Fox News Kicks Off “Swift Boat” Campaign Against John Kerry Ahead Of Possible Defense Post

Fox News is distorting Sen. John Kerry's record in an attempt to discredit his possible nomination as Defense secretary. But Fox's criticism is based on the misleading and false claims of a disgraced 2004 Swift Boat campaign against Kerry and on the misrepresentation of past Kerry remarks.

Wash. Post: Obama May Choose Kerry For Defense Secretary

Wash. Post: John Kerry Being Considered For Secretary Of Defense. A November 12 Washington Post article reported that President Obama was considering asking Kerry to serve as his next secretary of Defense.

President Obama is considering asking Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to serve as his next defense secretary, part of an extensive rearrangement of his national security team that will include a permanent replacement for former CIA director David H. Petraeus. [The Washington Post, 11/12/12]

Fox News Responded By Distorting Kerry's Record

CLAIM: 2004 Swift Boat Allegations Uncovered Troubling “Facts”

Megyn Kelly Cast “Swift Boat Controversy” As Credible To Argue Kerry Appointment Would Be Seen As “A Thumb In The Eye” By Military. On Fox's America Live, host Megyn Kelly introduced a segment on Kerry's possible nomination by highlighting the Swift Boat controversy and claiming that his nomination as Defense secretary could “be taken as some sort of a thumb in the eye by some who are actively serving us”:

KELLY: The Washington Post reporting that Senator John Kerry is being considered for the Secretary of Defense. Senator Kerry, a Navy veteran, was very involved in the president's reelection efforts, but he also was at the center of a controversy during his own 2004 presidential run. That's when the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group challenged Senator Kerry's record as a war hero and slammed his testimony before a Congressional Committee back in 1971, claiming it was false, misleading, and impugned their reputations.


KELLY: I remember the whole Swift Boat controversy. This was covered in great deal by a lot of reporters, including at the time our own Major Garrett who was with Fox News, and there were some really troubling reports and there were a lot of veterans who didn't have anything to do with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth who were upset with Senator Kerry as those tapes and other facts emerged.

If the president does choose to go with him, understanding that the president gets his choice and we should defer to him, will that be taken as some sort of a thumb in the eye by some who are actively serving us, do you think? [Fox News, America Live, 11/13/12]

FACT: Swift Boat Allegations Were Found To Be Dishonest

Factcheck.Org: Swift Boat Claims “Are Contradicted” By Former Crewmen, Navy Records. reviewed several of the claims made by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and found that they were “contradicted by Kerry's former crewmen, and by Navy records”:

A group funded by the biggest Republican campaign donor in Texas began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which former Swift Boat veterans claim Kerry lied to get one of his two decorations for bravery and two of his three purple hearts.

But the veterans who accuse Kerry are contradicted by Kerry's former crewmen, and by Navy records.

One of the accusers says he was on another boat “a few yards” away during the incident which won Kerry the Bronze Star, but the former Army lieutenant whom Kerry plucked from the water that day backs Kerry's account. In an Aug. 10 opinion piece in the conservative Wall Street Journal, Rassmann (a Republican himself) wrote that the ad was “launched by people without decency” who are “lying” and “should hang their heads in shame.”

And on Aug. 19, Navy records came to light also contradicting the accusers. One of the veterans who says Kerry wasn't under fire was himself awarded a Bronze Star for aiding others “in the face of enemy fire” during the same incident. [, 8/6/04]

Veterans Who Served With Kerry Documented 10 “Lies Told By People Who Were Not There And Never Bothered To Talk With Us.” In a 12-page letter disputing the Swift Boat campaign against Kerry, a group of 10 veterans identified 10 falsehoods from the campaign that members stated had “tarnished the sacrifices [they] made”:

[T]he lies of the SBVT ... tarnished the sacrifices we made, called into question the medals we were awarded and challenged the very authenticity of our service. In countless radio talk shows, television appearances and ads, newspaper and magazine interviews, not to mention political speeches and group appearances, SBVT lied about or skipper's and our service in Vietnam and in so doing, damaged our reputations and attacked the quality of our service to country.  We have children and families who were deeply affected by these lies and we believe you and the SBVT whom you supported owe us and the American people an apology for the tactics you bankrolled.

