Rather Leads by Exaggerating Order Refusal Into "Mutiny" in Iraq --10/18/2004
2. Nightline Uses Ex-Viet Cong to Discredit Swifties and O'Neill
3. Both Kerry Supporters and Detractors Contradict
4. Four Earlier
Nightline Shows Fail to Explore Swift Boat Charges
Though he acknowledged that the case "is still being investigated" and there's been "nothing proven," Dan Rather, nonetheless, led Friday's CBS Evening News by hyperbolically citing "a mutiny" by "members of a U.S. Army logistical unit" who "may have rejected an order they considered too dangerous." Rather tied the alleged incident to larger problems in Iraq: "With U.S. casualties in Iraq mounting, along with some complaints about lack of proper equipment and not enough troops, American commanders are being forced to think about troops refusing missions." David Martin proceeded to explain how 19 members of a reservist quartermaster company from South Carolina refused to participate in a fuel convoy and he ominously concluded by drawing the darkest possible implications. "The troubling question remains," he intoned, "are soldiers in Iraq beginning to think the mission is not worth the risk?"
Friday's NBC Nightly News held the incident to an anchor-read brief by Brian Williams while ABC's World News Tonight and CNN's NewsNight aired full stories, they were more circumspect and avoided "mutiny" hype. Saturday's Washington Post put the story on page A-14 under the headline, "Probe of Reservists Underway: Platoon in Iraq Allegedly Rejected Mission Over Safety Concerns."
With "Mutiny" in a graphic over his shoulder, Dan Rather opened the October 15 CBS Evening News: "Good evening. Mutiny: It's supposed to be unthinkable for soldiers in wartime. Troops refusing to follow orders in a combat zone. But with U.S. casualties in Iraq mounting, along with some complaints about lack of proper equipment and not enough troops, American commanders are being forced to think about troops refusing missions. And in one case that, I emphasize, is still being investigated, nothing proven, members of a U.S. Army logistical unit may have rejected an order they considered too dangerous. CBS News national security correspondent David Martin has the story."
In fact, "mutiny" means doing more than just refuse and order. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "mutiny" as "an open rebellion against the proper authorities, especially by soldiers or sailors against their officers." No one is claiming that occurred.
Martin began, as taken down by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth: "With many of Iraq's major roads turned into shooting galleries, 19 members of an Army Reserve unit are under investigation for refusing an order to drive a convoy of fuel trucks. Sergeant Patrick McCook told his wife they refused to go because the trucks they were driving weren't adequately protected."
For the CBSNews.com posted version of this story: www.cbsnews.com
Before Thursday night, ABC's Ted Koppel had never granted an interview segment on Nightline to any of the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth so they could explain their charge that John Kerry exaggerated his war record or their distress at the defamatory charges Kerry leveled against his fellow veterans as an anti-war activist in the early 1970s. On Thursday, Koppel finally invited John O'Neill to his show -- but only to respond to Nightline's attempt to discredit the Swift Vets by seeking out ex-Viet Cong who supposedly back up Kerry's version of what happened at one of the incidents disputed by the Swift Vets.
[The MRC's Rich Noyes researched and wrote this item for CyberAlert.]
But the Vietnamese interviewed by ABC did not exactly back up Kerry's story either. While those shown on camera claimed to remember the details of what happened on February 28, 1969 -- although it is unclear why this skirmish would be remembered over others in the area that the Vietnamese described as "a hotbed" of Viet Cong activity -- they do not remember Kerry jumping off his boat and chasing a Viet Cong armed with a rocket into the jungle and killing him, a story re-told in Kerry's authorized biography Tour of Duty.
Koppel recounted on the October 14 Nightline: "According to the after-action report, after beaching the swift boat, Kerry -- this is a quote -- 'chased VC inland behind hooch and shot him while he fled capturing one B-40 rocket launcher with round in chamber.'"
ABC producer Andrew Morse reported what the Vietnamese villagers remembered: "Nobody seems to be able to say, for a fact, that they saw an American chase this man who had fired the B-40 into the woods and shoot him. Nobody seems to remember seeing that."
