Parsing Mark Kirk's Apology Line by Line

Succumbing to a flood of questions about his military service record and subsequent attempts to correct it, Mark Kirk visited the editorial boards of the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune Thursday evening and attempted to clear the air.

The headlines were generous to him. Both the Sun-Times and the Tribune's headlines lead with Kirk apologizing. AP followed. LA Times and Politco put "apologizes" in their headlines as well.

And Kirk was apologetic. But since the controversy surrounding Kirk is a controversy about language, it's worth parsing exactly what Kirk said. As the Huffington Post and Capitol Fax have already noted, Kirk made a few missteps in the interview -- including stating his award was in the Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual, when it isn't.

And as Lynn Sweet notes, Kirk's statements around being shot at by Iraqi air defense are misleading as well.

I listened to much of the action in the Sun-Times video of Kirk's apology. Here are some of the more salient points. Also see the official Mark Kirk apology timeline, which tracks Kirk's statements and revelations through Thursday.

The opening apology
"I want to be very contrite and say that there was a casualness with which I sometimes described military details. And if it gave the impression that my military record was larger than it was, I apologize."

Kirk doesn't directly apologize for the errors. He apologizes for the impression you may have had over what he said. In other words, I'm not apologizing for what I did. I'm apologizing for how you reacted to what I did.

On His 2005 Resume Error
"As we have now reviewed the ten years of my public service, we find things like in 2005 my campaign biography said that I served stateside to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and we sent so many people from the Pentagon downrange, reservists came into the Pentagon to do their work. Our official biography did not have the word stateside, though we were called and said why not the stateside reference in your official biography and we said that's absolutely correct, it should be in there and we made that correction."

This is only half of the story, a misstatement by omission. What happened, and what Kirk's referring to, is that Kirk's biography actually said "served in Operation Iraqi Freedom". He changed it to say "served during Operation Iraqi Freedom."

On his Misstated Campaign Literature
"This morning we found that we had sent out a letter saying that as a veteran of Iraq or of Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom and so and so and so forth...and actually had I written that letter personally I wouldn't have written it that way, but these letters go out under my signature and they're my responsibility...I was a reservist...the support we provided was not part of that deployed force."

True. But did Kirk find that letter, or did Daily Kos point it out first? It's an honest question. But the Kos post made the rounds that day and linked to earlier sources, so Kirk's campaign timing is, at the least, suspicious -- and speaks to whether Kirk is being honest in dealings with the media.

On Not Remembering Awards Correctly
"I simply misremembered it primary attention was in an utterly different place at the time. We had pictures of getting the award and I remembered it wrong. And then when the [Blumenthal] matter came out I said we have to document everything."

This may be true. However, "misremembering" implies a casualness that marks no other part of Kirk's Navy Reserve career. And, that casualness is at odds with how dedicated Kirk was in promoting his record. Kirk may not be lying, but he's certainly applying different -- and convenient -- standards of rigor. The Sun-Times editors called him on that [about 10:18 in the video], saying he more than anybody should understand the importance of remembering awards correctly. Kirk replied "that's absolutely job is to when you find an error correct it." The editors followed up and said yeah, but you never said you got carried away with embellishing your record. That never happened with you. Kirk: "That emotion is part of me as well as everybody else. Quite honestly, in the case of the Rufus Taylor Award, I was in the middle of a Congressional campaign. As the skipper [Kirk's commanding officer] recalled, I swung by, picked it up, moved on...he and I both remembered it wrong."

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