We are aware of media reports that at a dinner in Washington, D.C. on November 6th, 2007, you made a public challenge that you would give a million dollars to anyone who could show that anything the SBVT said was false. We also know that Senator John Kerry, who was the skipper of PCF-94, contacted you to take you up on that challenge. We are writing to you now as a group to accept your challenge and document how you funded lies and character assassination.

Those of us who served with John Kerry on PCF-94 were personally there, on the boat and with him in the actions for which he was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and two of his purple hearts. Many of us were decorated for some of these same actions and we are outraged that thirty five years later, for political purposes, people lied so outrageously about what we did, attacking our character and the  Navy's integrity--lies told by people who were not there and never bothered to talk with us.  How can your group call itself the Swift Boat Veterans “for Truth” when you never interviewed the PCF-94 boat eyewitnesses? [Letter from PCF-94 crew, 6/19/08, via Huffington Post]

Wash. Post: Swift Boat Group Has “Failed To Come Up With Sufficient Evidence To Prove Him A Liar.” A Washington Post investigation into the Swift Boat allegations headlined, “Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete,” found that “although Kerry's accusers have succeeded in raising doubts about his war record, they have failed to come up with sufficient evidence to prove him a liar.” [The Washington Post, 8/22/04]

NY Times: “Extensive News Media Accounts Undermined The Swift Boat Charges.” A June 2008 New York Times article headlined “Veterans Rebut 'Swift Boat' Charges Against Kerry In Answer To Challenge” explained that though Swift Boat Veterans for Truth continued to push their false allegations, news media had already undermined their charges:

Extensive news media accounts undermined the Swift boat charges in 2004, pointing out that some of the Swift boat critics had written statements in Vietnam lauding Mr. Kerry for extraordinary bravery in the incidents they later said he made up. One critic had himself received a medal for heroism during a hail of gunfire he later claimed Mr. Kerry had concocted to win his third Purple Heart. [The New York Times, 6/22/08]

NY Times: McCain Condemned Swift-Boat Attacks. A New York Times article headlined “Anti-Kerry Ad Is Condemned By McCain” reported in August 2004 that Senator John McCain, who had endorsed Bush, defended Kerry's record and attacked Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's claims as dishonest:

Senator John McCain on Thursday repudiated a new advertisement accusing Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts of lying about his Vietnam War record and called on the President Bush to do the same.


''I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad,'' The Associated Press quoted Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona and a Vietnam War veteran, as saying. [The New York Times, 8/6/04]

Republican Veteran Who Served With Kerry Defended His Record. Jim Rassmann, a veteran who served with Kerry in Vietnam, defended Kerry's record and affirmed “John Kerry's courage and leadership saved my life.” Rassmann went on to condemn the “Republican-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Bush” who “are suddenly lying about John Kerry's service in Vietnam”:

Now, 35 years after the fact, some Republican-financed Swift Boat Veterans for Bush are suddenly lying about John Kerry's service in Vietnam; they are calling him a traitor because he spoke out against the Nixon administration's failed policies in Vietnam. Some of these Republican sponsored veterans are the same ones who spoke out against John at the behest of the Nixon administration in 1971. But this time their attacks are more vicious, their lies cut deep and are directed not just at John Kerry, but at me and each of his crewmates as well. This hate-filled ad asserts that I was not under fire; it questions my words and Navy records. This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency, people who don't understand the bond of those who serve in combat. [The Wall Street Journal, 8/10/04]

FACT: Swift Boat Campaign Was Based On Lies, Factual Distortions

Swift Boat Allegations Were Replete With Inconsistencies And Outright Lies. Allegations leveled against Kerry in 2004 by members of the Swift Boat Veterans were replete with inconsistencies and factual discrepancies:

  • George Elliott: Elliott, Kerry's commanding officer in Vietnam, told conflicting stories in 2004 about Kerry's service. He first said in early 2004 that he had no qualms about Kerry's actions that earned him the Silver Star in Vietnam, affirming that they were “exemplary.” But in the group's Swift Boat ad, Elliott stated: “John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.” After the first Swift Boat ad aired, Elliott changed his story again, saying that his Kerry attack was “a terrible mistake.” He added: “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 in yet another flip-flop, days later, Elliott announced that he stood by claims that Kerry “had not been honest” about Vietnam. [Media Matters, 11/9/07]
  • Dr. Louis Letson: Letson, who claimed he treated Kerry in Vietnam, disputed Kerry's account of how Kerry received his first Purple Heart, saying, “I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart, because I treated him for that injury.” Letson later claimed Kerry's wound was too small to justify the medal. In fact, according to Kerry's medical records, Letson was not the doctor who signed off as having treated Kerry the night of the injury. Moreover, Navy guidelines during the Vietnam War for Purple Hearts did not take into account the size of the wound when awarding the honor, which invalidated Letson's wound claim. [Media Matters, 11/9/07]
  • Cmdr. Adrian Lonsdale: In 2004, retired Cmdr. Adrian Lonsdale claimed that Kerry “lack[ed] the capacity to lead,” which was at odds with what he reportedly said about Kerry during his 1996 Senate race. According to reports from ABC News and Air Force Times, Lonsdale stated: “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.” In 1996, Lonsdale explained that Vietnam War medals could only be awarded if battle events were corroborated by others -- this explanation contradicted Swift Boat Veterans' 2004 claims that Kerry won his awards only because he was able to write up false reports and fool his commanders. [Media Matters, 11/9/07]
  • Navy Lt. Larry Thurlow: Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry's in Vietnam -- which resulted in Kerry earning a Bronze Star -- affirmed as late as April 2004 that Kerry “was extremely brave, and I wouldn't argue that point.” Four months later, Thurlow publicly disputed Kerry's medal, claiming it was a fraud. Thurlow maintained that Kerry was “not under fire” that day and that the claims that units involved came under “small arms and automatic weapons fire” were “totally fabricated.” In fact, according to The Washington Post, the citation for a Bronze Star Thurlow also received that same day for actions on a swift boat alongside Kerry's, detailed how both his and Kerry's boats sustained “enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire.” [Media Matters, 11/9/07]
  • Stephen Gardner: Gardner, who served as a gunner under Kerry's command, was repeatedly cited as an eyewitness to key Kerry events in Vietnam. Gardner later admitted however that “he was not on the boat with Kerry during the incidents for which Kerry got his medals.” [The Columbus Dispatch, 8/6/04, via Media Matters]
  • Alfred J. French: French, a veteran featured in the Swift Boat ads, claimed: “I served with John Kerry. ... He is lying about his record.” French also agreed that that Kerry had received his Purple Heart “from negligently self-inflicted wounds in the absence of hostile fire.” But in an interview with The Oregonian, French admitted he had no firsthand knowledge of the events surrounding Kerry's medals and that his information came secondhand from “friends.” [Media Matters, 11/9/07]

FACT: Swift Boat Group Was Financed By Major GOP Supporters And Closely Linked To GOP

Factcheck.Org: Swift Boat Group Funded By Major Bush Donor Bob Perry. noted that the Swift Boat group's “financing is highly partisan” and is “funded by the biggest Republican campaign donor in Texas” who has given “millions” to President Bush and other Republican candidates:

[T]he group's financing is highly partisan. The source of the Swift Boat group's money wasn't known when it first surfaced, but a report filed July 15 with the Internal Revenue Services now shows its initial funding came mainly from a Houston home builder, Bob J. Perry, who has also given millions to the Republican party and Republican candidates, mostly in Texas, including President Bush and Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose district is near Houston.

Perry gave $100,000 of the $158,750 received by the Swift Boat group through the end of June, according to its disclosure report.

Perry and his wife Doylene also gave more than $3 million to Texas Republicans during the 2002 elections, according to a database maintained by the Institute on Money in State Politics. The Perrys also were among the largest Republican donors in neighboring Louisiana, where they gave $200,000, and New Mexico, where they gave $183,000, according to the database

At the federal level the Perrys have given $359,825 since 1999, including $6,000 to Bush's campaigns and $27,325 to DeLay and his political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, according to a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics. [, 10/22/04]

Longtime GOP Donor T. Boone Pickens Helped Bankroll Swift Boats Campaign With $2 million. In an article about how Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens has reinvented himself as a nonpartisan donor, Politico reported that Pickens had been one of the primary financiers of Swift Boat Veterans, donating $2 million in 2004:

In an effort to build support for the climate change legislation he's crafting with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kerry last month met quietly in his Washington office with the two lawmakers and T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman behind the Swift Boat attack ads that helped sink Kerry's 2004 presidential bid.


Pickens, who has contributed more than $6.6 million to Republican candidates and committees since the 1980s, has reinvented himself in recent years as a leading champion of clean energy. He has spent some $62 million and counting on television ads urging Congress to encourage development of wind and natural gas, in which he has business interests.

