Monthly Archives: August 2004

Vietnam War veterans inspect “Vote For Kerry” T-shirts at the American Club in Hanoi, Vietnam.

A Mistake

Congressman Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.) recently announced his retirement from the House. This staunch Midwest Republican does so with profound regret over his vote to authorize the president to go to war in Iraq. His forthright letter to his constituents reflects a position I wish John Kerry would take.

Thanks to a reader for supplying the letter.


It saddens those of us who once felt Nightline was the best news program on television. But with the gradual retirement of Ted Koppel, the show is left in the hands of people like Chris Bury, who simply can’t consistency measure up

I watched last night as Nightline helped the anti-Kerry forces by focusing on the story of the Swift Veterans ads.

The “backgrounder,” the prerecorded package of the story, tried to lay out the history of the story, but the producers apparently had time to fill. They repeated two clips, one each from Bush and Kerry, twice during the background piece. Perhaps because they didn’t book any of the principals in story. Instead, in the live segments, they carted out two opposing surrogates for the Dems and GOP – Roger Simon and Tony Blakely, the former a US News & World Report political correspondent and the latter an editorial writer for the Washington Times.

Ironically, the backgrounder included a comment from Richard Viguerie, the wealthy conservative known for funding the slimiest of tactics, who admitted that the strategy was simply to put up a little money for the ad and hope the free media will do the rest: “Let the free media do it” is I believe how he put it.

After the background piece, Bury teased the live session by asking “Why did John Kerry respond the way he did?” suggesting that maybe Kerry overreacted or somehow we should question a man when he defends himself against such mean attacks.

Simon pointed out the obvious: that the free media made this story. Bury said, “It’s easy to blame the media.” I’d say like shooting fish in a barrel.

There was one elucidating graphic: Of the 527 groups, those supporting Kerry have raised 87% of all such funds; the Bushies only 13%. The campaigns were not that far about: Bush $230 million vs. Kerry at $183 million.


Keith Oberman sometimes seems out of his league as a newsman. His questions ramble, and he seems uncertain of his fact and himself. But sometimes he exhibits a gustiness that few except the right -wing nuts ever show. Watching a repeat of Countdown last night I saw Oberman refer to Michelle Malkin, a flack for the Swift Boatsdguys, as making “a fool of herself” on MSNBC earlier last night, It was on Hardball and the transcript is here.

But also listen to David Gergen, an advisor to both Dems and Republicans, although, I believe his is a Republican.

GERGEN: That‘s the point, Chris. More than whether Kerry gains or Bush gains is the fact that it‘s not good for the country. To have an argument about the past when we should talk about the future is trivializing what we face as a nation. How will we come up with a strategy to win this war on terrorism?

Where will the next president go over the next four years? To divert attention from that issue is harmful to the process. I will tell you—the Republicans do not help themselves. Over time when you have a pattern from—when they went after John McCain in South Carolina when they went after his war record and then went after Max Cleland in 2002 and one of the Republican leaders Ann Coulter said maybe it‘s his own fault that he lost three limbs in Vietnam.

Now they‘re going after Kerry on his war record. This is really a mistaken, terribly wrong-heading pattern for the Republicans. It only drives people away. These things can work in the short term, but in the long term McCain was helped. His stature grew after the South Carolina primary and the president‘s stature, while he helped himself in the short-term, he was hurt in the long-term.

But Gergen also seems to not appreciate the Lee Atwater strategy, which again is illustrated in this Swift Boat smear campaign.

GERGEN: Well, I guess they don‘t because they seem to [appreciate the damage the GOP is doing to itself]—Dana said they‘re dancing away from it in Texas and not denouncing the ad, but they‘ve—I think the Democrats—it is interesting to me, Chris. The last couple of weeks, we thought George Bush was politically more adept and boxing in John Kerry on Iraq and he did a good job. On this issue, it defies belief that the Bush administration would like to keep the issue of John Kerry‘s war record and shrapnel in his leg and his heroism front and center in the campaign. This is Kerry‘s strong point not his weak point.

As Atwater advised: Whatever your weakest point is (in Bush’s case, his lack of Vietnam service), accuse your opponent of it. That’s what Bush is doing, trying to denigrate Kerry’s service to shift the focus from his own shortcomings.

NY Times Details Swift Boat Vets Genesis

The anti-Kerry ads continued last night to get a boost from media coverage of them. More analysis of how the media is complying later, but here is the New York Times’ take on this in a thorough story this morning by reporters Kate Zernike and Jim Rutenberg.

A series of interviews and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush’s chief political aide, Karl Rove.

Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family – one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove’s, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush’s father’s presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush’s father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice. And the group’s television commercial was produced by the same team that made the devastating ad mocking Michael S. Dukakis in an oversized tank helmet when he and Mr. Bush’s father faced off in the 1988 presidential election.

The strategy the veterans devised would ultimately paint John Kerry the war hero as John Kerry the “baby killer” and the fabricator of the events that resulted in his war medals. But on close examination, the accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’ prove to be riddled with inconsistencies. In many cases, material offered as proof by these veterans is undercut by official Navy records and the men’s own statements.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the scurrilous campaign includes veterans of such tactics, including PR executive Merrie Spaeth .

