John O'Neill, co-founder of the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and co-author (with Jerome R. Corsi) of the Regnery book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, followed up numerous cable TV appearances in recent days with an August 12 appearance on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, during which he repeated lies from his prior appearances and introduced new ones. O'Neill reissued his false attacks against Senator John Kerry's (D-MA) Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Hearts (which Media Matters for America has refuted), but also presented new falsehoods about the length of Kerry's Vietnam duty, O'Neill's own deep Republican ties, and the courage Kerry displayed in combat.
O'Neill asserted Kerry did not serve two tours of duty in Vietnam
When John Hurley, national director of Veterans for Kerry, said that Kerry "had two tours in Vietnam, one on the USS Gridley and one on the swift boat, two swift boats in the Delta," and Matthews asked O'Neill if he concurred, O'Neill replied, "[n]ot at all. The USS Gridley was not a tour in Vietnam. It was a ship way off the coast of Vietnam." While Matthews was able to get O'Neill to concede that Kerry's service of the USS Gridley was "recorded as combat theater duty" and that during that service Kerry was "given credit by the Navy for serving in Vietnam," O'Neill falsely maintained "it would never have been considered a tour in Vietnam by the Navy or anybody else...It was not a one-year tour of Vietnam." Although much of his service in this first tour of duty was not in Vietnam, Kerry did serve more than a year on the USS Gridley, with the ship involved "in operations in support of the Vietnam War" from February 9 to May 27, 1968.
O'Neill lied about his Republican ties past and present
When Matthews accused O'Neill of being "a Republican from Texas," O'Neill said "I'm not a Republican from Texas. That's just not true." Matthews persisted, asking O'Neill "[h]ave you voted Democrat recently for president?" O'Neill replied, "Absolutely. I haven't voted for a Republican since 1988." He claimed to have "voted for Gore" in 2000. While O'Neill's Presidential election voting records are not publicly available, Media Matters for America has noted that O'Neill contributed $1,000 to George H.W. Bush in 1992 when he was running for reelection against Bill Clinton, and that he has made a total of nearly $15,000 in contributions to federal races -- all Republican -- spread over all but one federal election cycle since 1990. MMFA also has reported that, according to the April 21 Houston Chronicle, O'Neill voted in the 1998 Republican state primary.
Also, as Matthews said to O'Neill (and as MMFA has extensively documented), "you go back to the Nixon era, when [former President Richard] Nixon was looking for someone. [Chuck] Colson and those guys were looking for somebody to debunk the Kerry record, because all the records show they were scared to death of this guy. And you played that role." In response, O'Neill said: "That's just not true."
O'Neill said Kerry acted only with an "ordinary degree of courage," despite risking his life and being shot at
Pushed by Matthews, O'Neill admitted that "Kerry, in being shot at, showed courage," but O'Neill emphasized that Kerry only exhibited an "ordinary degree of courage." O'Neill then claimed that, despite his courage, Kerry is "millions of steps behind ... everybody," appearing to include President George W. Bush.
From the August 12 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: [I]f a man shows any courage in the battlefield, he's done more than most people do in this country. He's gone out and fought for his country and risked his life for his country and shot one of the enemy for his country. That puts him a step above most people, doesn't it?
O'NEILL: I think he is millions of steps behind, because he went over ...
MATTHEWS: Behind whom?
O'NEILL: Behind everybody.
MATTHEWS: Behind Bush? President Bush?
O'NEILL: Yes. I'm not going to speak to President Bush.
After listening to all of O'Neill's claims, Matthews concluded the program by stating: "Well, I've already heard enough that he's [Kerry] done more than I ever did for my country and a lot more than anybody else ... and more than the president."