At 81 years old, his new crusade has landed him improbable audiences - if not alliances - with leading environmentalists, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid - who once called Pickens a “mortal enemy,” but more recently referred to him as “my political friend” - and dozens of rank and file lawmakers who have signed onto a natural gas bill he's pushing in Congress.

But until the private meeting last month, Pickens - who in 2004 donated $2 million to the group that aired the brutal Swift Boats ads challenging Kerry's decorated military service in Vietnam - had done little to mend fences with Kerry. [Politico, 3/3/10]

  • Pickens Donated Millions To American Crossroads. On October 25, the Huffington Post reported that Pickens donated $1 million to Karl Rove's American Crossroads, the pro-Mitt Romney super PAC. [Huffington Post, 10/25/12

Big GOP Backer Harold Simmons Donated $3 million To Swift Boat Group. In a profile of Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, Politico noted that he donated $3 million to bankroll the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on Kerry in 2004:

Spending big on political campaigns is nothing new for Harold Simmons.

The Texas billionaire who has outspent every other super PAC donor this season is something of a pioneer in the world of big outside money.

Simmons has contributed more than $14 million to super PACs this presidential cycle alone. Most of that money, $12 million, went to the super PAC American Crossroads, associated with Republican strategist Karl Rove. The rest, a little over $2 million, went to super PACs supporting Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

This is just the latest time Simmons has ponied up millions to outside groups. In 2004, he chipped in $3 million to a group that aired the Swift Boat attack ads against John Kerry. Then in 2008, he contributed $2.87 million to a group that sponsored controversial ads suggesting Barack Obama supported the Weather Underground. [Politico, 2/23/12]

NY Times: “Documents Show A Web Of Connections To The Bush Family.” The New York Time reported in August 2004 that "[a] series of interviews and a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family" and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth:

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 New York Times, 8/20/04]

Swift Boat Founder, Member Had Extensive Ties To GOP. John E. O'Neill, founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, had extensive ties to the Republican Party, including ties to the Nixon administration and contributions of more than $14,000 to GOP campaigns. Member Ken Cordier was also found to have GOP ties, including serving as a member of the Bush-Cheney '04 National Veterans Steering Committee and being named to a Bush administration POW Advisory Committee. [Media Matters, 8/24/04]

FACT: Swift-Boating Is Shorthand For Dishonest Political Attacks

Time Magazine: “Swift-Boating's Essence Is A Particular Kind Of Dishonesty.” A Time magazine article described “swift-boating” as “a particular kind of dishonesty”:

There have, of course, been dirty politics and outrageous infamies since the beginning of the Republic. Swift-boating is not about that. Nor is it merely negative campaigning. There's nothing wrong with criticizing your opponent if the criticism is accurate and important. Swift-boating's essence is a particular kind of dishonesty, or rather a particular combination of shadowy dishonesties. It usually involves a complex web of facts, many of which may even be true. It exploits its own complexity and the reluctance of the media to adjudicate factual disputes. No matter how thoroughly a charge may be discredited, enough taint remains to support an argument. The fundamental dishonesty is the suggestion that the issue, whatever it is, really matters. This is how swift-boating differs from its cousin McCarthyism, which deals in totally baseless charges that would be deeply serious if true. Swift-boating is McCarthyism lite. [Time Magazine, 6/12/08]

NY Times: "'Swift Boat' Has Become The Synonym For The Nastiest Of Campaign Smears." A New York Times article noted that since 2004, "'Swift boat' has become the synonym for the nastiest of campaign smears, a shadow that hangs over the presidential race as pundits wait to proclaim that the Swiftboating has begun and candidates declare that they will not be Swiftboated." [The New York Times, 6/30/08]

Reuters: Swift-Boating Is “A Reference To Hardball Smear Tactics.” Reuters described accusations of swift-boating as “a reference to hardball smear tactics used to attack the war record of Democratic Senator John Kerry”:

Barack Obama's re-election campaign on Wednesday accused Republicans of trying to “Swift Boat” the president, a reference to hardball smear tactics used to attack the war record of Democratic Senator John Kerry when he unsuccessfully challenged George W. Bush for the White House in 2004. [Reuters, 8/15/12]

CLAIM: 2006 Comments Suggest Kerry Is Anti-Military

Fox's Carlson Uncritically Aired Footage Of Kerry's 2006 Remarks. After airing remarks delivered by John Kerry in 2004, co-host Gretchen Carlson asked: “A lot of people would say how can he be secretary of Defense if he felt that way?”  

