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August 08, 2004

Our Objective Media, Watchdogs of the Public Good

I've been following the whole Swift Boat Veterans episode with interest, exploring odd corners of the web, talking to friends who happen to be in positions that allow them some behind the scenes information and insight. But the most interesting aspect is the media treatment of this issue.

The media, collectively, claims it has no liberal bias. Many disagree. This episode seems to me a perfect litmus test. In the past when candidates for office, including the incumbent in this election, come under fire for things in their past the media eagerly plunges into the muck, fishing about for odd bits to bring up and expose to the light. "The public has a right to know," is the oft repeated litany. What was the name of that boat a couple of elections back, the Monkey Business? And the challenge issued to the media? And here we have Kerry shouting "Bring it on!" But the media has not.

Back in May the Swift Boat vets announced their criticisms of Kerry and his unfitness for duty. This seems to me to be a rather newsworthy event. Either the 200 plus veterans were collectively plotting to ruin the chances of a Senator in his stand for President, or the candidate had some ugly things in his past of which the American public was not adequately informed. Either way, it appeared to have all the makings of a fabulous news opportunity for the media. Beyond that, it has Pullitzer written all over it for a dogged and analytical reporter who focused on the case. Tell me, convince me, that the wet dream of every aspiring post-Watergate reporter is not to bring down a top rank politician? From the recent orgies of articles on the current sitting President it's clear that dream has not completely faded. Equally juicy would be the exposure of some sort of Vast Right-Winged Conspiracy to control the American public. If Kerry is the hero he claims (every 10 minutes or so), this is indeed a rather bald and dirty attempt to derail his campaign. Is that not news of the sort that gets front-page dominating headlines?

Where are the stories? Oh, there have been a few, yes. Now compare the numbers to those of the thinly-sourced and now debunked articles on Bush's AWOL-from-the-National-Guard stories. And those stories are still often cited as if they were not debunked in the media.

Either way the Swift Vets story ends, it's The Major Story of this campaign. Kerry has run solely on his record in Viet-Nam. This attack, if proven to be factually based, utterly destroys the foundation of the Kerry campaign. What is left will not even qualify to be called a house of cards. All that is left is negatives. Aside from the "I served in Viet-Nam," the whole campaign is George W. Bush is the devil.

The vast bulk of this story has been carried on the web, mostly on blogs. It's going to be a true test of the power of blogs versus that of traditional media, I think. If the story gets out, despite the thin to nonexistent coverage the media has given it to date, in my opinion it will be due to the sheer determination of the Vets themselves. the stupidity of the Kerry lawyers, and the hue and cry raised from both sides of the political spectrum in blogs.

Of course, the whole story is easily resolved, if Kerry wishes it so. Maybe he thinks he can milk it for publicity under the marketing dictum that "any publicity is good publicity." Not that it's getting much play outside the web. So much for that theory. All he has to do to end it is release his military records to the media.

Sign the form, Mr. Kerry, and this whole thing will go away. Or you will.

And either way, major media... are you listening? Where's your principle of "the American public has the right to know?" Have you NO shame? Where are the shouts that Kerry release his military records like there were for George W. Bush? I have heard from a well-connected source that Kerry has more reprimands in his military record than he had days in service in Viet-Nam. If that is true, isn't that relevant to this campaign? If it's false, isn't it important to expose the conspiracy that's slandering Kerry?

For information on this story, here are some links:

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth website has documents, bios, copies of the ad they are running, and discussion forums with voices from boths sides. I consider it the primary source at the moment.

Some other sites have been following and discussing this a lot too:

Captain's Quarters, especially in these articles: The Swiftie's Fire Back , The Mistake continues, Christmas In Cambodia: Kerry's Intellectual Laziness On Parade, and Upping the Ante.

The Kerry Spot on National Review Online has been following it too. And there's a short (and interesting) bio on John O'Neill, one of the principle Swift Veterans for Truth, By Alex Rose here.

Phillip Carter at Intel Dump gives his analysis on the story here.

Powerline is following the story too. The current article is Called to Serve Again.

BeldarBlog has an interesting essay on the credibility of John O'Neill, one of the principal Swift Vets here. He's following this pretty closely too.

Or use your favorite search engine with a string like "Swift veterans Kerry."

Posted by dan at August 8, 2004 11:12 AM | TrackBack

>The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth website has documents, bios, copies of the ad they are running, and discussion forums with voices from boths sides. I consider it the primary source at the moment.

