The netroots have another reason to turn on Bob Kerrey, former Senator and refusenik for a return to the arena. Just when their McCain Insane meme had started to develop legs, Kerrey disputes the characterization of the confrontation between John McCain and Charles Grassley in 1992. Further, Kerrey says that McCain’s temper is not irrational and always serves a genuine purpose:

McCain and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley got into such a furious argument in a closed-door meeting in 1992, Post reporter Michael Leahy wrote, that Kerrey had to step in and prevent fisticuffs.

Not so says Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator and president of New York’s New School.

“First, I did nothing to intervene; the two Senators worked it out on their own,” Kerrey wrote in a comment posted this morning under his name at 7:45. “Second, the subject of the debate – the status of Americans held as prisoner in Vietnam – was one that always provoked violent, ugly debates.”

The two senators were both “extremely angry,” Kerrey adds, but McCain was “at no time threatening.”

Kerrey, a Democrat and Hillary Clinton backer, concludes: “My experience is that [McCain’s] anger always has a purpose and in this case the purpose was to defeat Senator Grassley’s argument which he did decisively.”

This looks bad for Michael Leahy. Kerrey has no particular reason to pull McCain’s chestnuts out of the fire, so he’s not fulfilling an agenda for McCain or against the Post. Furthermore, one has to wonder why Leahy didn’t confirm the story with Kerrey before running it on page 1 of the Washington Post. Don’t journalists try to check with witnesses they themselves note in their own anecdotes before publication? Thats’ Job One for fact-checkers — one of the reasons the media considers itself superior to blogs.

It also should take considerable steam out of the entire meme. The Grassley incident, with its supposed physical nature, was the worst of the bunch Leahy reported. Now that Kerrey says that Leahy got it wrong, it leaves all the rest under question as well. Without it, it just shows McCain as someone who can get heated in debates, hardly a singularity on Capitol Hill in any year.

Democrats wanted Kerrey to return to Nebraska to run as a high-profile candidate to replace the retiring Republican Chuck Hagel. After considering it for a while, he declined, preferring to remain at the New School in New York instead. Some Democrats are going to wish he’d just kept his mouth shut after killing off another attack strategy against their general-election bete noir.