CNSNews.com won't tell its readers the full truth about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
By Terry Krepel
Let's not mince words here: CNS will refuse to tell its readers the complete truth when its political agenda deems it necessary. After all, it did so with Otto Reich.
It happened again last week. Among the things CNS was doing while it was downplaying allegations of abuse and torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers was pushing a large load of Kerry-bashing in the form of a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
CNS writer Marc Morano breathlessly announced in a May 3 story the group's intention to hold a press conference the following day alleging that John Kerry is "unfit to be commander in chief" in a May 3 story. In traditional CNS fashion of allowing conservative opinions to get the upper hand, it's not until paragraph 22 that any non-Swift Boat person gets a say.
The next day, reporter Robert Bluey gave his account of the actual event, but Bluey glosses over the most interesting fact among all of this partisan blather. In rather shoddily detailing the Kerry campaign's response to the group, Bluey writes this:
Sanders pointed to favorable evaluations that Kerry's military superiors in Vietnam - retired Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard and retired Capt. George M. Elliott - gave Kerry, even though Hibbard and Elliot are now lined up against Kerry.
What? There are flip-floppers in Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? But Bluey does nothing else with this. Bluey also mentions "a 12-page document" the Kerry campaign handed out to reporters questioning the group's tactics, but doesn't tell us what's in it. Bluey seems rather incurious for a reporter, doesn't he? Wouldn't you as a reader want to know more about those contradictions and what's in that 12-page document?
That sort of glossing over of evidence continues in a May 5 story by Susan Jones (the reporter who gets to write opinion pieces on the issues she covers), in which the Bush campaign denied any connection with the Swift Boat Veterans group. Jones quotes the Kerry campaign saying that "This attack was organized by the same pro-Bush group that smeared John McCain in 2000. It has ties to the White House and to Bush in Texas," but she doesn't offer the evidence, subtly implying that there isn't any.
Well, since CNS refuses to live up to its mission statement "to fairly present all legitimate sides of a story," we'll have to do it for them. CNS gives the innocuous version of the biography of John O'Neill, a member of the group -- "a Houston, Texas, based attorney" who "served in the same naval unit as Kerry and commanded Kerry's swift boat after Kerry returned to the United States" and who "engaged in a nationally televised debate in 1971 on The Dick Cavett Show." But as Media Matters reports, O'Neill is a registered Republican who was encouraged by Richard Nixon himself to spar with Kerry on TV in 1971. In addition, he is a former law clerk for conservative Supreme Court justice William Rehnquist.
O'Neill was also a law partner of a man named Lex Lezar, according to Salon's Joe Conason. Lezar's widow is Merrie Spaeth, who is the media contact for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Both Lezar and Spaeth have had strong Republican connections; Spaeth coached former independent counsel Kenneth Starr to prepare him for his testimony urging the impeachment of President Clinton before the House Judiciary Committee.
Spaeth, Conason says, was also the spokeswoman for a shadowy group billed as "Republicans for Clean Air" produced television ads falsely attacking the environmental record of Sen. John McCain in California, New York and Ohio during the 2000 Republican primary season. (So yes, Susan, there is a link between the Swift Boat folks and the McCain-bashers.)
Additionally, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth Web site shares its registered address with a Missouri company owned by William E. Franke, who has given at least $15,000 to Republican candidates since 2001, including $2,000 to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign last June.
Since CNS also won't tell you about Elliott and Hibbard said about Kerry way back when (let alone offer an explanation of why they flip-flopped), here's what Elliott had to say:
In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action LTJG Kerry was unsurpassed. ... He constantly reviewed tactics and lessons learned in river operations and applied his experience at every opportunity. ... LTJG Kerry emerges as the acknowledged leader in his peer group. His bearing and appearance are above reproach.
Hibbard, meanwhile, noted in an evaluation that Kerry's initiative, cooperation, and bearing ranked among the top few. As the Daily Howler points out, Hibbard made this evaluation occurred two weeks after Kerry was awarded his first Purple Heart -- about which Hibbard is on record these days disputing the seriousness of the injury that preceded it.
This is the kind of inconsistency that would draw snarky remarks from CNS and the ConWeb if it was a Democrat that did it -- and why, here's a March 23 CNS story accusing Kerry (by Susan Jones, lacking any noted attempt of getting a response from Kerry) of being a flip-flopper.
(Update: CNS, surprisingly, ran letters criticial of it for not detailing the background of O'Neill. Typically, if letters that don't support the point of view of its stories are run at all, they are fringe letters making dubious allegations. It does that here, too, with one letter that references "The Great Satan, America.")
CNS isn't alone in trying to divert attention from the full story. Its compadres at the Media Research Center, in the form of Brent Baker, complained in a May 5 CyberAlert that CBS was being "very McCarthyistic" in pointing out O'Neill's ties to Nixon. Or, as Baker put it, "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."
This, by the way, from an organization whose search engine contains 36 references to the word "Clintonista," a word that can be interpreted as tarring people by their alleged links to one person's "supposed dirty work."
Baker also promotes the unbalanced CNS stories, but he also mentions that Fox News Channel noted that Hibbard and Elliott are on record praising Kerry. Perhaps Baker needs to send an interoffice memo to Bluey.
As slanted as CNS' efforts were, they were modicums of balance compared to what NewsMax and WorldNetDaily. In WND's unbylined 34-paragraph story, a paltry two paragraphs are given over a tepid telling of the Kerry campaign's response. And NewsMax's Dave Eberhart has 29 paragraphs of Kerry criticism and one paragraph erroneously stating that "At the time of this writing Kerry's campaign headquarters, only blocks away from the Press Club, had no response to the letter or the news conference." Eberhart joins Bluey as another incurious reporter. Needless to say, neither WND nor NewsMax note any of the conflicts of the Swift Boat participants.
All in all, the kind of shabby reporting we've come to expect from the ConWeb.