperfect memory of an incident in which his main concern was swimming to safety. As his friend said, Kirk ended up in the hospital, “speaking gibberish.” The most important facts are true. Kirk capsized his boat, and was rescued by the Coast Guard.
The Tribune should move on, and investigate Kirk’s prom night instead. You know how guys lie about that.