Editorial boards around the country have recently weighed in on the advertising campaign by the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and on accusations made in the recently released Regnery book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, which was co-authored by Swift Boat Vets co-founder John E. O'Neill. A LexisNexis search of the “Major Newspapers” directory revealed 15 editorials on the subject from Friday, August 20, through Tuesday, August 24. Of these 15, nine asserted that the advertisements were deceptive, and some of these nine called on President George W. Bush to condemn the ads.
One erroneously asserted that Senator John Kerry's military records -- which the senator has already released -- could resolve the dispute. Two criticized both the Bush-Cheney '04 and the Kerry-Edwards '04 campaigns' use of ads. Two editorials criticized the Kerry-Edwards '04 campaign for suggesting ties between the Bush campaign and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. And only one of these 15 editorials found any merit in Swift Boat Vets' accusations.
Nine editorials sharply criticized Swift Boat Veterans' ads
• From St. Louis Post-Dispatch's "A swift smear," August 22:
The smear campaign was funded and orchestrated by a coterie of Texans with strong ties to the Bush family and the president's political director, Karl Rove.
The president should disown the ads and tell his friends that he wants them to stop.
Mr. Bush can't wash his hands of the Swift Boat Veterans smear because of his close personal connections with the principals.
The swift boat veterans on Mr. Kerry's boat, including the man he pulled from the river, support Mr. Kerry's version of events. So do the records documenting the medals Mr. Kerry received. The attack ads, by contrast, are riddled with inconsistencies. For example, the man who now claims that there was no gunfire during the river rescue, also got a medal because of the gunfire.
• From The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Swift kick in the gut," August 24:
Today, John Kerry is being fragged, not literally but figuratively, by those who want to discredit his proud record of military service to this country and, by doing so, prevent his election as president of the United States. Those who have stooped to such ugly, craven tactics -- and those who have assisted them in that effort -- have shamed themselves, their cause and in many cases their own military service and sacrifice.
In essence, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claim that the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the three Purple Hearts awarded to Kerry during his own time as a swift-boat captain in Vietnam were undeserved, as was his reputation as a courageous, effective wartime leader. To bolster that claim, they have offered their own version of Kerry's time “in country” that directly contradicts the established records.
• From the San Francisco Chronicle's "Swift boats and the fog of politics," August 24:
There were many disturbing aspects to the attack on Kerry. The most damning assertions were contradicted by Navy records -- as well as by earlier statements by some of the same Swift boat vets who were now assailing Kerry's character. The ads were funded by two of the biggest Republican donors in Texas.
• From the St. Petersburg Times' "Conflicting war stories," August 24:
Bush should have spoken up sooner, particularly because there are close connections between his campaign and the veterans group. Its main financial backers are Texans Bob Perry, a longtime associate of Bush political strategist Karl Rove, and Harlan Crow, a trustee of the first President Bush's library foundation. Merrie Spaeth, a public relations executive who helped the group get is [sic] message out, has been active in forming Republican political strategy, including a similar assault on Republican Sen. John McCain's patriotism in the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary.
Some of Kerry's accusers have changed their stories over time, according to a New York Times investigation. In one of the group's TV ads, retired Lt. Commander George Elliott says Kerry “has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam.” Yet in 1969, Elliott reported that Kerry was “unsurpassed” in combat, and just eight years ago, Elliott described the circumstances under which Kerry won a Silver Star as “an act of courage.” Retired commander Adrian Lonsdale now claims Kerry “lacks the capacity to lead,” but he had this to say in 1996: Kerry “was among the finest of those swift boat drivers.”
Asked on Sunday what proof the group had of its accusations, one of its members, Van Odell, admitted that “I do not have a single document.” Meanwhile, more veterans who served with Kerry during the fire fight in question have come forward to support him. One of those, swift boat veteran William Rood, said Kerry's accusers weren't even present during the fight, and “their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us.”
• From The Oregonian's "Swift Boat War," August 22:
And we're not arguing that no one should be able to challenge the official record. But the burden of proof in such cases belongs with those challenging the established accounts, not with those who witnessed them and provided contemporaneous testimony.
The Swift Boat veterans attacking Kerry fall well below that threshold and, we suspect, their tactics ultimately will do more to harm their own cause than help it.
• From the Los Angeles Times' "These charges are false," August 24:
These charges against John Kerry are false. Or at least, there is no good evidence that they are true. George Bush, if he were a man of principle, would say the same thing.
• From The Boston Globe's "Big lies for Bush," August 22:
Rather than seeking debate ... this group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is attempting political assassination, claiming in ads and a best-selling book that Kerry is “Unfit for Command.” In many cases the charges conflict with statements the same men made in the past. Sometimes the allegations contradict documentary evidence. Last week a former swift boat commander, Larry Thurlow, said Kerry didn't deserve his Bronze Star because there was no enemy fire at the time, but this is contradicted by five separate accounts -- including the Bronze Star citation Thurlow himself was awarded in the same incident, as reported by The Washington Post.
• From the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune's "Despicable smears/Exposed for all to see, and reject," August 22:
The accusations are dishonest, dishonorable -- and entirely reminiscent of the lies spread about McCain in 2000.
• From the Houston Chronicle's "Served admirably," August 24:
No reasonable person can look at Kerry's military record and conclude the candidate should be vilified because of it.
