KERRY PIC REVISITED…. I don’t want to belabor the point, but the TPM Muckraker report on the “lonely Kerry” photo that I linked to yesterday needs some follow-up.

Justin Rood’s original report noted concerns about the picture that raised questions about its authenticity. Last night, Rood spoke with CPT Benjamin G. Runkle, former Bush speechwriter and staff assistant to Defense undersecretary Douglas Feith, who originally published the picture and vouched for its authenticity.

The photo is authentic, he said. “Although I did not personally take the pictures, I saw the person who did immediately after they took them and asked for a copy.” […]

To cement the photo’s authenticity, Runkle attached a photo taken in the same hall with someone holding a copy of the most recent edition of the Stars and Stripes military newspaper.

Moreover, as several helpful emailers noted, Michelle Malkin did some digging and found fairly compelling evidence that the photo in question was, in fact, taken during Kerry’s visit to Iraq earlier this month. Barring any additional revelations, it would appear that the mystery is solved.

There is, however, the broader point to consider. The original “lonely Kerry” picture was supposed to be evidence of U.S. troops shunning the senator. He’d been ostracized, the story went, in retaliation for his “botched joke.” If the troops respected Kerry, he wouldn’t have been sitting by himself at the breakfast shown in the photo.

With the new evidence in mind, we apparently can accept the original photo as legitimate, but the narrative still seems unreliable. Malkin herself posted a picture of Kerry sitting at a mess-hall table, talking with troops who were sitting with him. Kerry wasn’t being intentionally isolated as some kind of symbolic slight; he appears to be engaged in conversation.

So, how then do we explain the original photo of Kerry with some empty chairs around him? I haven’t the foggiest idea. Maybe he got to the table early and the troops filled in afterwards. Maybe some troops had to leave shortly before the picture was taken. Without any real context, it’s very hard to say with any certainty.

But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. This flap was about alleged proof that Kerry’s flubbed joke from November caused lingering resentment between the senator and the men and women in uniform. Given the picture Malkin found of Kerry surrounded by troops, that part of the story appears to be untrue.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.