Limbaugh joins other media in whitewashing Swift Boat Vets' falsehoods, claims "nobody has disproven anything they claimed"

››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

On his radio show, Limbaugh claimed that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth "were right on the money, and nobody has disproven anything they claimed in any of their ads, statements, written commentaries, or anything of the sort." In fact, most of the allegations the Swift Boat Veterans made about Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam War service during the 2004 presidential campaign have been thoroughly discredited, often by official military records, but also by the Swift Boat accusers themselves, who struggled to keep their stories straight.

On the November 7 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh claimed that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth "were right on the money, and nobody has disproven anything they claimed in any of their ads, statements, written commentaries, or anything of the sort." Limbaugh made his comments on the same day reporter Tom Benner of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Massachusetts) revived baseless smears by the Swift Boat Veterans directed at Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) during the 2004 presidential campaign. Brenner wrote: "During the 2004 campaign, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused Kerry of embellishing his military service to further his political career, a view that seems right to Tom Mustin of Coronada, Calif., a former Navy lieutenant commander who says he has no involvement with the Swift boat group." In fact, most of the allegations the Swift Boat Veterans made about Kerry's Vietnam War service have been thoroughly discredited, often by official military records, but also by the Swift Boat accusers themselves, who struggled to keep their stories straight.

During the 2004 presidential campaign, members of the Swift Boat Veterans published a book, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak out Against John Kerry (Regnery, August 2004), and aired television commercials accusing the then-Democratic presidential nominee of being a coward while serving in Vietnam and fabricating events in order to feed his "insatiable appetite for medals." The Swift Boat Veterans made specific allegations regarding battles in Vietnam, claiming Kerry never should have received his medals because he faked injuries and wrote up phony reports in order to win commendations. Only one of the men making the allegations actually served on a Swift Boat captained by Kerry.

Nonetheless, the allegations created widespread media coverage during the month of August. A 2004 poll released by the National Annenberg Election Survey reported that more than half the country had heard about or seen the Swift Boat ads attacking Kerry's war record.

Here are just some of the Swift Boat allegations against Kerry, which Limbaugh suggested were "right on the money":

  • In the first Swift Boat ad, then-Clackamas County (Oregon) senior deputy district attorney Alfred J. French announced: "I served with John Kerry. ... He is lying about his record." In preparation for the ad, French signed a sworn affidavit for the Swift Boat Veterans asserting that Kerry had received his Purple Heart "from negligently self-inflicted wounds in the absence of hostile fire." A fundamental requirement of any affidavit is that the person signing it must have personal knowledge of the matters involved. The affidavit French signed declared, "I do hereby swear, that all facts and statements contained in this affidavit are true and correct and within my personal knowledge and belief" (emphasis added).

But in an interview with The Oregonian, French freely admitted he had no firsthand knowledge of the events surrounding Kerry's medals and that his information came secondhand from "friends."

  • George Elliott was Kerry's former commanding officer in Vietnam and, in early 2004, told USA Today he had no qualms about Kerry's actions that earned him the Silver Star in Vietnam. "This was an exemplary action," he said. "There's no question about."

Elliott then flip-flopped and claimed in the Swift Boat ad that "John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam."

Elliott then flip-flopped again when, just days after the first Swift Boat ad aired, he confessed to The Boston Globe that his involvement in the Kerry attack was "a terrible mistake" and said, "I'm the one in trouble here. ... I knew it was wrong. ... In a hurry I signed [an affidavit] and faxed it back. That was a mistake."

But Elliott flip-flopped yet again -- days later, he announced that he stood by claims that Kerry "had not been honest" about Vietnam.

  • Dr. Louis Letson appeared in the first Swift Boat commercial and announced, "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart, because I treated him for that injury." In another affidavit, Letson claimed Kerry's wound was too small to justify a medal.

But Navy guidelines during the Vietnam War for Purple Hearts did not take into account the size of the wound when awarding the honor, which meant Letson's claim was irrelevant. Also, Kerry's medical records indicate Letson did not sign off as the "person administering treatment" on the night of the injury, which raised doubts about whether Letson ever even treated Kerry.

  • During the 2004 campaign, retired Cmdr. Adrian Lonsdale claimed that Kerry "lacks the capacity to lead." But during Kerry's 1996 Senate race, according to reports from ABC News and the Air Force Times, Lonsdale lauded Kerry's bravery during Vietnam: "It was because of the bravery and the courage of the young officers that ran boats ... the swift boats and the Coast Guard cutters, and Senator Kerry was no exception."

