FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes and MSNBC's Scarborough Country both gave free airtime on August 4 to a new, misleading ad sponsored by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a recently formed group dedicated to attacking Senator John Kerry's record during and after his service in Vietnam. Both programs devoted segments to the ad, airing it the day before its scheduled release, but left out key facts that discredit Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
In an August 5 interview with the Associated Press, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), “a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, called the ad criticizing John Kerry's military service 'dishonest and dishonorable' and urged the White House on Thursday to condemn it as well.”
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did not serve alongside Kerry
In the new ad, members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claim that they “served with John Kerry.” Hannity & Colmes co-host Sean Hannity echoed the false claim, saying that the veterans in the ad are “the people that know him best,” and referred to them as “some of his fellow crewmates.” Even Pat Halpin, who was filling in for co-host Alan Colmes, called them “some of John Kerry's crewmates.” Scarborough echoed Swift Boat Veterans' misleading claim that they “served with John Kerry in Vietnam.”
While the veterans attacking Kerry in the ad are veterans of the Vietnam War and may have served at the same time as Kerry, as The New York Times reported on August 5, the Kerry campaign noted that “none of the men had actually served on the Swift boats that Mr. Kerry commanded.” Adm. Roy F. Hoffman, one of the veterans in the ad, has even “acknowledged he had no first-hand knowledge to discredit Kerry's claims to valor,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on May 6, “and said that although Kerry was under his command, he really didn't know Kerry much personally.”
In contrast, many of the veterans who have appeared on the campaign trail with Kerry did serve alongside him. The Wall Street Journal's Albert R. Hunt noted in his August 5 “Campaign Journal” column, titled “Sham Charges Against a War Hero” (subscription required): “Indeed, 10 of the 11 men who served on his two swift boats all have sworn by John Kerry; nine living members were in Boston [for the Democratic National Convention].”
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's Republican ties
As Media Matters for America previously noted, on May 4, Salon.com's Joe Conason detailed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's ties to the Republican Party. In addition to pointing out that the group's founder, John O'Neill, has long-standing ties to the GOP that can be traced back to the Nixon administration, Conason also reported that among the people behind Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is “veteran corporate media consultant and Texas Republican activist Merrie Spaeth, who is listed as the group's media contact."
As MMFA has documented, both Hannity & Colmes co-host Alan Colmes (on May 28) and FOX chief political correspondent Carl Cameron (on May 4) reported the group's Republican ties on FOX News Channel; on May 4, Scarborough mentioned criticism of O'Neill's “dirty tricks” for the Nixon administration. While Scarborough did mention on August 4 that the group was part of the “Republican counteroffensive” “prepar[ing] to release blistering attacks in John Kerry's Vietnam record,” Hannity completely ignored the group's ties to the GOP.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth doctor did not sign Kerry's medical record
Neither Hannity nor Scarborough bothered to note that Dr. Louis Letson, who is featured in the ad claiming to have treated Kerry for the wound that earned him his first Purple Heart and claiming that it was undeserved, was not the medical official who signed Kerry's medical records for the wound. The Kerry campaign noted this fact in a report in The New York Times and a report in the Los Angeles Times that surfaced when Letson first unleashed this attack in May.
In criticizing the ad, McCain told the Associated Press, "'It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me'... referring to his [McCain's] bitter Republican primary fight with President Bush," according to the AP. As Conason reported on May 4, “The 'swift boat' veterans attacking John Kerry's war record are led by veteran right-wing operatives using the same vicious techniques they used against John McCain four years ago.” Conason explained that Spaeth (the group's media contact) participated during the 2000 Republican primary contest in TV ads that “falsely attack[ed]” McCain's environmental record in California, New York, and Ohio.
McCain might have been referring as well to attacks on his military record by Ted Sampley and Thomas Burch, both Vietnam veterans, during the 2000 primary season. As Media Matters for America previously reported, Sampley hounded McCain as a “Manchurian Candidate” -- suggesting that the decorated veteran and former prisoner of war was a brainwashed communist agent -- and was convicted for misdemeanor assault related to an attack on one of McCain's legislative aides. Sampley is the leader of a group called Vietnam Veterans Against John Kerry. During the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina, Burch, according to a February 22 report in the Chicago Tribune, “stood with George W. Bush at his side and accused Sen. John McCain of Arizona of opposing health care for Persian Gulf war veterans and blocking efforts to locate POW-MIAs, saying the former prisoner of war ”came home from Vietnam and forgot us."