August 19, 2004

The New York Times Blows the Lead Once Again

Once again the New York Times pulls its punches and blows the lead:

The New York Times > Washington > Campaign 2004 > Friendly Fire: The Birth of an Anti-Kerry Ad: by KATE ZERNIKE and JIM RUTENBERG: After weeks of taking fire over veterans' accusations that he had lied about his Vietnam service record to win medals and build a political career, Senator John Kerry shot back yesterday, calling those statements categorically false and branding the people behind them tools of the Bush campaign.

His decision to take on the group directly was a measure of how the group that calls itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth has catapulted itself to the forefront of the presidential campaign. It has advanced its cause in a book, in a television advertisement and on cable news and talk radio shows, all in an attempt to discredit Mr. Kerry's war record, a pillar of his campaign.

The Swift Boat smear campaign needs its context--a quote from John McCain calling it a smear campaign would have been nice. And the important thing for readers to know is not that Kerry "claims" that they are tools of the Bush campaign, and not that they have "catapulted... to the forefront of the presidential campaign."

The important things for readers to know is that this bunch of veterans (a) are tools of the Bush campaign, and (b) are liars. But those facts aren't in the lead: to get those facts you need to read further into the story:

...a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove.... [T]he bulk of... initial financing [came] from... a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's... [and] a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's father's presidential library. A Texas publicist who... helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for... debate[s] provided them with strategic advice.... [T]elevision commercial... produced by the same team... Mr. Bush's father... 1988 presidential election....

[T[he accounts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth... riddled with inconsistencies... undercut by official Navy records... the men's own statements. Several of those now declaring Mr. Kerry "unfit" had lavished praise on him.... Hoffmann... leader of the group... said, "I am not going to say anything negative about [Kerry]." He added, "He's a good man."... "It took guts, and I admire that."

Elliott... flew... to Boston in 1996... declaring... Kerry... Silver Star... "an act of courage."... Lonsdale... now speaking out against Mr. Kerry, [then] supported him with a statement about the "bravado and courage of the young officers that ran the Swift boats." "Senator Kerry was no exception," Mr. Lonsdale told the reporters and cameras assembled at the Charlestown Navy Yard. "He was among the finest of those Swift boat drivers." Those comments echoed the official record.... Elliott... ranked [Kerry]... "not exceeded" in 11 categories, including moral courage, judgment and decisiveness... he called Mr. Kerry "unsurpassed," "beyond reproach" and "the acknowledged leader in his peer group."

[L]ast winter... Lonsdale received a call... from... Hoffmann... had [he] seen the new biography of [Kerry].... Mr. Brinkley's "Tour of Duty," while it burnished Mr. Kerry's reputation, portrayed the two men as reckless leaders whose military approach had led to the deaths of countless sailors and innocent civilians. Several Swift boat veterans compared Mr. Hoffmann to the bloodthirsty colonel in the film "Apocalypse Now".... The two men were determined to set the record, as they saw it, straight.... Hoffmann's phone calls led them to Texas and to John E. O'Neill....

Mr. Perry, who has given $200,000 to the group, is the top donor to Republicans in the state... $46,000 to President Bush's campaigns for governor in 1994 and 1998.... 2002... $4 million to Texas candidates and political committees.... Mr. Rove... and Mr. Perry were longtime friends.... Mr. Crow, the seventh-largest donor to Republicans in the state... trustee of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation.... Tex Lezar, ran on the Republican ticket with Mr. Bush in 1994, as lieutenant governor.... married to Merrie Spaeth, a powerful public relations executive who has helped coordinate the efforts of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.... Spaeth was spokeswoman for a group that ran $2 million worth of ads attacking Senator John McCain's environmental record....

About 10 veterans met in Ms. Spaeth's office in Dallas in April to share outrage and plot their campaign against Mr. Kerry, she and others said. Mr. Lonsdale, who did not attend, said the meeting had been planned as "an indoctrination session."... "That was an awakening experience," Ms. Spaeth said. "Not just for me, but for many of them who had not heard each other's stories."...

