The Media vs. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

Even before John Kerry used his Vietnam record to vault to victory in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, the national media frequently touted the Massachusetts liberal as a decorated, thrice-wounded war hero. But apart from interviewing the small group of Vietnam veterans who have campaigned with Kerry over the last two decades, national reporters did not seek out others to confirm or challenge the tales of Kerry’s valor and heroism.

Then in May, a group of more than 250 Vietnam veterans — including Kerry’s superior officers and many who served with him when he was a Swift Boat commander — launched a public challenge to Kerry’s version of Vietnam. At a press conference, they charged Kerry had greatly embellished his military record and betrayed his fellow Swift Boat veterans when he went before the Senate to make sweeping charges of American war crimes in Vietnam. Based on this record, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth declared Kerry “unfit” to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

kerry081904Yet the national media still offered little scrutiny of either Kerry’s service or his anti-war rhetoric. Not until Kerry himself attacked the credibility and integrity of his fellow veterans, however, did the liberal media jump on the story. But most of their scrutiny was reserved for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, not the candidate seeking the highest office in the land.


Peter and Dan Raise Fairness of Swift Boat Ads with Mrs. Bush
Laura Bush was hit on the swift boat ads by both ABC's Peter Jennings and CBS's Dan Rather during a round of interviews on the last night of the Republican convention. Rather threatened the resurrection of Bush's service record: "Now that friends and supporters of the President have raised the issue of John Kerry's combat record in Vietnam, do you or do you not think it's fair now for the Kerry people to come back and dig anew into your husband's military service record?"
(CyberAlert Morning Edition, September 3, 2004)

abc_purple083104Aghast Over Purple Heart Band-Aids Mocking Kerry
On the first night of the Republican convention, CNN reporters, and George Stephanopoulos on the limited distribution ABC News Now channel, acted aghast over how some delegates wore band-aids displaying a heart shape in the color purple, meant to make light of John Kerry earning purple hearts in Vietnam for superficial wounds.
(CyberAlert Morning Edition, August 31, 2004)

Mainstream Media Hostility Documented
The September 6 Weekly Standard magazine recounted how the mainstream media were forced to cover a story they hated after the "new media" -- of bloggers, talk radio and the Fox News Channel -- forced them into covering the swift boat charges, even if to only concentrate on John McCain's criticism and to push Republicans to condemn the ads. 
(CyberAlert Morning Edition, August 31, 2004)

Networks Hype Kerry Defenders, Hide Kerry Critics
The Saturday, August 22 CBS Evening News could not wait to tell viewers how the next morning’s Chicago Tribune included a first-person account by a former swift boat commander, William Rood, defending Kerry’s account of how he won the Silver Star. But the next Friday, August 27, when the Chicago Sun-Times interviewed retired Rear Admiral William Schachte, who challenged another part of Kerry’s story (the first Purple Heart), CBS failed to utter a single word about it.
(CyberAlert Morning Edition, August 30, 2004)

Networks Reward a Democratic Stunt
On August 25, ABC, CBS and NBC all rewarded the the Kerry campaign's stunt of sending former Senator Max Cleland to Crawford, Texas to protest the Swift Vets' anti-Kerry ads. Perpetuating a Democratic myth, NBC's Tom Brokaw claimed that Cleland "lost his Senate seat after an ad campaign questioning his patriotism." CBS's John Roberts was even more ludicrous, asserting that Cleland's "Vietnam record was attacked by Republicans two years ago" in that losing Senate race. Meanwhile, the Associated Press and CNN hyped the idea that Kerry accuser John O’Neill himself “lied” about being in Cambodia.
(CyberAlert, August 26, 2004)