But Bush declined to single out for condemnation the ad alleging Kerry didn't deserve his medals. Bush called for all so-called 527 independent advocacy groups to stop running ads about the campaign. The president did not make the case why all advocacy groups should forfeit their free speech rights because one group ran a particularly scurrilous ad -- an ad contradicted on several points by Navy records, other veterans and by previous statements made by Kerry's accusers.
One editorial suggested Kerry's military records should clear up disagreement
On August 24, the Chicago Sun-Times perpetuated the erroneous idea that disagreement could be cleared up if Kerry would release his military records.
From "Open the records and shut the speculation," August 24:
We think the best route is for both candidates to release all their military records and be done with it. Kerry should let the Pentagon share its files on the matter. And George W. Bush -- who is still being sued by the Associated Press for records related to his service in the Texas National Guard -- should do the same. Then perhaps we will only have a week more of this nonsense before we can move to more important matters.
As Media Matters for America noted on August 13, Kerry's official Naval records (including medals and citations), after-action combat reports, and command history for Coastal Division 11 are all available on www.johnkerry.com.
Two editorials criticized ads on both sides of the issue
• From The Christian Science Monitor's "McCain, The Civility Cop," August 23:
McCain has had some success with his efforts so far, at least with Mr. Kerry. Last week he called on his fellow veteran and Senate friend to publicly condemn an ad produced by the liberal group, MoveOn.org, that criticizes Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. Kerry did, issuing a statement that the ad is inappropriate. “This should be a campaign about issues, not insults,” said Kerry. Unfortunately, MoveOn.org announced last Wednesday that it would keep airing the ads attacking Bush.
McCain has also called on the president to condemn an ad produced by “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” that shows veterans saying Kerry lied about his Vietnam service. The White House refused, implying at least tacit support of the ad's claims. Now the Kerry camp is launching a counter ad, and plans to file a complaint against the Bush campaign with the Federal Election Commission.
• From USA Today's "Fast-forward to the present: End fighting over Vietnam," August 24:
In Kerry's case, dueling groups of veterans are attacking or defending his version of how he earned his medals, and the firefight has drawn both candidates into the fray.
Kerry has charged that the Bush campaign is illegally coordinating efforts with an ostensibly independent anti-Kerry group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
The Bush campaign has denied any connection with the group's ads, though Bush's allies have largely funded them.
Two editorials criticized the Kerry-Edwards '04 campaign for charging that there were ties between Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign
• From Rocky Mountain News' "Those Swift boat ads," August 21:
Some of those providing money and guidance in the ad campaign have previously supported President Bush or his father, but that fact hardly tells us that the White House is pulling strings. And many of those involved in contributing money and framing the accusations have no political ties whatsoever to anyone connected to Bush.
Kerry says Bush should renounce the ad, but, of course, Kerry is not renouncing the scurrilous movie Fahrenheit 9/11 or agreeing with the Bush campaign that both sides should discourage “soft money” ads by groups outside their campaigns. As a matter of intelligent politics, candidates hardly ever spend time kicking their supporters. Maybe they should in some instances, but they don't, whether Republican or Democrat.
• From the Boston Herald's "Kerry's ad offense, truth first victim", August 24:
But rather than dealing with the merits of the contentions of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by releasing all of his military records, Kerry's running a response ad which accuses the president of breaking the law.
No, Kerry doesn't use those words, but that's the plain meaning of his assertion that Bush is behind the Swift Boat ads. It's a violation of federal election law for the Bush campaign to coordinate with so-called 527 organizations.
Kerry ought to pull the ad based on its truthfulness, but barring that unlikelihood, he ought to pull it because the president did what Kerry and Sen. John McCain asked him to -- again -- by saying the anti-Kerry ad, and all such ads, ought to stop.
One editorial suggested Kerry deserves criticism from Swift Boat Vets
Even as it pointed out inconsistencies in Swift Boat Veterans' claims, The Washington Post editorial board expressed their belief that Senator Kerry deserves some of the criticism from the group and from the authors of Unfit for Command.
From the Post's "Swift Boat Sniping," August 24:
[A]dditional evidence has emerged in reporting by The Post's Michael Dobbs and in other papers that further discredits the group's claims. The Post reported that Larry Thurlow, who accused Mr. Kerry of lying about being under enemy fire when he rescued Jim Rassmann, earned a Bronze Star in the same episode -- for his heroism, according to the citation, “despite enemy bullets flying about him.” Two crewmen on other boats have also said that Mr. Kerry and his crew mates were being fired on.
Mr. Kerry's conflicting statements about where and when he was in Cambodia remain troubling. He has backed away from repeated claims that he spent Christmas Eve 1968 in Cambodia, a memory that, he said in a 1986 Senate speech, is “seared -- seared -- in me.” This does not undermine Mr. Kerry's military bravery, but it does raise an issue of candor. It's fair to ask whether this is an episode of foggy memory, routine political embroidery or something more. Indeed, the Kerry campaign ought to arrange for the full release of all relevant records from the time. Mr. Kerry granted historian Douglas Brinkley exclusive use of his wartime journals and other writings; the campaign should seek to be freed from that agreement and to make all the material public. Though the ads are being underwritten by longtime Bush partisans, the Kerry campaign's claim of illegal coordination between the Swift boat group and the Bush campaign is unconvincing.