Friday, September 17, 2004

Rassmann addresses local Kerry supporters

Sorry for the rather blase headline. As a journalist, it's not my job to give headlines to stories. That's up to the editors.

Today, I went to an event in Riviera Beach featuring Jim Rassmann. I'm covering it for my News and News Reporting course. I tried to get enough information to write a decent news story. Below is my preliminary effort.

First, a few qualifiers. I did my best to get this story under 4 pages, double spaced. It's actually much harder to write a shorter story than a more in-depth one. I had to cut out a lot of interesting details. I left out a lot of exposition. I know the story fairly well, but many might not be aware of the story behind Rassmann. I have a ton of quotes left from Rassmann that I couldn't include. I needed to leave space to get extra quotes. I didn't get time to get quotes from other obsevers. I hope to ask some people at Wednesday's rally for their feelings about Rassmann and crew.

I did my best not to appear biased in my presentation. Mostly I quoted from Rassmann and described the scene at the Union Hall.

If ever there was a time for constructive advice, this would be it. Despite my years in H.S. journalism, I am still unpolished in the field. I haven't covered that many events. Please give me your feedback on grammar, content, or anything else you liked/disliked about my article. Tomorrow, I'll post the "Palm Beach Post" recap of the town hall meeting.

By Taylor Sias

Jim Rassmann, the man whose life was saved by then Lieutenant John Kerry, addressed a crowd of approximately 50 supporters Friday in Riviera Beach.

The presentation, at the Iron Workers Local Union 402 Hall, was one hour in duration. Seated behind Rassmann were some notable local Democrats. Susan Bucher, running for reelection to State House District 88, was present but did not address the gathering. Also in attendance was Shelley Vana, seeking a second term in State House District 85. Both candidates have the endorsement of the Iron Workers Union. In addition, the Union has endorsed the presidential candidacy of Sen. John Kerry.

Rassmann’s visit came on the heals of a sustained effort to disparage Kerry’s military service, most prominently by the 527 group “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth”.

Rassmann began by joking about the real story behind swift boats. Rassmann said, “The truth about swift boats is that they were made out of aluminum.”

A life-long Republican, Rassmann said he supports Kerry’s candidacy because, “I saw the kind of guy he was. And the kind of guy he still is.”

Rassmann commented further on what the months since he reunited with Kerry have been like. “I figure that I’m about $3000 in the hole.” Rassmann has contributed $2000, the maximum amount anybody can give to a presidential candidate. He has also been on the road campaigning for Kerry since before the January victory in Iowa.

“As John has come under attack, so have I,” said Rassmann. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have disputed Rassmann’s claim that he was under enemy fire in March 13, 1969. That was the day when Kerry saved the life of a young Rassmann in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

However, Rassmann bears no ill will towards the opponents of Kerry. Referring to the Swift Boat Vets, Rassmann said, “All of these guys on the boats very courageous. I have nothing bad to say about any of them, including (Larry) Thurlow.” Mr. Thurlow is a leading skeptic of the events that transpired in March 1969. Thurlow asserts that Kerry’s boat was never under enemy fire.

Rassmann continued to directly address the claims made by Thurlow. “(Robert) Lambert, admittedly a Bush fan, said that Thurlow was wrong and we were under fire,” said Rassmann.

Rassmann tried to explain the motivations behind veterans groups opposed to Kerry. “I know that veterans organizations are very split. This is not a surprise. Some people can’t get past the fact that John Kerry came back and spoke against the war,” said Rassmann.

Much of Rassmann’s harshest criticisms were directed at the Bush Administration. Rassmann admitted that he supported the President’s decision to go into Iraq. “I wanted to believe my government,” said Rassmann. However, he now regrets the decision to invade. Rassmann said, “We didn’t need to go into Iraq. No Al-Qaeda, no terrorists were there…. We’ve created 200,000 insurgents in Iraq. We’re in trouble, and it’s getting worse.”

Specifically, Rassmann claimed that Mr. Bush did not listen to the advice of his subordinates. “(Erik) Shinseki was forced to take early retirement because he said that we’d need 250,000 troops over 10 years in Iraq,” said Rassmann. Regarding recent criticisms from Lt. Gen. James Conway, “He said that orders were coming from the White House. He is history… I’m sure he will retire. He won’t get his fourth star. Sit up and take notice because he’s (Conway) put a lot into this”. Conway harshly criticized Bush’s handling of the siege on Fallujah.

Rassmann was adamant about the public’s right to question their government. He quoted former President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, “Dissent is a moral imperative”. Rassmann.

