Cables, right-wing radio ran with debunked Drudge charges on Kerry combat films

One day after Internet gossip Matt Drudge, on his website The Drudge Report, revived and expanded on the discredited charge that Senator John Kerry (D-MA) reenacted Vietnam combat scenes on videotape for his future political ambitions, the false charge spread through cable, radio, and Internet news outlets. The sources Drudge cited for the smear were a 1996 Boston Globe article and two books by known Kerry-bashers: retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Buzz” Patterson and anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth founder John O'Neill. Yet in a September 7, 2002, column, The New York Times' current executive editor and then-columnist Bill Keller took up the issue of Kerry's wartime films and debunked this charge.

While the right-wing Internet and radio media largely accepted the charge as fact, several cable news networks also picked up on the story but indicated that the Kerry campaign denied the rumor's validity. While FOX News Channel attributed the claim to “critics” of Kerry, CNN was more explicit in reporting that Republicans were pushing the charge.

On the Internet and radio, the smear was reported as fact

On July 28, the right-wing publication Human Events reported and right-wing news site reported the Drudge story as fact, though Human Events cited only Patterson's book.

Radio hosts Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage also accepted the Drudge report as fact. On The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh said, "[W]e know that -- that John Kerry ...bought an 8 mm camera at a PX in Vietnam and he filmed himself in moments of valor. What we are learning now is that some of these moments of valor were reenacted." Limbaugh went on to predict that “now that this has come out,” the director of Kerry's film that will be shown at the convention will “see if any of these reenactments actually are in the -- in the film -- [and] probably will try to pull them out.” On Savage Nation, after stating the story as fact, Savage proceeded to smear Kerry: “It turns out that he [Kerry] reenacted the scene,” Savage said. “I mean this guy has been setting the stage; he's been in love with himself from day one -- if you want such a maniac in the White House, you're gonna get it.”

On FOX News Channel, “critics” made the charge and the smear was explored

As Media Matters for America has noted, on July 28, FOX News Channel's chief political correspondent Carl Cameron repeated the Drudge story on FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, reporting that “critics” made the charge.

On FOX News Live, anchor Bob Sellers also stated that “critics” were making the reenactment charge against Kerry. After radio host Leslie Marshall rebutted the charge against Kerry, National Review White House correspondent Byron York supported the claim, suggesting it was a character issue for Kerry: "[I]t does say something about his desire to use this politically because the one thing about Kerry is that he can take something good which is very honorable service in Vietnam and still beat it to death."

On the July 28 Big Story with John Gibson, FOX News correspondent Heather Nauert asked former Kerry crewmate Del Sandusky if this charge made by “critics” against Kerry “ma[de] you [Sandusky] uncomfortable, the notion that he may have re-created scenes to use for political gain?”

On FOX & Friends on July 29, co-host Brian Kilmeade noted that O'Neill made the reenactment charge in his new book, and co-host E.D. Hill echoed Limbaugh's suggestion that Kerry's convention video might need to be edited: "[W]e'll have to see what makes the final cut in this film, but I'm sure that because these allegations came out before the film aired, they probably -- if they had that stuff in, went and edited a lot of it out."

CNN reported that Republicans were pushing the claim

During CNN's July 28 convention coverage on America Votes 2004, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield noted, but downplayed, the story: "[O]n The Drudge Report, a story, apparently overwrought, about John Kerry sta -- reenacting his scenes in Vietnam." On July 29 on CNN Live Today, CNN national correspondent Bob Franken reported, “Republicans have seen to it” that Kerry's convention video is “controversial, trying to make the point that some of the video in it” was shot in order “for him to get into a position that he could use it when he ran for public office, which is something that is adamantly denied by the Kerry side.”