Koppel suggested two main errors in the Swift Vets story of February 28, 1969: first, that the skirmish did not involve one Viet Cong, but rather 20 who continued fighting even after the one with the rocket launcher was killed; and second, that the man killed, Ba Thanh, was not a "teenager in a loin cloth," as described by O'Neill in his book, Unfit for Command, but rather a 26- or 27-year-old Viet Cong soldier.
But the suggestion that Ba Thanh was a "teenager in a loin cloth" was made by the Boston Globe's Michael Kranish in a profile of Kerry published a year before O'Neill's Unfit for Command was printed. And historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed most of Kerry's crew for the Kerry-friendly biography Tour of Duty, wrote that immediately after Ba Thanh was killed Kerry and some of his crew began a methodical "inch by inch" search of the terrain, and found "everything from VC flags to American-made 20-mm shell casings and sewing machines of potentially nefarious intent." Brinkley made no mention of any fighting after the point when Ba Thanh, the Viet Cong, was killed. (See CyberAlert item #3 below)
Koppel began the October 14 Nightline by making it clear his agenda was not to question any element of presidential candidate John Kerry's story, but to debunk author John O'Neill.
He began by asserting how Kerry's Vietnam war record "should have been the most unassailable part of John Kerry's record. Should have been." After noting the commercials made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth raised questions about Kerry, Koppel got to his topic: "Most of the charges were general. But John O'Neill, the officer who took over command of John Kerry's Swift boat after Kerry left Vietnam, raised some specific questions about the incident for which Kerry received his most significant award -- the Silver Star."
ABC then played a lengthy soundbite of O'Neill making his case: "In the Silver Star incident, John Kerry's citation reflects that he charged into a numerically superior force, and into intense fire. But the actual facts are that there was a single kid there who had fired a rocket who popped up. And John Kerry with his gun boat - with or without a number of troops, depending on who you talk to -- plopped in front of the kid. The kid was wounded in the legs by machine gun fire. And as he ran off, John Kerry jumped off the boat and shot the kid in the back."
Koppel: "That's what this program is about tonight -- the charge that John Kerry won his silver star for shooting a teenager, who may have been a Viet Cong, but who was alone. Not part of a numerically superior force. And who was already wounded and running away when Kerry shot him."
Of course, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have made several other charges against Kerry, including that some of Kerry's Purple Hearts were awarded for mere scratches and that Kerry lied when he said several times that he had been in Cambodia on Christmas Eve in 1968, a memory "seared" into him. Kerry's campaign actually retracted the Senator's claim about being in Cambodia last August, but Koppel didn't bring that up on Nightline.
Koppel touted the new "witnesses" that ABC had uncovered: "There were a number of witnesses to the incident who have never been heard from before. Who have no particular ax to grind for or against Kerry. Only one of them, in fact, even knew who Kerry was. These witnesses are all Vietnamese. Still living in the same village where the fight took place more than 35 years ago."
As video of the Bay Hop River in Vietnam rolled onscreen, Koppel explained how ABC gained its access: "If you travel an hour and a half or so up the Bay Hop River, and make all the correct turns, successfully navigate the right canals, you'll come to the village of Tran Thoi. The coordinates of the village are available to anyone on the after-action report on that battle. Finding the place is something else again.
Koppel indicated that he has no idea why the communist regime chose to allow ABC in: "Whatever their reasons, whatever their motives, the Vietnamese changed their mind and granted ABC the necessary visas. The Vietnamese government requires an official minder to accompany journalists on reporting trips."
As Koppel narrated, ABC's video showed Morse perched on the bow of a boat moving up the river, talking with a middle-aged Vietnamese woman, presumably his "minder," dressed in black and wearing sunglasses and a straw hat.
For the rest of that segment, Koppel recounted the gun battle that ensued after three Swift Boats, including Kerry's, were ambushed at Tran Thoi. After a commercial break, Koppel picked up the story at the point where Kerry's Swift Boat was ambushed by a Viet Cong with a rocket launcher, the part of the story most disputed.
Koppel: "According to the Navy's official report, following the initial ambush at Tran Thoi, Kerry's boat, PCF 94, and another Swift boat, continued up the river to an area where gunshots had been reported. Less than a kilometer upriver is Nha Vi, a small hamlet.
Viewers then saw a soundbite from Vo Van Tam, a middle-aged man wearing a green shirt, speaking through a translator: "There were 12 soldiers from the provincial level and 8 from the district level."
