2. CNN Uses Iraqi Prisoner Abuse to Bring Up Vietnam's My Lai
Correction: The May 1 CyberAlert, about last Friday's Nightline, suggested: "But by airing the list of names and pictures on the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Bush's much media-ridiculed 'Mission Accomplished' speech and aircraft carrier landing, ABC still raised suspicions about the motives behind the effort, especially when combined with how the list ignored those killed in Iraq..." Oops. Iraq on the mind. The entire Nightline was about Iraq and Iraq only. As I hope most figured out, that last word should have been "Afghanistan."
CBS on Tuesday night tried to discredit some Vietnam veterans critical of John Kerry by impugning them as partisan activists tied to the Bush campaign, though the only link seems to be a public relations firm involved in the 2000 campaign, and tarring all of them with the supposed dirty work for Richard Nixon of one. Very McCarthyistic. FNC's Carl Cameron, however, managed to avoid innuendo as he undermined the credibility of specific vets by showing how in the past they had praised Kerry.
Dan Rather claimed on the CBS Evening News that veterans "allied with the Bush campaign attacked Senator Kerry today more directly and more personally" than had President Bush. Rather deplored how "their tactic was to depict Kerry, a wounded, highly-decorated Vietnam combat veteran, who eventually became a vocal opponent of that war, as unpatriotic and not a worthy leader."
After running a couple of soundbites from those in the group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Byron Pitts asserted that "some of the organizers have a track record of going after Democrats, and Republican opponents of President Bush." Pitts went back to 1971 as he recalled how John O'Neill, who debated Kerry about Vietnam on ABC's Dick Cavett Show, "was handpicked by the Nixon administration to discredit Kerry." Pitts added, without any explanation, that "the press conference was set up by the same people who tried to discredit John McCain's reputation in Vietnam service when McCain faced George W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000."
(That language matched a release on the Kerry Web site from Kerry Campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill: "This attack was organized by the same pro-Bush group that smeared John McCain in 2000..." See: www.johnkerry.com )
Then Pitts connected the anti-Kerry veterans to a presumed nefarious "strategy" they had nothing to do with implementing: "It's the same strategy used to go after Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam."
Though Pitts didn't say, his reference to "some of the organizers" apparently was to Spaeth Communications, but the most extensive story today I could find about the firm recalled how an executive of the firm was involved in criticizing McCain's environmental record. It made no mention of any attack on him over Vietnam.
Of course, by Pitts' standard we can now judge CBS News by the list of past clients for the PR firm 48 Hours hires to promote its next murder mystery hour.
In a May 5 Washington Post story, "Veterans Group Criticizes Kerry's War Record," reporter Paul Farhi outlined:
One look at the barren Web site for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth will show it's not quite the well-funded, powerful group feared by CBS News: www.swiftvets.com
The night before, on Monday's CBS Evening News, Pitts did a little smearing of his own as he previewed how "tomorrow a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth will release a letter it claims is signed by 200 veteran who served with Senator Kerry in Vietnam, men who call him quote, 'unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.' The Kerry campaign says the letter's bogus, including the names of veterans who don't even know they're listed."
In contrast, FNC's Carl Cameron managed to raise questions about the opportunism of some involved without impugning the whole effort or making uncorroborated claims about links to other political players. On FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, after noting how John O'Neill has been consistent from the Dick Cavett Show in 1971 to now, Cameron ran a soundbite from former Kerry commander Grant Hibbard: "He later received a Purple Heart for that scratch and I have no information as to how or whom." Cameron then pointed out: "A critic now, in 1968 Hibbard described Kerry in various favorable ways as quote, 'one of the top few...in his willingness to seek and accept responsibility.' Captain George Elliott, who served in Vietnam at the same time Kerry did, condemns Kerry now for touting his service in a war that Kerry later protested."
Neither ABC's World News Tonight nor the NBC Nightly News on Tuesday mentioned the press conference by the Swift Boat vets.