Unfortunately, when I have gone to the site, all I get is the "ad" page with no navigation to anything else on the site. I have written them about the problem because it really bothers me that truth seekers might get turned off if they can find no away immediately access/explore the site.

If it is just me that is having such a problem, fine. But if it is a problem with the site design, they REALLY need to fix it.

Posted by: Joanna at August 8, 2004 12:34 PM

Just glancing at Google News, I see 509 hits for "Kerry swift boats." Those include, just on the first page, NPR, the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau, the Kansas City Star, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, St. Petersburg Times, the American Daily in Ohio and the News Journal in Delaware. It's more than I have time to read, but it all appears to contain original reporting, not just reprints of wire stories.

Mainstream media can't match bloggers for bulk - newsprint isn't cheap - but "thin to nonexistent" hardly seems the right choice of adjectives.

You are right that there doesn't seem to be much pressure on Kerry to produce records. Let's hope more of that is going on behind the scenes than is visible in print.

Posted by: David Crisp at August 8, 2004 01:17 PM


You may need to tweak your browser setting for that site. There are three buttons to the right of the video that control navigation into the main site. It wasn't terribly intuitive. It's worth it though. There's a lot of discussion in the fora there, on all sides.


I believe I said "major media." To me that means the main network news, NYT, WaPo, LAT, WSJ, etc. Even Fox is treating this very skimpily. The major media have mentioned the story, but their coverage, and their apparent desire to cover it, stand in stark contrast to other comparable stories (with a lot less offered as evidence) in the recent past.

That's my point. And that it's getting a lot of chatter away from the major media, which your list more or less confirms.

Posted by: Dan at August 8, 2004 01:57 PM

As you say, they have all mentioned it. Desire is harder to measure. Someone else will have to do the research, but my recollection is that major media were slow to jump on the Bush-AWOL story when it surfaced during the 2000 campaign, too. Outside of the Boston Globe, most papers seemed to either rehash or rebut what was already out there.

My own guess is the big media are nervous about challenging anybody's military record, especially when medals and honorable discharges are involved. Too much blowback potential. Lack of deference for officially honorable service is just what people would expect from liberal media, isn't it?

Posted by: David Crisp at August 8, 2004 03:21 PM

As a member of a group closely affiliated with the Swifties, Vietnam Vets for the Truth (VVT), I have been watching this whole affair with great interest. The oddest thing has been the number of people who condemn this ad.

The attacks are discussed at Who Wrote the Rules?

The first Swiftie attempt to get the word out, their press conference of May 5, was treated very poorly by the press - spiked by AP, CBS and NBC, and horribly smeared by CBS. They have taken the only road they can - do something the media has to cover. I'd say they did a damned good job, even if some people who don't understand or like grass roots politics condemn it.

I know some of these guys. They are straight arrows, out to expose a liar and to clear their names. O'Neill is as honorable a guy as there is.

If Kerry dropped out tomorrow, SBVFT and VVT would vanish.

For a collection of post-war Kerry no-nos, check out here.

In VVT, we don't have people who knew Kerry (except for Swifties in both groups), but we were all slandered by his 1971 "testimony" and his flirtation with treason. We are having a rally in DC on Sept 12 to let out the word. We are NOT throwing away our medals.

Posted by: John Moore at August 8, 2004 03:53 PM

The SwiftVets didn't anticipate the volume of traffic their original server would be obliged to handle. (Despite the Dem spin, these guys aren't skilled media pros.) To skip the video and go directly to their main website at its new (higher capacity) address, click here.

Posted by: Beldar at August 8, 2004 04:02 PM

This is an old media story too.

The book, Kerry is "Unfit for Command", was #1 on Amazon for a few days. It is now #2. 911 is #1. It doesn't come out for almost another week. This is just a little blood in the water to attract the shark's attention.

The advantage of a book over a movie (MM-F911) is that a book stays around. Can be passed around, and the information is easier to check.

Talk radio says this issue is white hot.

And we haven't even got to the good part his meeting with NV representatives in Paris and Winter Soldier.

I don't know how he can possibly respin his Congressional testimony.

Think of the home alone burglars on the marbles. They slip, they slide, they almost fall, they recover, several times. Then comes the big crash.

So far Kerry is still on his feet. He will not wind up that way.

Posted by: M. Simon at August 9, 2004 03:04 AM
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