Koppel: "According to the citation for John Kerry's silver star, when the boats approached the hamlet, and this is a quote, 'a B-40 rocket exploded close aboard PCF 94,' that was Kerry's boat. He 'personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy.' Kerry's 'extraordinary daring and personal courage' were commended for 'attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire.'"
As Koppel read, all of the quotes were shown onscreen alongside picture of a PDF of Kerry's Silver Star citation.
Koppel: "That is disputed by Swift boat veteran, John O'Neill, who maintains in his book, that the statement is simply false. There was little or no fire, he writes. Villagers say this is what they saw."
Koppel wondered: "Was the man killed by John Kerry? Or by fire from the Swift boat? It was the heat of battle, he says. And he doesn't know exactly how the man with the rocket launcher died. But he does know the man's name, Ba Thanh, that he'd been sent to the village by provincial headquarters, and that after he died, the fire fight continued."
Koppel: "According to the after-action report, after beaching the swift boat, Kerry -- this is a quote -- "chased VC inland behind hooch and shot him while he fled capturing one B-40 rocket launcher with round in chamber."
Nguyen Van Ty, an elderly Vietnamese man, through translator: "No. This is not correct. He wore a black jama (sp?). He was strong. He was big and strong. He was about 26 or 27."
Nguyen Van Ty said he also did not see whether Kerry chased and killed Ba Thanh. Through a translator: "I didn't see anything because I was hiding from the bullets and bombs. It was very fierce and I had to hide. And when it was over I saw Ba Thanh was dead. He may have been shot in the chest when he stood up."
But Koppel suggested Ty knew the fighting was ongoing because he was part of it: "He also says the Swift boats were coming under attack from the Viet Cong fighters on shore."
After another commercial, Koppel launched into what turned into contentious interview with O'Neill, who appeared from a stone-walled room Redstone, Colorado in a segment which was either live or live to tape, and led Nightline to run for an extra six minutes. O'Neill attempted to point out that the story told in his book, Unfit for Command, was similar to what historian Douglas Brinkley had written and the account of the Boston Globe's Michael Kranish in a multi-part profile of Kerry published in the Globe in 2003 and expanded into a biography published earlier this year.
O'Neill even held up the books for an irritated Koppel to see: "This is the book, Ted, published by The Boston Globe. This is their autobiography [sic] of John Kerry, with his assistance. Ted, in their autobiography, they describe on page 101, a single teenager in a loincloth, Ted. They weren't trying to make it up. This is John Kerry's own approved biography, Tour of Duty. On page 296 of that book, John Kerry says, boy, he's glad there was only a single person there and not more."
O'Neill criticized Nightline for presenting the Vietnamese as honest witnesses when they live under a communist regime and a government "minder" accompanied ABC to every interview: "What you've done is go into a closed society, instead of interviewing direct witnesses and produced a story that isn't even the story in his biography, or that of the Boston Globe."
Koppel cut him off: "We have other pieces of evidence, including the after-action report, and of course the citation of the Silver Star itself, which talks precisely about a superior enemy force. You're the one that raised questions about the superior enemy force. It appears from the recollections of the Vietnamese who were on-hand at the time, they recall a superior enemy force. 12 soldiers from-"
O'Neill tried to make his point: "Ted, this is the Boston Globe biography."
In other words, if Koppel's Vietnamese communist sources are right, everybody else -- the Swift Boat Veterans, John Kerry, Kerry's supporters from his own boat, the Boston Globe and Douglas Brinkley -- are all wrong. But Koppel never seemed to grasp that fact, or doubt the validity of the Vietnamese villagers.
Pressed by Koppel as to why the Vietnamese might have a reason to lie on Kerry's behalf, O'Neill pointed out that Kerry is a hero in the Vietnamese war museum, regarded as someone "who helped them win the war," implying that the Vietnamese communists might prefer Kerry as President.
Koppel grew exasperated: "I've been very patient listening to you give the same rendition of the same story three or four times now."
O'Neill quoted Kerry himself in Tour of Duty: "Ted, John Kerry says I could not help wondering what would have happened if, instead of one Viet Cong with a B-40, what if there had been three or five or ten? He knew the answer, of course. So John Kerry's story is that there was one, Ted. That was the same story that the Boston Globe reporters had."
