Rep. Mark Kirk is facing some serious criticism following his false (and repeated) claim that he was named the Navy Intelligence Officer of the Year in the late 1990's. The flap has garnered a lot of negative attention for Kirk, who is running against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias for President Obama's former Senate seat, but is not the first time he has publicly embellished details of his military service.
Last week, the Washington Post ran an article revealing that Kirk did not personally receive an award for "Intelligence Officer of the Year," which he touted in both speeches and on his online biography (the bio was removed following the Post's investigation). Kirk's unit had actually received the Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor Award.
Eric Elk, a spokesman for Kirk's campaign, told the Post that the campaign "found the award was misidentified and corrected the name." But as the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim pointed out over the weekend, Kirk has been making the claim for several years, and in at least one video the assertion appears to be "scripted and thought out."
Even before the Navy award buzz, some were questioning Kirk's choice of words when talking about his military service. On May 21, Politico pointed out a video of Kirk saying he commanded the War Room in the Pentagon. From Politico's report:
"In my role in the military, I command the war room in the Pentagon," Kirk told a gathering of experts on U.S.-Chinese relations last May (at 4:18 in the video above).
This struck military observers as, literally speaking, implausible: The Pentagon's National Military Command Center is typically run in eight-hour shifts headed by an officer of the rank of a one-star general, who would outrank Kirk, an intelligence officer in the Navy, both a retired flag officer and current Pentagon official said.
"Nitpicker" blogger Terry Welch has been on Kirk's case about his military service embellishments for weeks:
* Why did Mark Kirk claim on his website to be "the only member of Congress to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom" when he never deployed to the country?
* Does Mark Kirk really equate his three-week Annual Training stints in the country with "deployments," which normally require months of service in the area of operations as well as significant pre-deployment training time?
Welch also said that when he pointed out the false "Operation Iraqi Freedom" claim to Kirk's campaign, the site was changed "without comment or apology."
While his previous slip-ups have been virtually unreported by the mainstream media, some are wondering how much his third strike will hurt his campaign. Meanwhile, he continues to slam Giannoulias. Following the Washington Post story, Kirk's campaign sent out an email to supporters calling Giannoulias "Desperate" for tipping the Post off to the military embellishment story. His failure to take full responsibility does not bode well, either.
"At the end of the day, Kirk is a decorated Navy reservist...But this is also the third time he's been caught embellishing," NBC Chicago reporter Steve Bryant wrote Tuesday. "Kirk had an opportunity to issue a mea culpa and take momentum back by elevating the debate. Instead he's using the Richard Blumenthal tactic of pridefully stonewalling."