NBC's Myers Outlines Anti-Kerry Case
On August 24, NBC Nightly News finally got around to actually detailing the recollections of a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as Lisa Myers compared the claims of Larry Thurlow to those of Kerry-backers. Myers even pointed out how in one of the medal instances "there also are inconsistencies in Kerry's version of events." But on CBS's Early Show, Harry Smith interrupted Swift Vote spokesman John O'Neill with protests ("hang on a, no, no, you listen for a second").
(CyberAlert, August 25, 2004)

gibson082404Networks Dissatisfied with Bush, Not Kerry
Aligning themselves with the Kerry campaign spin line, ABC and NBC on August 23 were dissatisfied that President Bush condemned all 527 groups, not just the one they detest. "President Bush today condemned the ads," ABC anchor Charles Gibson noted before he fretted, "but he only condemned the way such ads are financed, paid for by independent groups. He avoids condemning the specific content of the ads, and that infuriates Democrats." Over on CNN, Aaron Brown helpfully concluded that "the available official record is unambiguous: John Kerry was a war hero."
(CyberAlert, August 24, 2004)

Bob Schieffer's Double Standard
On CBS's Face the Nation on August 22, host Bob Schieffer empathized with John Kerry's daughters (what is it like to be out there when you hear these attacks on your dad?) as he asked Republican officials why President Bush would not "condemn this ad specifically." But in February when Democrats baselessly charged Bush with being AWOL, Schieffer waded into the details: "Was the President not at these Guard meetings? Is there actual proof of that?"
(CyberAlert, August 23, 2004)

TV Focuses on Kerry's Spin, Not Kerry's History
John Kerry’s Vietnam history might seem central to the campaign, but an MRC review found that ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows did not bring aboard a single member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT) for an on-air interview until Tuesday, August 24. Up to that point, the network morning shows focused not on scrutinizing the contradictions in Kerry’s war stories, but promoting Kerry’s spin lines.
(Media Reality Check, August 23, 2004)

Kerry Attacks, Networks Jump On Board
On August 19, after John Kerry attacked the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as an insidious tool of the Bush campaign, all of the networks offered coverage. ABC's World News Tonight, which ignored the May 4 press conference by the anti-Kerry veterans and hadn't since mentioned their charges or early August ad, led with how, as anchor Elizabeth Vargas framed the matter: "John Kerry fights back against charges he lied about his war record. He accuses a veterans' group of doing the President's 'dirty work.'"
(CyberAlert, August 20, 2004)

No Respect for Swift Boat Vets
Back in February, the three broadcast networks were obsessed with the story of President Bush’s National Guard service, making it the focus of 75 evening news stories, according to an MRC study. But in May, when John Kerry’s former Navy colleagues from Vietnam went to the National Press Club to charge that Kerry’s tales of heroism as a Swift Boat commander were highly exaggerated, those same networks acted as if their job was to bury the news, not report it. Through August 18, ABC, CBS and NBC had aired only nine stories mentioning the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth charges against Kerry.
(Media Reality Check, August 18, 2004)

kerry081704ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC Ignore Kerry's Cambodia Backtrack
On August 11, the Kerry campaign backtracked from John Kerry's oft-repeated claim that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968, in what would have been a violation of international law by the U.S., but only FNC cared and ran a full story on the admission prompted by John O'Neill's book, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.
(CyberAlert, August 12, 2004)

mitchell081004NBC & MSNBC Team Up to Repress Kerry Ad (With Real Video) Unencumbered by any restrictions on their free speech, NBC's om Brokaw and Andrea Mitchell and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on August 6 launched their own independent attack on the Vietnam vets who are detractors of John Kerry in order to discredit those with a viewpoint NBC/MSNBC apparently wants to keep hidden from the American people. "They may get away with it," Mitchell fretted.
(CyberAlert, August 7, 2004)

pitts050404CBS Tries to Smear Anti-Kerry Vets (With Real Video)
ABC and NBC ignored the May 4 press conference by a group of Vietnam veterans who say John Kerry is unfit for the presidency, but the CBS Evening News that night tried to smear the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth by impugning them as partisan activists tied to the Bush campaign. Dan Rather claimed 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.” 
(CyberAlert, May 5, 2004)

Additional coverage of Kerry’s Vietnam record, and how the media approach to that story was very different to their coverage of the Bush National Guard story can be found in the August 12 CyberAlert.
(CyberAlert, August 12, 2004)