Despite having been discredited years ago, Fox News' Dana Perino today dredged up the falsehood that the 2004 “swift boat” attacks on then-presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry were accurate. Perino's revival of the attack is a reminder that some in the media still misunderstand what it means to “swift-boat” a candidate.
On the August 15 edition of Fox's The Five, the co-hosts discussed a new super PAC ad that attacks Obama over his handling of the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden and the aftermath. During the segment, co-host Bob Beckel claimed the group was “swift-boating Obama.”
Co-host Dana Perino responded by claiming, “on the swift boat thing, there were 250 sworn affidavits swearing that what they said was true. And Kerry never released his military record.”
In her approving citation of the original swift-boating, Perino is distorting what it means to swift-boat a candidate.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was a group that surfaced during the 2004 presidential election to attack John Kerry's military service in Vietnam. The group denigrated Kerry's service in a swift boat patrol in Vietnam, despite the fact that only one person who actually served under Kerry's command was involved with them. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's accusations were replete with false and contradictory claims, as well as attacks from group members who later had to admit they had no firsthand knowledge of Kerry's actions.
As a result, most people have come to associate “swift-boating” with dubious accusations, particularly involving the military, that are designed to harm a candidate.
But Perino pushing the Swift Boat Veterans falsehood is not the only example of the media misusing the attack. The “swift boat” term was recently attached to questions about Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. While the attacks on Kerry were demonstrably false, Romney was simply being asked to reconcile a dispute about when his influence over Bain's business decisions ended.
There will be more swift-boating to come during this election cycle, but The Five's experience seems to demonstrate that few in the media will remember how to properly identify it as such.