Ms. Spaeth had been a communications official in the Reagan White House, where the president’s aides had enough confidence in her to invite her to help prepare George Bush for his vice-presidential debate in 1984. She says she is also a close friend of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a client of Mr. Rove’s. Ms. Spaeth said in an interview that the one time she had ever spoken to Mr. Rove was when Ms. Hutchison was running for the Texas treasurer’s office in 1990.

When asked if she had ever visited the White House during Mr. Bush’s tenure, Ms. Spaeth initially said that she had been there only once, in 2002, when Kenneth Starr gave her a personal tour. But this week Ms. Spaeth acknowledged that she had spent an hour in the Old Executive Office Building, part of the White House complex, in the spring of 2003, giving Mr. Bush’s chief economic adviser, Stephen Friedman, public speaking advice.

And then she lays bare her PR tactics and their relationship to truth.

Asked if it was possible that she had worked with other administration officials, Ms. Spaeth said, “The answer is ‘no,’ unless you refresh my memory.”

The tactics of the Swift Boat group included calling some of those who served under Kerry to elicit statements criticizing him. Whether or not the people contacted criticized Kerry didn’t seem to matter.

Patrick Runyon, who served on a mission with Mr. Kerry, said he initially thought the caller was from a pro-Kerry group, and happily gave a statement about the night Mr. Kerry won his first Purple Heart. The investigator said he would send it to him by e-mail for his signature. Mr. Runyon said the edited version was stripped of all references to enemy combat, making it look like just another night in the Mekong Delta.

“It made it sound like I didn’t believe we got any returned fire,” he said. “He made it sound like it was a normal operation. It was the scariest night of my life.”

Then there is the anti-Kerry book, co-written by “Jerome R. Corsi, who was identified on the book jacket as a Harvard Ph.D. and the author of many books and articles. But Mr. Corsi also acknowledged that he has been a contributor of anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments to a right-wing Web site. He said he regretted those comments.”

I’m sure he regrets them, as they make him appear the lying bigot that he is.

Update: Here’s a graph of the SBV connections to the Bush campaign and Karl Rove. (You may need to expand the graphic to read it.) Much thanks to Alan Bennett for this.

Kevin Drum also has a post on this today.

Media Plays Into GOP’s Hands

The attack ads by Vietnam vets who say John Kerry didn’t earn his medals have run in only three states. Yet, Americans across the country know about the charges, thanks to the accommodating “free” media.

Last night, I was casually watching Gwen Ifill on the PBS News Hour program. She asked the New York Times’ Adam Nagourny, a print reporter who doubles as so many of them do as a broadcast media pundit, if the flip-flopping charge against Kerry is sticking. Yes, Nagourney opined. He never mentioned that the “I voted for it before I voted against it” comment about the Iraq War made sense in context. But the GOP has used it to suggest Kerry flip flops. Of course the charge has stuck because reporters like Ifill can’t think of any more intelligent questions other than “do people think it’s true?” Isn’t the role of reporters to shed the light of truth on charges?

The Washington Post tried to correct the record on the medals story today in a front page story that showed one of the critics, Larry Thurlow, has contradicted himself.

Thurlow’s military records, portions of which were released yesterday to The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, contain several references to “enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire” directed at “all units” of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat “despite enemy bullets flying about him.”

But by this afternoon, the story had disappeared from the home page of The Post and was replaced by one of Kerry attacking Bush for letting such groups do his “dirty work.”

Then “All Things Considered” on NPR began today with three stories. The first was about Kerry lashing out at Bush. I came in towards the end of it. (Full audio will be available at 7:30 p.m. EDT here). In the 5:00 news round-up, reporter Juan Williams’s summary is immediately followed by a Bush spokesman repeating a claim that Bush wants Kerry to join him to repudiate all ads by independent groups like the Swift Boat men and Neither Williams’s full story (the part I heard) or the news brief points out that Bush has refused to repudiate the ad, whereas Kerry did repudiate the MoveOn ad that attacked Bush’s service – or lack thereof.

The second story was by John McChesney and began with an acknowledgement that the ad has aired in only three state but that it has gotten legs from incessant reporting of it. Keep in mind, about the only news has been:

1. The charge
2. Revelations of the group’s funding
3. John McCain’s condemnation and his demand that Bush renounce it.
4. Bush’s refusal to do so.

Following that, about the only news has been that which discredits the ad, including one critic’s recantation and now Thurlow’s inconsistency, dare I say, his flip-flopping.

But the media, and not just the shout matches on cable TV, keep repeating the charges, and every little comment or development gives the media the chance to rehash, indeed to provide free advertising for the charges. See more and here.

I agree this isn’t an easy call. You have to give The Post credit for pointing out the inconsistencies and distortions of the scurrilous campaign. But in a search for “balance” the media reports every development that discredits the ad and includes comments supporting it, but most importantly, keeps repeating the charges.

Reportedly, the Swift Boat group has collected nearly a half million dollars since the ad broke from people and organizations that want to keep the charges alive.

Want to learn more? Well, you could watch any one of the many cable news/talk shows tonight. But how much you’ll learn is highly debatable. However, those talk fests and stories will help the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth keep raking in the money yet be no more closer to the truth. All courtesy of your favorite reporters.

Josh Marshall has his take today.

Finally, there’s a Virginia connection. Of course, the fact that Bush won’t refute the ad is the last sentence.

Federal Work

I once worked for the Federal government at the beginning of my career. It wasn’t for me, but it still saddens me that government work is now so readily shunned.