In reporting that filmmaker Carlton Sherwood has filed a defamation lawsuit against Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), alleging that Kerry directed people to call Sherwood an "extreme right-wing activist," the Associated Press, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Philadelphia Daily News all described Sherwood as a journalist and a veteran. But all three curiously omitted any mention of Sherwood's career as a right-wing activist -- seemingly an important detail, given that the crux of Sherwood's lawsuit is his claim that referring to him as an "extreme right-wing activist" is defamatory.
Sherwood is the producer of the discredited film Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, an attack on Kerry unleashed shortly before the 2004 presidential election that was widely criticized as an inaccurate partisan hit. The Boston Globe said it "indubitably qualifies as a slur against John Kerry" and described it as "an anti-Kerry attack ad masquerading as a documentary." Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner/operator of TV stations in the United States, had announced its intention to air Stolen Honor on its stations a few weeks before the election; after organizations and individuals, including Media Matters for America, raised concerns and launched actions including an advertiser boycott and shareholder litigation, Sinclair backed down and instead aired a program that showed only a few minutes of the film. The weekend before the November 2004 election, the conservative website NewsMax.com purchased airtime on TV stations across the country to show Stolen Honor.
From an October 6 Philadelphia Inquirer article:
Journalist Carlton Sherwood of Harrisburg claims in a federal suit that Sen. John Kerry stole his honor.
The Democratic presidential nominee defamed him while attacking his anti-Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal during last year's campaign, Sherwood argues in the suit, filed this week in Philadelphia.
Sherwood's suit claims that Kerry directed the Democratic National Committee to falsely label the film's financiers and producers "extreme right-wing activists" just before it was to run.
The suit also names as a defendant Kerry's Pennsylvania campaign manager, Anthony T. Podesta. In "a widely circulated e-mail," Podesta called Sherwood a "disgraced former journalist" who had "crawled out of the gutter," and a "Bush hack," according to the suit.
The Inquirer article, like articles in the Philadelphia Daily News and by the Associated Press, referred to Sherwood simply as a "journalist" and a Vietnam veteran, but omitted any mention of his history of working for conservative causes -- information that, given the allegations in his lawsuit, would seem far more relevant than his status as a Marine veteran.
As Media Matters detailed in 2004, Sherwood is a confidant of former Bush administration Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge; was chosen to "create and manage" a "key Bush Administration public outreach program"; was an official in the Reagan administration; worked for the conservative Washington Times; and wrote a book, published by the conservative Regnery Publishing, defending Washington Times owner Rev. Sun Myung Moon -- a book described by a Moon aide as an effort at "silencing our critics now."
The articles likewise ignored the controversial nature of Sherwood's co-plaintiff, the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation (VVLF). The AP described the group solely as "a combat veterans group"; the Inquirer simply referred to the group as "Sherwood's co-plaintiff." But despite the impression created by the AP and Inquirer, VVLF is more than just a "combat veterans group"; according to a January 21 NewsMax.com article, it is a "legal defense fund" founded by Sherwood. VVLF is led by partisan anti-Kerry and pro-Republican activists. Among them:
- VVLF president George "Bud" Day is "a Republican Party activist" who, during the 2004 campaign, compared Kerry to Benedict Arnold and accused him of "outright perjury." Day has served as a Florida State Republican Committee member, endorsed Bush, served as an official in Ronald Reagan's 1984 presidential campaign, and campaigned for George H.W. Bush in 1992.
- VVLF vice president Kenneth Cordier made an appearance in Stolen Honor, appeared in a television ad for anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, was a member of the Bush-Cheney '04 National Veterans Steering Committee, was an appointee to a Bush administration advisory committee, and served as vice chairman of Veterans for Bush-Cheney '00.
- VVLF board member Paul Galanti appeared in Stolen Honor to make false claims about Vietnam veterans.
- VVLF board member James Warner also appeared in Stolen Honor, where he seemed to contradict his own previous statements about Kerry. Warner contributed $1,000 to Bush's 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns.
Finally, the Inquirer referenced long-discredited smears against Kerry by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (which merged with a group of Vietnam veterans who supported Stolen Honor to become Swift Vets and POWs for Truth) without noting that the attack it cited is false:
No credible evidence that Kerry "lied about his service to get medals" was ever produced. Kerry's military records contradict Swift Boat Veterans' claims about him.
Leaders of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that accused Kerry of lying about his service to get medals, have circulated an e-mail soliciting money to support Sherwood's co-plaintiff, the Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation.