Monthly Archives: August 2004

Misleading Headline

The Washington Post has an “analysis” about the Swift Boat ads that is headlined “Dispute Over Kerry’s Vietnam Service Cuts Both Ways.”

But the article by Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei deals with the possible fallout for Bush in only two paragraphs and spends the rest of the 1,400+ word article reinforcing the story line that the ads hurt Kerry’s candidacy.

Even in an analysis piece, Balz and VandeHei can’t seem to bring themselves to cast a critical eye on Bush’s vulnerabilities here.

Kurtz on Credibility

Howard Kurtz is the “Ad Watch” for The Washington Post this election. Today, he reviews the latest Swift Boat ad.

The strength of this spot, by the independent group that has roiled the campaign by accusing the senator of lying about his military record, is that it uses Kerry’s own words and voice.

But Kerry’s testimony is selectively edited in a way that is misleading. He began by talking about a conference in Detroit several months earlier in which some of the 150 veterans told him stories of atrocities. “They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads.” Kerry said, but the ad deletes the first six words, making it sound like Kerry is offering a firsthand account instead of reporting on what was dubbed the “Winter Soldier” investigation. Swift boat veteran John O’Neill says the ad is “very fair” because Kerry was describing crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the knowledge of officers at all levels of command and “there’s no way to put the whole speech in.”

Some of the atrocities Kerry described have been documented, such as at the My Lai massacre, and others remain in dispute. While Kerry’s testimony angered many veterans, he portrayed himself as speaking out on behalf of disaffected vets, not attacking them.

But then Kurtz adds.

By using Kerry’s testimony, the group avoids the credibility issues raised by its first attack spot in which some veterans have given inconsistent accounts of the candidate’s military record.

“[A]voids the credibility issue”? If The Post had characterized Kerry’s testimony in the way this ad does would Kurtz think the paper’s credibility was hurt? The ad is one more piece of evidence that the Swifties are liars, but maybe Kurtz just had to find a way to prove his “balance” by suggesting the charge is credible.

More on the Swifties credibility at Eschaton

Moral Cowardice

From Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo

The current debate about these two men’s military service has put the spotlight on physical courage. But that really is a side issue in this campaign, if we’re talking substance. The real issue isn’t physical bravery but moral cowardice.

President Bush is an examplar of that quality in spades. And it cuts directly to his failures as president. Forget about thirty years ago, just think about the last three years.

Before proceeding on to that, one other point about the two men’s service. On the balance sheet of moral bravery, as opposed to physical bravery, the two men are about as far apart as you can be on Vietnam. On the one hand you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went, and put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have George W. Bush who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go; just not him. It’s the story of his life.

That is almost the definition of moral cowardice.

For Truth?

In one of the ads by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth, one of them says, “I served with John Kerry. … He is lying about his record.” The guy is an ass’t DA in an Oregon county. But

In an interview with The Oregonian newspaper last week, French said he relied on the accounts of three other veterans in making the statement about Kerry and did not personally witness the events.

That pissed off other Vietnam vets.

“As a senior assistant district attorney, you know as well as we do that that kind of ridiculous statement would never pass muster in a court of law,” veteran Terry Kirsch said of French’s account.

“We question your fitness to serve as an enforcer of the law after swearing to facts in a legal affidavit that you do not know to be true,” he said.

Before recording the ad, French signed an affidavit that said: “I am able to swear, as I do hereby swear, that all facts and statements contained in this affidavit are true and correct and within my personal knowledge and belief.”

It goes on to say that “Kerry has wildly exaggerated and lied about his record in Vietnam” and that he received his Purple Heart medals “in the absence of hostile fire.”

In other words, at least of these Swift Boat vets is just making it up.

Nothing New

While doing some research, I came across an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times from early 2000. It’s a Lexis Nexis search and I’m sure no longer available except by fee from the paper. Here’s the relevant part.

At one of his first South Carolina appearances, Bush shared the stage with a discredited former Green Beret who accused McCain of “stabbing veterans in the back.” The Bush campaign has relied on surrogates for much of its dirty work. The tobacco lobby has run ads accusing McCain of supporting huge tax increases – failing to mention that the proposed increases were on cigarette taxes. The National Right to Life Committee has run ads distorting McCain’s views on abortion, and Americans for Tax Reform have run ads distorting McCain’s record on fiscal policy.