At that point, Koppel ended the interview, but returned after another commercial with an assurance that ABC's decision to re-visit the Swift Vet story was not intended to damage Kerry:
To get the 43-page epilogue, which I learned for ordering a copy myself, will be delivered via e-mail as a 240Kb PDF file: members.humaneventsonline.com
The epilogue charges that the news media "ignored the Swift Boat vets, and then dismissed the charges." Indeed, the MRC has documented that. See our special Web section, "The Media vs. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," at: www.mediaresearch.org
ABC's Nightline suggested that the account presented by John O'Neill in Unfit for Command was flawed because of conflicting testimony from Vietnamese villagers, including ex-Viet Cong guerrillas, interviewed by ABC with a representative of the communist regime present. But while the record of what happened on February 28, 1969 is certainly disputed, O'Neill is correct when he points out that both Kerry's supporters and detractors agree on many elements of the story that ABC now wishes to dispute.
[With input from the MRC's Tim Graham, the MRC's Rich Noyes wrote up this item for CyberAlert.]
-- In Unfit for Command, O'Neill and co-author Jerome Corsi make it clear that their real problem is that the Silver Star citation makes it seem as if Kerry was the central hero when it was in fact a relatively large operation involving three Swift Boats carrying their own crews plus South Vietnamese soldiers and American advisors. They do say that the attacker was "a teenager in a loin cloth," a phrase used a year earlier in the Boston Globe. They do not say Kerry's actions that day lacked heroism, but charge that self-aggrandizing reports filed by Kerry led to his getting a higher commendation than others who were equally or more heroic that day.
An excerpt from Unfit for Command, pages 82-84:
According to Doug Reese, a pro-Kerry Army veteran, and many others, what happened that day differs from the retelling in the citation. Far from being alone, the boasts were loaded with many soldiers commanded by Reese and two other advisors. When fired at, Reese's boat -- not Kerry's -- was the first to beach in the ambush zone. Then Reese and other troops and advisors (not Kerry) disembarked, killing a number of Viet Cong and capturing a number of weapons. None of the participants from Reese's boat received any Silver Stars. Indeed, most, if not all, of the non-PCF [Swift Boat] troops received no medals for this action. Doug Reese, who advised the South Vietnamese who were the first group ashore and who killed most of the Viet Cong, received a well-deserved Army Commendation medal -- a much lower medal than the Silver Star. After the first boat beached, Kerry's boat moved slightly downstream and was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in its aft cabin.
A young Viet Cong in a loincloth popped out of a hole, clutching a grenade launcher which may or may not have been loaded, depending on whose account one credits. Tom Belodeau, a forward gunner, shot the Viet Cong with an M-60 machine gun in the leg as he fled. At about this time, with the boat beached, the Viet Cong who had been wounded by Belodeau fled. Kerry and Medeiros (who had many troops in their boat) took off, perhaps with others, following the young Viet Cong as he fled, and shot him in the back behind a lean-to....
The citation statement that Kerry attacked "a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire" is simply false. There was little or no fire after Kerry followed the plan (and the earlier move of the first boat toward the beach). The lone, wounded, fleeing young Viet Cong in a loincloth was hardly a force superior to the heavily armed Swift boat and its crew and the soldiers it carried aboard....
Admiral Roy Hoffman, who sent a Bravo Zulu (meaning "good work") to Kerry upon learning of the incident, was very surprised to discover in 2004 what had actually occurred. Hoffman had been told that Kerry had spontaneously beached next to the bunker and almost single-handedly routed a bunkered force of Viet Cong. He was shocked to find out that Kerry had beached his boat in a second preplanned operation, and that he had killed a single, wounded teenage foe as he fled....
END of Excerpt from Unfit for Command.
After proceeding approximately eight hundred yards, the boats were again taken under fire from a heavily foliated area and a B-40 rocket exploded close aboard the PCF 94; with utter disregard for his own safety and the enemy rockets, he [John Kerry] again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet from the VC rocket position, and personally led a landing party in pursuit of the enemy. Upon sweeping the area in an immediate search uncovered an enemy rest and supply area which was destroyed. The extraordinary daring and personal courage of Lieutenant (junior grade) KERRY in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire were responsible for the highly successful mission."