But CNN's Inside Politics did cover it. In studio, Candy Crowley explained: "We did have another group come up called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. This is headed by a man, Retired Admiral Roy Hoffman. They are critics of John Kerry. They don't like what he said about veterans when he came home. They believe his war record has been exaggerated, they believe that Kerry in fact has not put out all of the records that are there. They want him to tell the Pentagon to put everything out there so that they can see it. But in the end when you listened to it, what you heard is much of what we've been hearing over the past couple of weeks about John Kerry's service record as well as his peace record."
Anchor Judy Woodruff soon wanted to know: "Candy, any connection between this Hoffman group and the Republican party or the Bush-Cheney campaign?"
Now, a full rundown of the May 4 CBS Evening News story quoted in part above. Rather plugged the story before an ad break: "Coming up next here on the CBS Evening News: Playing the Vietnam card. How an experienced and successful Republican operation made up of veterans is attacking Vietnam war hero John Kerry. We'll give you the 'Inside Story.'"
Following a clip of President Bush at a campaign event criticizing Kerry by asserting that "you can't tax the rich enough to pay for all his promises. So guess who's going to Pay? You're going to pay," Rather intoned:
Pitts began, over video of Kerry at bottom of steps of plane: "It's a favorite tactic of the Kerry campaign. So in Albuquerque today, John Kerry, war hero, was greeted by Vietnam veterans, his band of brothers. But 1,800 miles away in Washington-"
To watch Pitts' story: www.cbsnews.com
"Kerry Was a 'Loose Cannon' in Vietnam, Says Ex-Commander," read the headline over a May 4 dispatch by Robert B. Bluey. An excerpt from the top:
John Kerry's former swift boat commanders and colleagues on Tuesday described the presumptive Democrat nominee as a self-absorbed and devious sailor during the Vietnam War who was there merely to advance a future political career.
A group of 18 veterans gathered in the nation's capital asking Kerry to authorize the Department of the Navy to independently release his military records, including medical information, about his service during the Vietnam War. Many said Kerry was unfit to be commander-in-chief of the U.S. military
More than 200 veterans have signed a letter from the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth seeking the release of records. Retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann commanded the fleet of swift boats -- the Navy's Task Force 115 -- during Kerry's tour of duty. Today he serves as chairman of the veterans' group.
"He arrived in country with a strong anti-Vietnam War bias and a self-serving determination to build a foundation for his political future," Hoffmann said. "He was aggressive, but vain and prone to impulsive judgment, often with disregard to specific tactical assignments. He was a loose cannon.
"In an abbreviated tour of four months and 12 days," Hoffmann added, "and with his specious medals secure, Lt. j.g. (junior grade) Kerry bugged out of Vietnam and began his infamous betrayal of all United States forces in the Vietnam War."...
END of Excerpt
The horrific treatment of some Iraqi prisoners by some U.S. soldiers in Iraq led all the evening newscasts again Tuesday night, fueled by fresh condemnatory comments from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but CNN's Bruce Morton used the terrible treatment to argue that "we like to think that we're the good guys. But we're not. Not always." He then brought up Vietnam and an incident in which hundreds were murdered, as if that were equivalent: "We learned this lesson last in Vietnam, in a village called My Lai."
The MRC's Ken Shepherd caught the story with which CNN ended the May 4 Inside Politics. Judy Woodruff set it up: "For most Americans, the reports and pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners are inconceivable. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it, those acts are 'un-American.' But are they? Our Bruce Morton looks at a past war where horrible acts occurred. To our viewers, some of these pictures are graphic and may be disturbing."
Morton began: "The pictures of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib are hard to look at. They will make it easier for foreigners to hate America, but they will also make us take a hard look at ourselves. We like to think that we're the good guys. But we're not. Not always. We learned this lesson last in Vietnam, in a village called My Lai. In March of 1968, Charlie Company of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, came to My Lai and killed many unarmed men, women, and children. The plaque in the My Lai Museum lists 504. Americans learned of the massacre months later when Army photographer Ron Haberly's pictures ran in Life Magazine. They too, were hard to look at.
-- Brent Baker