Most despicable of all have been the personal attacks on McCain. A mass e-mail from a Bob Jones professor claimed McCain “chose to sire children without benefit of marriage” and “chose to focus his life on partying, playing, drinking and womanizing.” So-called “push polls,” in the guise of legitimate political polling, have spread more dirt on McCain to thousands of homes. Fringe religious groups even have spread the libel that McCain’s captors while he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam brainwashed him and turned him into a Communist agent.

The Bush campaign, the most expensive in the history of U.S. politics, has spent millions on negative advertising in South Carolina, but many of the nastiest and most dishonest attacks on McCain have come from outside groups. Bush can’t control everything independent groups do on his behalf, but Time’s Jay Carney and other campaign reporters have detailed evidence of the Bush campaign’s coordination with some of those groups. “Right to Life will do radio, (Americans for Tax Reform) will do TV ads,” Carney quoted a Bush adviser after the New Hampshire primary. “ATR will come (to South Carolina) with whatever we need.”

Leave aside Bush’s handlers’ efforts to repackage their candidate – the son of a former president and the darling of Washington insiders – as “a reformer with results.” That’s within the bounds of typical campaign puffery. Even the Bush ads that paint the solidly conservative McCain as a liberal tool of the Democratic Party are predictable stuff; however, the organized character assassination of a war hero has been breathtaking. McCain hasn’t been entirely innocent or defenseless. Bush took great umbrage when McCain ads accused him of “twisting the truth like Clinton.” But McCain doesn’t have the money or organization to match the Bush campaign’s gutter tactics even if he wanted to.

Dirty campaigns often work in South Carolina, but voters in 49 other states are watching, too. The Bush campaign “went from compassionate conservatism to downright mean,” said U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a McCain supporter and former House impeachment manager. “The persona of George Bush nationally has changed in South Carolina. It’s a campaign that lost its way after New Hampshire.”

Shut Up and Keep Fighting

USA Today had a brief story yesterday reminding readers that many questions remain about Bush’s Vietnam War service, such as “Where was he for nearly two years?” But buried in the story is

Since February, the White House has banned all Guard and military commanders outside the Pentagon from commenting on Bush’s records or service. Requests for information must go to the Pentagon’s Freedom of Information Act office.

Censorship a la Karl Rove I’ll bet.

Post on Swift Boats

The Washington Post continues its mixed record on the Swift Boat ad campaign. While I think the prominence the paper gives to the stories provides credibility to the campaign, the headline writers and reporters have cast doubt on the group’s veracity.

Last Saturday’s paper had two front page stories on the controversy. The first outlined the group’s bitterness over Kerry’s anti-war activities.

But while the group appears to be rooted in Republican politics and big money, several veterans who signed the letter said in interviews yesterday that they are casually into politics and generally are not convinced that Kerry is lying, but they do not like the candidate because of his polarizing speeches in the 1970s.

James Zumwalt, who attended the group’s first news conference in May, said he joined the group solely to set the record straight about the allegations of war crimes included in “Tour of Duty,” a Douglas Brinkley book about Kerry’s Vietnam service. Now, Zumwalt says, “I kind of have mixed feelings” about the tone of the group’s attacks. “I would not try to question the awards given to him or his service.”

Indeed, Kerry’s anti-war activities seem to drive most of the 250 who signed the anti-Kerry petition.

Unlike casual participants, the most committed members say they are driven by desire to expose Kerry as a fraud who doctored his record to win medals and an early release from Vietnam. But they are a minority in the larger group.

So what we learn is that most of the group doesn’t think he’s lying about his record, yet that aspect of the group dominates the coverage.

The second article is nothing short of a free advertisement for the ad decrying Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activities. The ad was to begin airing Saturday. At least the Dems are getting better at sound bite hardball.

David Wade, a Kerry spokesman, responded in kind: “Maybe if George Bush had seen combat up close his hired-gun mouthpiece wouldn’t be so flip.” Not to be outdone, Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said, “Mr. McClellan needs to understand that John Kerry is not the type of leader who will sit and read ‘My Pet Goat’ to a group of second-graders while America is under attack.” On Sept. 11, 2001, Bush remained in a Florida classroom for several minutes after learning that planes had flown into the World Trade Center.

Though it was the least read of the week paper, two front page stories seems over the top.

Sunday we got a top of the front page story saying both camps provide incomplete accounts. It reads like another piece where the reporter contorts himself to prove he’s balanced.