Also in 1996, Lonsdale explained to reporters that Vietnam War medals were only awarded if battle events were corroborated by others. His explanation completely contradicted later claims by the Swift Boat Veterans that Kerry won his awards only because he was able to write up false reports and fool his commanders.

  • Navy Lt. Larry Thurlow commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry's in Vietnam. As late as April 2004, Thurlow told USA Today that Kerry "was extremely brave, and I wouldn't argue that point."

By August, though, Thurlow had publicly disputed Kerry's Bronze Star and third Purple Heart, won during a mission in Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. Thurlow claimed Kerry's award was a fraud. Thurlow signed a sworn affidavit for the Swift Boat Veterans stating that Kerry was "not under fire" when he pulled Lt. James Rassmann out of the water that day. He described Kerry's Bronze Star citation, which stated that all units involved came under "small arms and automatic weapons fire," as "totally fabricated." The Swift Boat Veterans also accused Kerry of "fleeing the scene."

But when The Washington Post got a hold of the citation for a Bronze Star that Thurlow won that very same day for actions on a boat that was right alongside Kerry's, the citation detailed how both his boat and Kerry's boat faced "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire." Asked for a response, Thurlow still insisted there had been no enemy fire that day. If true, that meant Thurlow knowingly accepted a Bronze Star that he did not deserve since he did not face enemy fire.

  • Upset by what he was hearing about the Swift Boat allegations regarding Kerry's Bronze Star, and that he did not deserve it because he was not under enemy fire, Jim Russell, a witness to the event, wrote to The Daily Planet of Telluride, Colorado, to dispute the Swift Boat Veterans' claims: "Forever pictured in my mind since that day over 30 years ago [is] John Kerry bending over his boat picking up one of the rangers that we were ferrying from out of the water. All the time we were taking small arms fire from the beach."
  • Like Thurlow, Swift Boat leader and Unfit for Command co-author John O'Neill was emphatic that Kerry didn't deserve his Bronze Star medal for saving Rassmann out of the Bay Hap River because Kerry wasn't under enemy fire. As proof, O'Neill told Fox News, "There's not a bullet hole in any of those three boats, not one." In fact, a report on the battle damage to a boat that motored upriver alongside Kerry's on March 13, 1969, made reference to "three 30 cal bullet holes about super structure."

During an August 11, 2004, appearance on CNN, O'Neill insisted, "[T]he people in our organization have no partisan ties." Nine days later, the Swift Boat Veterans unveiled a new commercial featuring Vietnam veteran Ken Cordier, who served at the time as a member of the Bush-Cheney '04 National Veterans Steering Committee. Cordier had also been selected to serve on the Bush administration's POW Advisory Committee.

Five days after that, it was revealed that Benjamin Ginsburg, a legal adviser to the Bush-Cheney campaign, had also been advising the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

  • Kerry's former commander, retired Adm. Roy Hoffmann told The Boston Globe in June 2003 that Kerry's Silver Star was the product of "guts" and that he "admire[d] that." The next year though, Hoffman helped form the Swift Boat Veterans group.

According to a May 6, 2004, article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the former commander "acknowledged he had no first-hand knowledge to discredit Kerry's claims to valor and said that although Kerry was under his command, he really didn't know Kerry much personally." The next month, Hoffmann reiterated, "I did not know Kerry personally. I didn't ride the boat with him."

In August 2004 though, when the first Swift Boat ad began to air, Hoffmann updated his Vietnam memories, telling Fox News, "I knew [Kerry] well, because I operated very closely with him."

From the November 7 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Hi. How are you? This is Rush Limbaugh, and this is the "Excellence In Broadcasting Network," and The Rush Limbaugh program -- a program that meets and surpasses all audience expectations on a daily basis: our telephone number 800-282-2882, the email address Rush@EIBNet.com. Your phone calls coming up.

New York Times today: Bill Clinton's suggestion that his wife faced a Republican-style Swift-boat attack during and after the last debate drew a rebuke yesterday from "Barry" Obama, who said, "I was pretty stunned by that statement." This story is all about Clinton trying to stick the attacks on Hillary with Swift boat imagery.

What really killed Kerry -- you know, the Swift Boats were one thing and they were right on the money and nobody has disproven anything they claimed in any of their ads, statements, written commentaries, or anything of the sort.

