Print coverage failed to note Swift Boat Vets' claims have been debunked

A March 29 Washington Times article extensively quoted John O'Neill, co-founder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, criticizing the White House's withdrawal of the nomination of Republican donor Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium, which the Times attributed to “Democratic pressure,” noting that “Fox's $50,000 donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was disclosed by Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee.” The Times quoted O'Neill calling the withdrawal of Fox's name “an outrage” and “a tragedy,” but did not report that both O'Neill and his group's 2004 campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) have been widely discredited, with many specific claims disproved or rebutted.

Media Matters for America has extensively documented the falsehoods and smears regarding Kerry's military record that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth spread in the six months leading up to the 2004 presidential election. For instance, Unfit for Command (Regnery, 2004), a book O'Neill co-authored, asserted that “Kerry was never in Cambodia during Christmas 1968, or at all during the Vietnam War” because "[a]reas closer than 55 miles from the Cambodian border in the area of the Mekong River were patrolled by PBRs, a small river patrol craft, and not by Swift Boats." However, as Media Matters noted, according to White House recordings, in 1971 O'Neill told President Richard Nixon that he himself had been in Cambodia and answered in the affirmative when Nixon asked if it had been on a swift boat.

Numerous major print outlets that reported on the withdrawal of Fox's nomination, including the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, failed to note that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign has been widely discredited. Three of these outlets described the group as “controversial,” but did not offer the details of the “controversy” or note that the group's claims were repeatedly debunked:

  • The Washington Post: “the controversial group that ran a campaign questioning Kerry's Vietnam record.”
  • Los Angeles Times: the “controversial campaign against Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race.”
  • Associated Press: “a controversial conservative group that undermined Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.”

Two others did not characterize the group in any way:

  • The Washington Times: “the group that undermined Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.”
  • The New York Times: “When it came his turn, Mr. Kerry pounced, questioning Mr. Fox at length about his $50,000 donation to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth group and pressing him to identify who had asked him to give to it.”