END of Excerpt from Kerry's Silver Star citation.
To see a PDF of the entire citation: www.johnkerry.com
On Feb. 28, 1969, Kerry's boat received word that a swift boat was being ambushed. As Kerry raced to the scene, his boat became another target, as a Viet Cong B-40 rocket blast shattered a window. Kerry could have ordered his crew to hit the enemy and run. But the skipper had a more aggressive reaction in mind. Beach the boat, Kerry ordered, and the craft's bow was quickly rammed upon the shoreline. Out of the bush appeared a teenager in a loin cloth, clutching a grenade launcher.
An enemy was just feet away, holding a weapon with enough firepower to blow up the boat. Kerry's forward gunner, Belodeau, shot and clipped the Viet Cong in the leg. Then Belodeau's gun jammed, according to other crewmates (Belodeau died in 1997). Medeiros tried to fire at the Viet Cong, but he couldn't get a shot off.
In an interview, Kerry added a chilling detail.
"This guy could have dispatched us in a second, but for...I'll never be able to explain, we were literally face to face, he with his B-40 rocket and us in our boat, and he didn't pull the trigger. I would not be here today talking to you if he had," Kerry recalled. "And Tommy clipped him, and he started going [down]. I thought it was over."
Instead, the guerrilla got up and started running. "We've got to get him, make sure he doesn't get behind the hut, and then we're in trouble," Kerry recalled.
So Kerry shot and killed the guerrilla. "I don't have a second's question about that, nor does anybody who was with me," he said. "He was running away with a live B-40, and, I thought, poised to turn around and fire it." Asked whether that meant Kerry shot the guerrilla in the back, Kerry said, "No, absolutely not. He was hurt, other guys were shooting from back, side, back. There is no, there is not a scintilla of question in any person's mind who was there [that] this guy was dangerous, he was a combatant, he had an armed weapon."
END of Excerpt
An excerpt of Brinkley's account, pages 290-296:
PCF-94 [Kerry's Swift boat] headed farther upriver to block for them [the other two Swift boats], and to investigate shots they had heard. The Swift got only some two hundred yards from where they had killed the VC lookout when a rocket was fired at them, which blew up their portside windows.
Once again Kerry ordered helmsman Del Sandusky to drive PCF-94 right into the point of ambush. The crew immediately spotted a 'spider hole' emplacement, the narrow VC version of a foxhole....Standing in this particular hole, to the horror of the Swift crew, was a VC guerrilla holding a B-40 rocket launcher aimed right at them. With the grace of god, he was more startled than they were. The enemy, staring at them, fumbled around with his rocket-propelled grenade in hopes of blasting the American boat into oblivion, but he was too close to PCF-94 to arm his weapon in time. Suddenly panicking, he started to run away from the river. Tommy Belodeau was manning the Swift's M-60 machine gun and managed to hit the fleeing foe in the leg. "The guy fell down, but he got back up with the B-40 rocket launcher in hand," [Michael] Medeiros related. "And then I saw him make a left-hand turn, and he rand down this little trail. In fact, I remember grabbing for the M-16 that I had next to the bulkhead. I picked it up and tried to take a shot at this guy, but I had the safety on. And by the time I got the safety off he had already made the turn. He was now out of view."
While Medeiros tried to draw a bead on the guerrilla, Kerry had already jumped off the boat with an M-16 and lit off after him down the trail. His crew's perceptions of their skipper's courage under fire at that moment remained vivid -- and admiring -- even decades later. "As a rookie, I was shocked when Kerry beached the boat," Fred Short marveled. "He saved the day and our lives. The VC had set up a double ambush for us. If we had gone upstream, there was another ambush waiting to happen." Kerry's decision to go charging after the VC guerrilla caught Sandusky by surprise. "What Kerry did was against the rules," a grateful Sandusky reflected decades later. "We had been taught at Coronado that we weren't supposed to become jungle fighters. But thank god he did."