An investigation by The Washington Post into what happened that day suggests that both sides have withheld information from the public record and provided an incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, picture of what took place.

Give credit to the writer for following that with “But although Kerry’s accusers have succeeded in raising doubts about his war record, they have failed to come up with sufficient evidence to prove him a liar.”

Then comes Monday. The Post decides news of the Kerry ad attacking the lies of the Swift Boat group should appear on page 2. So after a weekend of three front page stories, the response is inside the paper. The article does reveal a key Bush camp tactic: intimidation.

The Bush campaign announced it will be sending a letter to television stations Monday, stating: “The Bush-Cheney campaign flatly rejects this baseless allegation of illegal coordination between Bush-Cheney ’04 and a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The ad running on your station contains this false and libelous charge.”

Today, The Post has another front page article with a headline – and story tenor – favorable to Kerry.

I’m still wondering if there were ever a group of 250 people out of a possible hundreds of thousands (in this case, veterans of Vietnam) who were able to have such an impact when their credibility is so severely challenged and they offer no proof other than hearsay.

Note the four stories from Saturday through today were reported by six different reporters. That seems a lot of manpower on this story.

Update: The American Prospect skewers The Post

And guess who says this:

It’s long been obvious that the war will decide the election.

Only now it looks like Vietnam, not Iraq.

How did we get to the point where the election has been hijacked by a debate over whether John Kerry’s wounds were bad enough, and his bravery sufficient, in a jungle war 35 years ago?

I blame the media. (Why not? It’s my column.)

The Swift Boat Veterans have a right to purchase air time and make their case, and they’ve done a remarkable job, from their point of view, with a lousy half-million-dollar ad buy in three states.

But the media, which can’t get enough of Vietnam, picked up the issue and ran with it on a hundred cable finger-pointing shows — without having the slightest idea whether it was true. Without that echo-chamber effect, this dinky little ad would have sunk without a trace.


Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly blog has a telling entry about Bush’s hypocrisy vis-a-vis 527 groups.

Only the Lonely

Catching up on some articles from last week when I was on vacation, I just read Howard Kurtz’s piece about how The Washington Post screwed up coverage of the run-up to the war, how the reporters and editors, with few exceptions, suffered from “group think,” as Bob Woodward put it.

I often have my suspicions about the objectivity of Kurtz’s work, but this time he did a pretty good job. Pretty good in that he allowed the Post people to embarrass themselves with their weak excuses. It’s to the point that I’m beginning to question Len Downie’s general competence.

A comment he makes confirms the suspicion that too many people at The Post look down their noses at ordinary people.

Across the country, “the voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones,” Downie said. “We didn’t pay enough attention to the minority.”

“Lonely voices”? It may have been a minority in the U.S., but the 100,000 people with whom I marched in Oct. 2002 in Washington didn’t seem all that lonely. And I’ll bet the one million-plus in Rome and London didn’t either.

Downie’s comment suggests that even a massive demonstration, if it doesn’t include enough of the people Downie meets at parties, consists merely of the ignorants, the naïve, the hopelessly unrealistic trouble makers who don’t understand the complexities of “intelligence,” which in this case is an oxymoron.

Over at Common Wonders, Bob Koehler of the Chicago Trib, pulls no punches (You may need to look under previous columns) about The Post’s, and before it the New York Times’s mea culpas.

War is waged by cowards. Brave men and women will die, but first, chicken-hearted politicians and journalists must start the stampede. When the war wagon rolls, no one in a position to slow it down will throw his body beneath its wheels, even if he harbors doubts or retains a shred of professional skepticism.

Woodward, for instance, told Kurtz that the atmosphere at the paper in early 2003 was such that “it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly” – that is, forcefully present the other side of the story – “if weapons were ultimately found in Iraq.”

In other words, bucking the groupthink was career suicide. I guess if you’re not on tenure track at the Washington Post, you don’t know what risk is.

Do they know what courage is?

Double Standard

Over at Media Matters this afternoon, there’s a story that reminds us of how the press treated allegations about Dubya’s alleged cocaine arrest a few years back. As with the Swift Boat book and clap trap PR campaign, the charges were widely refuted and thinly sourced. Then, the media virtually ignored the story until the author’s past discredited him.

So why are they giving credibility to the Swift Boat liars?