CARLSON: Here's what Senator Kerry said about the military in 2006.

KERRY: Your education - if you make the most of it and you study hard, and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.

CARLSON: I mean, that's going to come back to - you know, a lot of people would say how can he be secretary of Defense if he actually felt that way? [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/14/12]

FACT: Kerry's 2006 Comments Were Widely Misrepresented

AP: Kerry's Remarks Were Prefaced With Criticism Of Bush. An Associated Press article that reported Kerry's remarks in October 2006 provided their full context, noting that his comments on education were prefaced with criticism of President Bush:

Kerry opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one-liners, saying at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now ''lives in a state of denial.''

He then said: ''You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." [Associated Press, 10/31/06, via Media Matters]

Kerry: Statement “Was A Botched Joke About The President And The President's People.” At an October 2006 press conference, Kerry responded to criticism of his remarks, clarifying that he intended to make “a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops”:

Let me make it crystal clear, as crystal clear as I know how: I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy.

If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the President and his failed team and a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp -- rubber-stamp policies that have done injury to our troops and to their families.

My statement yesterday -- and the White House knows this full well -- was a botched joke about the president and the president's people, not about the troops. [, 10/31/06]

NY Times: Kerry's Prepared Remarks Affirm Kerry's Criticism Was Aimed At Bush. A New York Times profile detailing Kerry's decision not to enter the 2008 presidential race noted Kerry's joke in 2006 called for him to say “Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”

Mr. Kerry's prepared remarks called for him to say, “Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.” But in his delivery, he actually said: “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.” [The New York Times, 1/25/07]

Kerry: “I Sincerely Regret That My Words Were Misinterpreted To Wrongly Imply Anything Negative About Those In Uniform.” In an official statement, Kerry said, “I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform”:

As a combat veteran, I want to make it clear to anyone in uniform and to their loved ones: my poorly stated joke at a rally was not about, and never intended to refer to any troop.

I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended.

It is clear the Republican Party would rather talk about anything but their failed security policy. I don't want my verbal slip to be a diversion from the real issues. I will continue to fight for a change of course to provide real security for our country, and a winning strategy for our troops. [, 11/1/06]

CLAIM: 1971 Congressional Testimony Was Based On False Allegations

Fox Omitted Proper Context From Kerry's 1971 Congressional Testimony. On the November 13 edition of Fox News' America Live, Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher aired footage of testimony provided by Kerry in 1971 before the Senate foreign relations committee, saying the testimony “caused an outcry from soldiers, who said the allegations were false.”

GALLAGHER: In 1971, you see there, John Kerry testified before Congress, detailing war crimes committed by veterans, indicating those crimes were well known by all levels of command.


GALLAGHER: The testimony caused an outcry by soldiers who said that the allegations were false. Kerry said many of those statements were taken out of context, but in later years also stood by many of them but acknowledged the language was a little, quote, hot here and there. [Fox News, America Live, 11/13/12]

FACT: 1971 Testimony Was Corroborated By Official Accounts

Kerry's Testimony Was Representative Of The Personal Experiences Submitted By Vietnam Veterans. In his April 22, 1971, testimony, Kerry related the personal experiences of other Vietnam veterans who conveyed their personal experiences and focused blame on the leaders at that time -- not the soldiers -- for the atrocities they claimed to have committed or witnessed:

KERRY: I would like to talk, representing all those veterans [VVAW members], and say that several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.


KERRY: They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, tape wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. [Media Matters, 10/23/04]

Factcheck.Org: “Since Kerry Testified, Ample Evidence Of Other Atrocities Has Come To Light.” A 2004 piece found “ample evidence” to support Kerry's 1971 congressional testimony on the atrocities of the Vietnam War:

Some atrocities by US forces have been documented beyond question. Kerry's 1971 testimony came less than one month after Army Lt. William Calley had been convicted in a highly publicized military trial of the murder of 22 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai hamlet on March 16 1968, when upwards of 300 unarmed men, women and children were killed by the inexperienced soldiers of the Americal Division's Charley Company. And since Kerry testified, ample evidence of other atrocities has come to light. [, 11/8/04]