What really killed Kerry was the flip-flopper thing: "I voted for it before I voted against it." And that's what's got Hillary on this driver's license thing -- that, and the way they're trying to cover it up. You combine the fact that she flip-flopped -- which we're going to show you again here in a minute, let you hear -- and now that they're trying to come out and blame everybody else for piling on her. This is not the stuff of future presidents.

Let's go back. I want to get this on the record one more time -- how this all started. It was October 30th, the day before Halloween, and it happened right here on this program. I said this.

[begin audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: What is amazing to me about this is how Mrs. Clinton gets to be quiet when she wants to be quiet. This is her state. The fact that she's a presidential candidate only adds to the fact she should be asked about this. The fact that she's a senator from the state of New York and is not being peppered by the press -- "What do you think of the governor's plans here for illegal immigrants getting driver's license?" It's amazing how she's able to skate. She's given a pass!

"It's too radioactive for her," writes the AP. Man, oh man, oh man! Would I have loved over several occasions in the last 18 years for you dummkopfs in the media to think certain issues were too radioactive for me to talk about! Good grief! Woman doesn't have to say diddlysquat about anything, and she doesn't!

[end audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: Then the next day -- or that night actually, in Philadelphia -- you know, maybe it was the next day. I'm not sure which. It was the next day. Yeah, so it was October 29th then that I made the original statement. On Tuesday, October 30th, in Philadelphia, Drexel University, Tim Russert said, "Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. He told the Nashua, New Hampshire, editorial board. It makes a lot of sense" -- she told that.

"Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver's license, Mrs. Clinton?"

CLINTON [audio clip]: Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know, in New York, we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds -- it's probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum.

LIMBAUGH: Now, Chris Dodd then disagrees and Hillary jumps in and flip-flops. Russert said, "Does anyone here -- anyone on this panel believe an illegal immigrant should not have a driver's license?"

[begin audio clip]

DODD: The idea that we're going to extend this privilege here of a driver's license, I think, is troublesome. ... But a license is a privilege, and that ought not to be extended, in my view.

[...]

CLINTON: I just want to add: I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it.

DODD: Now, wait. Wait.

CLINTON: And we have failed --

DODD: Wait a minute.

CLINTON: We have failed --

DODD: No, no, no. You said -- you said yes.

CLINTON: No --

DODD: You thought it made sense to do it.

CLINTON: No, I didn't, Chris.

[end audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: Yes, she did! So, that's what got all of this started. She was humiliated. She was embarrassed. She flip-flopped. She did a Kerry! Nobody has to Swift-boat her! All Swift-boating is, by the way, is telling the truth about somebody -- generally, telling the truth about a Democrat.

Well, this caused great ramifications in the Clinton household, ladies and gentlemen. Our microphones were there.

[...]

LIMBAUGH: Well, we'll see if the rehearsals help out in the next debate. Meanwhile, it's Monday in Las Vegas, Clinton addressing the American Postal Workers' annual conference -- a portion of his remarks.

[begin audio clip]

CLINTON: [T]he point I'm here to make to you is whoever you're for, this is a really big election. We saw what happened the last seven years when we made decisions in elections based on trivial matters. When we listened to people make snide comments about whether Vice President [Al] Gore was too stiff.

LIMBAUGH: He is.

CLINTON: When they made dishonest claims about the things that he said that he'd done in his life. When that scandalous Swift boat ad was run against Senator Kerry.

LIMBAUGH: True.

CLINTON: When there was an ad that defeated [former Sen.] Max Cleland [D] in Georgia -- a man that left half his body in Vietnam. ... So they put an ad on comparing him to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

LIMBAUGH: They did not!

CLINTON: Why am I saying this? Because I had the feeling, at the end of that last debate, we were about to get into cutesy land again.

[end audio clip]

LIMBAUGH: Yes, Swift-boating. Hillary was Swift-boated. That's what got it all started. That caused Obama to -- that's really strange! Because it was Democrats attacking a Democrat! The other Democrat opponents and the drive-by media guy, Russert. You know, Swift boats are when Republicans lie about Democrats.

So, the left-wing, drive-by media on Hardball -- they had a reaction to the Swift boat comment. We've got Mike Barnacle here, and Lois Romano about the Washington -- from The Washington Post -- about Clinton's Swift boat comment.

Network/Outlet
Premiere Radio Networks
Person
Rush Limbaugh
Show/Publication
The Rush Limbaugh Show
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, 2004 Elections
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