"Well, we had an agreement," Medeiros explained of his own heroic reaction in the instant when it counted. "If he went on the beach, I went on the beach with him. I was his radioman. I grabbed a PRC-25, which we called a trick 25, and M-79 grenade launcher, and an M-16. And, of course, my .38. I didn't, however, have time to grab the radio. With my adrenaline racing, I started following him off the boat. So I was right behind him." Belodeau soon followed, while the other three crewman manned the Swift - Sandusky was at the helm, [Eugene] Thorson on the .50 caliber machine gun, astern, and Short in the gun turret with the mounted twin .50 calibers. "As the VC guerrilla got twenty or thirty meters down the path, just about in front of a lean-to, the [future] senator shot the guy," Medeiros related. "He had been standing on both feet with a loaded rocket launcher, about to fire. He fell over dead."
Kerry and Medeiros approached the sniper with caution, made sure he was really dead, and then searched his corpse. After they confiscated his B-40, they quickly headed back to their boat. Medeiros radioed the other two Swifts and Coastal Division 11 to let them know PCF-94 was going to make a sweep of the area in hope of ferreting out more Viet Cong. Kerry, Medeiros, and Belodeau then began combing the terrain inch by inch, their awareness at high alert for booby traps, punji stakes, snipers or anything else they could imagine the VC coming up with. In the process they stumbled upon a motherload: the foundation of a new insurgent village. Camouflaged contraband materiel lay everywhere, and they confiscated everything from VC flags to American-made 20-mm shell casings and sewing machines of potentially nefarious intent. The suspicious goods in hand, the trio from PCF-94 burned the tiny hooches they had found the stuff in. In the distance they could see VC running toward a tree line out of range, looking for cover in the U Minh Forest....
The day after the action that won him the Silver Star, Kerry's PCF-94 was ordered back to the Bay Hap River, but not a man on the boat felt good about it. "Morale was just beginning to reach the lowest depths," Kerry wrote in his journal for March 1, 1969. "People were risking their lives and just not seeing any results for the effort. No one, from engineman to officer in charge, could find the rationale for letting the enemy have the first devastating shots at us in the rivers, and without exception they always did." As Kerry saw it, he had simply been lucky that the VC rocket had missed his Swift and that he had thought quickly enough to beach it. He could not stop wondering: Instead of one VC with a B-40 in a spider hole, what if there had been three, or five, or ten? He knew the answer, of course: in all likelihood Western Union would have been delivering death notices to the families of the men under his command, not to mention his own parents.
END of excerpt from Tour of Duty.
An excerpt from his August 22 Chicago Tribune article:
As we headed for the riverbank, I remember seeing a loaded B-40 launcher pointed at the boats. It wasn't fired as two men jumped up from their spider holes.
We called [Don] Droz's boat up to assist us, and Kerry, followed by one member of his crew, jumped ashore and chased a VC behind a hooch -- a thatched hut -- maybe 15 yards inland from the ambush site. Some who were there that day recall the man being wounded as he ran. Neither I nor Jerry Leeds, our boat's leading petty officer with whom I've checked my recollection of all these events, recalls that, which is no surprise. Recollections of those who go through experiences like that frequently differ.
With our troops involved in the sweep of the first ambush site, Richard Lamberson, a member of my crew, and I also went ashore to search the area. I was checking out the inside of the hooch when I heard gunfire nearby.
Not long after that, Kerry returned, reporting that he had killed the man he chased behind the hooch. He also had picked up a loaded B-40 rocket launcher, which we took back to our base in An Thoi after the operation.
John O'Neill, author of a highly critical account of Kerry's Vietnam service, describes the man Kerry chased as a "teenager" in a "loincloth." I have no idea how old the gunner Kerry chased that day was, but both Leeds and I recall that he was a grown man, dressed in the kind of garb the VC usually wore.
The man Kerry chased was not the "lone" attacker at that site, as O'Neill suggests. There were others who fled. There was also firing from the tree line well behind the spider holes and at one point, from the opposite riverbank as well. It was not the work of just one attacker.
END of Excerpt
Rood also noted that his own citation is in error, a detail that might have caused Ted Koppel to regard the official paperwork with more skepticism. Rood wrote: "There's at least one mistake in that citation. It incorrectly identifies the river where the main action occurred, a reminder that such documents were often done in haste and sometimes authored for their signers by staffers. It's a cautionary note for those trying to piece it all together. There's no final authority on something that happened so long ago -- not the documents and not even the strained recollections of those of us who were there."
