“Contrafactum”: “the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music”.
I did my “Music Theory” doctoral dissertation on this very subject.
Among the reading I did over the weekend about the Atlantic article, I had a “V8” moment (Google it) when I read this piece at Powerlineblog noting similarities between the Atlantic story and the bogus National Guard story run by Dan Rather and 60 Minutes against President Bush 43 just ahead of the 2004 election. The guys at Powerline came to prominence as a result of their work on gutting Rather’s story. Pretty much 99.99% of the real world — everyone except Rather — understands now that “Rathergate” was based on a bunch of documents that were created for the purpose of generating the resulting story, which had zero basis in fact.
A brief recap — last week, Atlantic Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg published a story whose central them was that Pres. Trump has no respect for the military or wounded veterans. The story begins with an anecdote going back to a 2018 visit to France to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Part of the trip was to include two trips to visit military cemeteries where US war dead were laid to rest — the Aisne-Marne American cemetery approximately 55 miles east of Paris in the French countryside, and the Belleau-Wood US Marine cemetery on the site of one of the most famous battles in US Marine Corps history.
On the morning of the planned trip, poor weather and visibility made a trip by helicopter unwise according to government records, and a trip by car had not been planned for by the US Secret Service. The trip was approximately 90 minutes each way, in poor weather conditions, across roads the Secret Service had not done advance planning on. The recommendation — delivered by Chief of Staff Kelly, was to cancel the trip.
So the trip to the cemeteries was canceled — but other foreign leaders made the journey anyway.
Goldberg’s article — based on anonymous sources — claims that the trip was possible, and the only reason Pres. Trump did not go was because he did not want to go and that he didn’t see any reason why it was necessary for him to visit cemeteries like these. Goldberg claimed he has four sources with first-hand knowledge as to the reasons why the trip was scrubbed. But no fewer than four people who were in the room have gone on record stating that the Atlantic Story is false, the only reason discussed for canceling the visit was the adverse travel conditions.
The Atlantic article goes on to paint a more detailed portrait with largely anonymous sourcing casting Pres. Trump as having no appreciation for or understanding of military service, and as someone who regularly disparages those who served in the military and were wounded or killed.
The Powerline article made two very significant comparisons between the Atlantic story and Rathergate — the timing and the subject matter.
The Atlantic article was published on September 3.
The 60 Minutes story on Rathergate aired on September 8.
Pres. Bush 43 was still benefitting from his status as a largely successful “wartime” President, and John Kerry made a decision to challenge him on that same ground using his status as a Purple Heart winner in Vietnam.
The Democrat Convention took place July 26-29, 2004, and Kerry famously capped off his acceptance speech with a military salute and the line “I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty!”
Kerry had held a small but consistent polling edge over Bush all through the summer of 2004 — 3-5 points — but he received little or no convention bounce in early August.
Interestingly, the GOP convention came a full month after the Democrat convention, taking place Aug. 30 to Sept. 2.
The RealClearPolitics average of polls shows that immediately after the GOP Convention, starting on September 2, the race moved from dead heat to a 7% lead for Pres. Bush — 50-43 — as of September 8, the day Rather ran the Texas National Guard story based on phony documents.
The story came under immediate and sustained attack based on its irregularities, and the falsehoods that were quickly exposed. The purpose of the story was to paint Pres. Bush as someone who used political favors to avoid being sent to Vietnam as a fighter pilot. The goal was to juxtapose Bush’s avoidance of combat with Kerry’s service time in which he was “combat wounded” — although that story took a beating as well. Pres. Bush was enjoying substantial support from the US military — and with troops stationed around the world, the Democrats were concerned about the impact that absentee balloting by military members, as well as voting by their families, would have on the outcome of the race. Rathergate was meant to tarnish Pres. Bush in the eyes of active duty and retired veterans.
The Atlantic story has the same purpose and was launched at the same point in time. It’s intended to peel away some Trump support from the ranks of active duty and retired military who support Pres. Trump’s approach to using military force — and not using military force. It has dubious sourcing and the four individuals who have claimed to have “first hand” knowledge of the words Pres. Trump used all refuse to reveal themselves — and to allow their biases to be explored.
The Atlantic Magazine could hardly be more in the tank for Biden and the Democrats. Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the piece, engineered The Atlantic’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton in 2016 — only the third time EVER that the magazine has issued an endorsement in a Presidential election — that covers a span of 162 years since it was first published in November 1857.
Dan Rather had history with the Bush family going back nearly three decades, as Rather was a well-know Texas Democrat — a distinct minority in a solid GOP state where the Bush family had dominated politics going back to the 1980s. He gladly played the part of the newsman who dropped the bombshell story just after Labor Day, the traditional kickoff of the stretch drive to the election.
Goldberg played a similar role here — except he’s just one small squeal of a cacophony of press organs lined up to oppose a second Trump term.
But just like Rathergate, the Atlantic Article has fatal flaws that have been exposed and undermine its central thesis. But it also serves as a bit of an inoculation against stories yet to come.
We’ve seen this movie before, and I liked the way it ended the first time. At this point in time, nothing suggests the ending to the 2020 version will be different.