Patrick Runyon, who served on a mission with Mr. Kerry, said he initially thought the caller was from a pro-Kerry group, and happily gave a statement about the night Mr. Kerry won his first Purple Heart. The investigator said he would send it to him by e-mail for his signature. Mr. Runyon said the edited version was stripped of all references to enemy combat, making it look like just another night in the Mekong Delta. "It made it sound like I didn't believe we got any returned fire," he said. "He made it sound like it was a normal operation. It was the scariest night of my life."

By May, the group had the money that Mr. O'Neill had collected as well as additional veterans rallied by Mr. O'Neill, Mr. Hoffmann and others. The expanded group gathered in Washington to record the veterans' stories for a television commercial. Each veteran's statement was written down as an affidavit and sent to him to sign and have notarized. But the validity of those affidavits soon came into question.

Mr. Elliott... recommended Mr. Kerry for the Silver Sta... signed one affidavit saying Mr. Kerry "was not forthright".... Two weeks ago, The Boston Globe quoted him as saying that he felt he should not have signed the affidavit. He then signed a second affidavit that reaffirmed his first.... Mr. Elliott has refused to speak publicly since then.... The book... written by Mr. O'Neill and Jerome R. Corsi... a contributor of anti-Catholic, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments to a right-wing Web site....

The group's arguments have foundered on other contradictions. In the television commercial, Dr. Louis Letson.... Letson's name does not appear on any of the medical records for Mr. Kerry.... Asked in an interview if there was any way to confirm that he had treated Mr. Kerry, Dr. Letson replied, "I guess you'll have to take my word for it." ...

William L. Schachte Jr.... contends that Mr. Kerry wounded himself while firing a grenade. But the two other men... with Mr. Kerry, Bill Zaladonis and Mr. Runyon... cannot recall a third crew member. "Me and Bill aren't the smartest, but we can count to three," Mr. Runyon said in an interview.... Mr. Schachte did not return a telephone call, and a spokesman for the group said he would not comment.

The Silver Star.... Swift Boat Veterans for Truth describes the man Mr. Kerry killed as a solitary wounded teenager "in a loincloth," who may or may not have been armed.... But Mr. Elliott and Mr. Lonsdale, who handled reports going up the line for recognition, have previously said that a medal would be awarded only if there was corroboration from others and that they had thoroughly corroborated the accounts. "Witness reports were reviewed; battle reports were reviewed," Mr. Lonsdale said at the 1996 news conference, adding, "It was a very complete and carefully orchestrated procedure." In his statements Mr. Elliott described the action that day as "intense" and "unusual."

According to a citation for Mr. Kerry's Bronze Star.... Mr. Kerry turned the boat around to pull Mr. Rassmann from the water.... [T]he group says that there was no enemy fire, and that while Mr. Kerry did rescue Mr. Rassmann, the action was what anyone would have expected of a sailor, and hardly heroic. Asked why Mr. Rassmann recalled that he was dodging enemy bullets, a member of the group, Jack Chenoweth, said, "He's lying."

"If that's what we have to say," Mr. Chenoweth added, "that's how it was."... A damage report to Mr. Thurlow's boat shows that it received three bullet holes, suggesting enemy fire, and later intelligence reports indicate that one Vietcong was killed in action and five others wounded, reaffirming the presence of an enemy. Mr. Thurlow said the boat was shot the day before. He also received a Bronze Star for the day, a fact left out of "Unfit for Command." Asked about the award, Mr. Thurlow said that he did not recall what the citation said but that he believed it had commended him for saving the lives of sailors on a boat hit by a mine. If it did mention enemy fire, he said, that was based on Mr. Kerry's false reports. The actual citation, Mr. Thurlow said, was with an ex-wife with whom he no longer has contact, and he declined to authorize the Navy to release a copy. But a copy obtained by The New York Times indicates "enemy small arms," "automatic weapons fire" and "enemy bullets flying about him." The citation was first reported by The Washington Post on Thursday....

Posted by DeLong at August 19, 2004 09:48 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Brad DeLong wrote, "The Swift Boat smear campaign needs its context..."

But providing context isn't...obbbbbbjective....! If Bush says "2+2=5" and Kerry says "No, 2+2=4," then e.g. asking someone who can count what the answer is would be evidence the reporter is...bbbbiased!

Posted by: liberal on August 21, 2004 09:00 AM

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