“The First Amendment says that we can speak out against our government. Bush says dissent is disloyalty. I’m here to tell you that is not the case. If they (the Bush Administration) truly believe this, then we have big problems down the road. Even if Kerry wins… they will come back.”

Rassmann worries about the state of our national military. “Enlistment in the Oregon National Guard (Rassmann’s home state) will be down 60 %… Officers will be resigning so they won’t be called back.”

He concluded his comments with a rather grim assessment of Bush. In the recent book “Bush at War” by Bob Woodward, Bush told Woodward that “I’m the President. I don’t have to give explanations.” Rassmann said, “Some things lead me to think that he (Bush) actually believes what he says. If that’s true, he’s a nutcase.”

Crowd sentiment was overwhelmingly against the incumbent president. Observers were heard referring to Mr. Bush as a “bastard”, among other things. Others in attendance were concerned about the judicial ramifications of a Bush reelection.

County Democratic Chairwoman Carol Ann Loehndorf sent out an email to Kerry supporters, saying that Sen. Kerry and possibly Sen. Edwards will be in Palm Beach County next Wednesday, September 22. An exact time and place has not been determined.


Blogger Eric Cioffoletti said...

A good news story. You did a fine job of keeping your bias out imho so don't worry about that.

On paragraph two, cut the "one hour in duration" or find another way to say it. It felt a little bit awkward for some reason.

On paragraph three, change "heals" to "heels" if I'm not mistaken.

On paragraph four, it was redundant to mention the swift boats twice. The quote can stand up for itself. Try to pad it with some auxilary information about the swift boats as opposed to just explaining what the quote signifies because this is fairly obvious.

The rest of the story suffers from a problem similar to that of paragraph four. Too many paragraphs open with you explaining what a quote means and then listing the quote verbatim. I understand the importance and the power of a quote in a news story, but either summarize them of these or find some way to present it so that your words don't seem redundant when stacked alongside Rassmann's.

The story was made strong by your use of more common, everyday language imo. I felt like I was reading an effective news brief on a current event. Using big language (like you did in the Pagley letter--though it worked there) might have made this story seem cumbersome.

I'm thinking long and hard about the conclusion of the story. The last paragraph mentions Kerry possibly coming to town. I have to be honest with you: I'm not entirely sure what to make of it. On the one hand, it seems logical to try and summarize the main points of your story in this last paragraph. On the other hand, mentioning Kerry's own visit to the area does feel like it flows naturally with the story. I'm not reporter so it's hard for me to give you advise in this area--perhaps this is how a good news story of this length is written. Maybe check with a classmate or a teacher on this one.

I think the second to the last paragraph is good. I'm a little bit concerned over the use of the word "bastard" in the article, not bk it might be seen as a "bad word" but just because the story might sound more professional if you took it out. It's fine to make comments about the crowd being anti-Bush though. I would just cite a more concrete example of this sentiment. Again, this is just a matter of my opinion. Not something I would change without talking to a classmate first because this could possibly be what your teacher wants.

I tried to squeeze out whatever weaknesses I could out of the story to try and help you make it better. But it is a very solid story. Should net you AT LEAST a "B" as it is right now and probably better. Quality reporting here and I can tell you were busy taking notes of Rassmann's key talking points the whole time. Great work and good luck!

September 18, 2004 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger tsias said...

Thanks a lot for the advice. I can tell you put a lot of thought into the comments.

When I finally get my printer hooked up, I'll print it all out and make corrections accordingly.

Writing a news story isn't always an easy thing to do. Basically, I threw this initial version together in about 30 minutes. I have another 3 weeks to finalize it.

Thanks again.

September 18, 2004 at 7:51 PM  
Blogger tsias said...

In addition...

You make a good point about the conclusion. The problem is that Kerry will be long gone from S. Florida by the time this assignment is due.

The paragraph about anti-Bush sentiment was part of my plan to set a scene. I could have gone into flowery language about the venerable union hall, but that wouldn't be good for a news article. I have a lot of direct anti-Bush quotes, but I didn't get their names. They came from audience comments and questions. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to simply say, "an audience member said, ..."

I see your point about redundancy. In a news article, space is at a premium. If something can be said in 1 sentence, there's no reason to use 2. That way, I can use the extra space to add info that contributes substance to the story.

Direct quotes were also a challenge. It's difficult to get the quotes word for word. I summarized if I was unsure if the quote was verbatim. Next time, I'm bringing a tape recorder.

Once again, I really appreciated the advice. I can tell you genuinely want to help my story. When asked for advice, too many people simply say "Nice job" and other compliments. It's help like yours that will make concrete improvements to my work.

September 18, 2004 at 7:59 PM  

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