Thursday night's Nightline represented the fifth time this year that the ABC News late-night program focused on John Kerry's awards in Vietnam or the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, but none have really explored the breadth of charges and revelations laid out by the group or in John O'Neill's book, Unfit for Command. A broadcast highlighting Kerry's Silver Star heroism aired on June 22, using only veterans who have supported Kerry and appeared at campaign events. Three programs in August on the Swift Vet controversy were largely political shows that focused more on current political tactics than old military claims. While anti-Kerry veterans got a few soundbites, none of these four shows featured interviews with Swift Boat veterans, who in O'Neill's book, challenged Kerry's version of events. ABC, did, however love to interview fellow journalists.
[The MRC's Tim Graham submitted this historic rundown for CyberAlert.]
On June 22, Koppel began by explaining the controversy over Kerry's medals: "Questions have been raised by Kerry's political opponents about the seriousness of at least one of those wounds. But the rules are simple, if you're wounded in combat and require treatment by a medic, you get a Purple Heart. Again, Kerry has three of them. Also, he was awarded a Bronze Star for courage and a Silver Star for gallantry. Those are the kind of medals you showcase in a presidential campaign. And the Kerry campaign has done just that."
But Koppel didn't find the need compelling to make Kerry answer critical questions: "John Kerry and his war time service are clearly a centerpiece for his campaign for President. But if you expect him to talk about how he won that Silver Star, the most important of his medals, you're likely to be disappointed. As I said at the outset, there are some things that some veterans just can't or won't talk about. Here's more from ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper." Tapper's report featured four veterans recounting the Silver Star events of February 28, 1969: David Alston, Del Sandusky, Fred Short, and Gene Thorson. The men who questioned Kerry's account in O'Neill's book -- including Michael Medeiros who disembarked with Kerry, and Doug Reese, who O'Neill cites as pro-Kerry -- were not in the broadcast. The second half of the show featured an interview with New York Times political reporter Adam Nagourney.
On August 9, Nightline first took up Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The reported segments -- one by Jake Tapper, and one by Mike Cerre, peppered in a few soundbites of Kerry critics, including Van O'Dell, who questioned Kerry's war stories and anti-war testimony, along with the usual Kerry "band of brothers." The interview segment featured journalists again: Christian Science Monitor reporter Liz Marlantes, who tried to analyze the situation in a balanced way, and former New York Times reporter David Halberstam, who attacked "strident" Republican hawks from Bush to Rep. Tom DeLay for failing to serve.
On August 19, the program returned to the subject when John Kerry made the decision to accuse Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as being a badly disguised front organization for the Bush campaign. Again, the Swift Vets drew a few soundbites -- including John O'Neill and Larry Thurlow, as well as political strategists like Richard Viguerie and Donna Brazile. The guests to be interviewed were again journalists, but more balanced: Washington Times editorial page Editor Tony Blankley vs. Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report.
On August 25, Nightline focused more narrowly on the political and ethical issues of the TV ads and "527" organizations. After a report featuring liberal campaign reformers Fred Wertheimer and Larry Noble, as well as Bush spokesman Marc Racicot and Kerry spokesman Tad Devine, the interview segment was devoted to Benjamin Ginsberg, the Bush campaign lawyer who also served as counsel to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Substitute host Chris Bury focused largely on how Ginsberg approached his duties from an ethical perspective.
The August 27 CyberAlert recounted that encounter: Ben Ginsberg, the Bush campaign counsel who resigned Wednesday, fought back against the media's double standard on the subject of legal counsel overlaps between campaigns, parties and 527 groups. When Nightline anchor Chris Bury on Wednesday said "hold on, Mr. Ginsberg. Jake Tapper in his report just laid out many of those ties" between Democrats, Kerry and Bush-bashing 527 groups, Ginsberg fired back: "Yeah, and this was the first time and they've been running those ads since March, Chris. Where were you?" Near the end of the contentious interview in which Bury pounded away about how the Bush campaign left its "dirty work" to the anti-Kerry veterans, Ginsberg asserted: "I think that's a double standard involved in this, and frankly the questions in this interview are indicative of that double standard." See: www.mediaresearch.org
-- Brent Baker