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Swiftly Slanted, Part 2: Now They Tell Us

The ConWeb slowly, grudgingly admits credibility problems with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- but do their best to spin things their way anyway.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 8/11/2004

It took massive publicity on the part of the anti-Kerry group, but the ConWeb is finally taking baby steps toward a balanced presentation of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Well, sorta. Any negative information that NewsMax and WorldNetDaily are forced to report is still spun in a way to make the group look as good as possible under the circumstances.

Take, for example, WorldNetDaily's unbylined August 6 story on George Elliott, one of the veterans that appears in the infamous Swift Boat Veterans TV ad -- which can be viewed at WND. Earlier that day, a story appeared in the Boston Globe in which Elliott is quoted as saying he made a "terrible mistake" in signing an affidavit suggesting Kerry did not deserve the Silver Star.

The WND story is not about the retraction -- it's about Elliott's retraction of the retraction. Not until paragraph 7 do we see the statement that the Globe "stands by the story" -- but before that, the story passes along yet another untrue gleaning from the Drudge Report that the Globe reporter who wrote the Elliott story penned an introduction to a book being published by the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

The story eventually passes along the truth -- the reporter, Michael Kranish, wrote the introduction to a planned, independent look at the Kerry-Edwards platform, and when the publisher struck an agreement to do a book for the Kerry campaign, Kranish left the project. That, of course, didn't stop Drudge from continuing to peddle the fiction.

Speaking of peddling fiction, it started for WND with the August 4 story announcing the ad -- unbylined, like all of its Swift Vets stories -- in which the words "served with John Kerry" are in quotations, hinting that WND knew it was shading the truth. When an August 5 story quotes Democratic officials as pointing out that none of the veterans in the ad served with Kerry on his Swift boat, WND starts spinning: "The vets in the ad, however, do not claim to have been members of Kerry's crew but say they served with him in his unit or were in the Naval chain of command."

That's one point that the ConWeb will never clearly, prominently delineate: 10 of the 11 crew members who served with Kerry on his Swift boats back Kerry; none of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth featured in its commercial served on a Kerry-commanded boat.

The article makes excuses for another Swift Boat Vet. You know Louis Letson, the doctor who claims to have treated Kerry for the wound that led to his first Purple Heart but whose name doesn't show up in any of the medical records? Simple, the WND article states: "Swift Boats spokesman pointed out sick call sheets usually are signed by an orderly, not the doctor."

Meanwhile, WND is continuing to run the Swift Boat Veterans' claims about Kerry -- that his Silver Star was undeserved, as were his Purple Hearts and Bronze Star -- without verification or any response from the Kerry camp.

Yet, for all of its relentless, unquestioning promotion of the Swift Boat Veterans, WND can't get copies from publisher Regnery of the book it's taking all of these excerpts from, written by John O'Neill (who also didn't "serve with Kerry") and Jerome Corsi, to sell at its own store. It must link to an page, where WND has a Amazon Associate account (the appearance of the WND name in the URL is a clue, anybody with a Web site can do the same thing); a small percentage of the Amazon sale price goes to WND, presumably a smaller one that if it was selling it through its own operation.

And it's not enough for WorldNetDaily to continually criticize Kerry; it must also attack anyone who remotely looks like he or she is or ever has in the past supported the guy. Thus, we get things like Joseph Farah's August 10 column, in which he bashes John McCain for criticizing the Swift Boat Veterans.

"Americans are supposed to respect Sen. John McCain because he is a war hero," Farah writes. "But is he? And why is he so determined to defend John Kerry's dishonorable activities during and after the Vietnam War?" Farah then goes on to smear McCain for allegedly agreeing, while he was held as a prisoner of war, "to be used for propaganda purposes by the enemy," yet offers no evidence that McCain did so voluntarily.

Farah also dredges up the specter of Ted Sampley (whose name Farah can't spell correctly; Farah calls him "Samply") as part of a further attack on McCain for allegedly ignoring "credible claims Vietnam was still holding U.S. prisoners of war." The problem here is that "credible claims" and Ted Sampley tend not to occupy the same real estate. Sampley -- who's running his own little hate-Kerry group -- not only created the oddball meme that McCain is some kind of "Manchurian candidate" (which slightly more mainstream conservatives like Paul Weyrich pushed during McCain's 2000 presidential campaign), but he was also convicted of misdemeanor assault for attacking a legislative aide to McCain in 1993. Not that Farah thinks you need to know any of this, mind you.

NewsMax, meanwhile, started August 10 spinning furiously to deflect the revelation that the Swift Vet book co-author Corsi has a record of spewing all manner of hateful invective at Catholics, Muslims and people named Kerry and Clinton at Free Republic. An article written by James Hirsen states: "One Democratic Party surrogate Web site asks, 'Who is Jerome Corsi, co-author of Swift Boat Vets attack book?' as it slimes Corsi with cherry-picked quotes taken out of context." Hirsen's e-mail-only "Left Coast Report, for some reason, replaces the Democratic Party surrogate" reference with something closer to the truth, "David Brock's Web site." Since Hirsen won't spell it out, we'll have to: he's referring to Media Matters for America. (Full disclosure: I am an employee of MMFA, but ConWebWatch is independent of MMFA.)

Hirsen doesn't go on to explain what proper context it would be perfectly acceptable to, for instance, call Muslims "ragheads" and "boy-bumpers," or Pope John Paul II "senile," or Hillary Rodham Clinton a "fat hog," or the use the name "John F*ing Commie Kerry."

NewsMax did acquiesce and run the straight Associated Press wire version of Corsi's apology for the remarks. But Corsi, it turns out, had an excuse: "I considered them a joke." (We're pretty sure he's referring to the remarks.) After all, unlike the UPI wire copy it previously ran, NewsMax can't slant or otherwise screw with AP copy. (Though AP has to be insulted that NewsMax puts its "NewsMax Wires" byline not only over AP copy but over press releases.) NewsMax also ran a Susan Estrich column in which she wrote of the Swift Vets ad: "In what is shaping up to be the ugliest, slimiest, dirtiest year in presidential history, this one takes the cake - so far."

Lest you think actually doing something resembling journalistic fairness means NewsMax has gone all wobbly on Kerry, never fear -- it has plugged the heck out of the O'Neill-Corsi book and, unlike NewsMax, appears to actually have copies to sell (at a whopping $1 off list price as of this writing, with four months of NewsMax's fact-challenged magazine thrown in; it's 32 percent off list at WND's Amazon link).

Strangely, -- despite its past efforts in pushing the Swift Boat Vets story and suppressing most opposing views -- has not written a word about the current Swift Boat Vets ad and book controversies, save for an Aug. 6 article in which a so-called "government watchdog group," the National Legal and Policy Center (which seems to be interested only in advancing conservative causes like cutting taxpayer funding to legal-aid groups), demanded that a rock concert tour whose proceeds would benefit a liberal advocacy group should get the same scrutiny of its finances as the Swift Boat Veterans.

CNS' colleagues down the hall at the Media Research Center, however, have picked up the slack in a big way. Brent Baker claimed in an Aug. 6 CyberAlert that the TV networks are "abdicating their journalistic responsibility" by not treating the Swift Boat Vets as seriously as Baker wants them to be treated. And in an Aug. 10 CyberAlert, Baker smears journalist Al Hunt, saying he was "launching personal insults" against John O'Neill of the Swift Boat Vets when all he was doing was factually pointing out on one of those shouting-head shows that O'Neill worked for Nixon dirty-trickster Charles Colson in the 1970s during his first attempt to discredit Kerry.

An Aug. 10 Brent Bozell column goes the same truth-is-smear route, attacking CBS' Byron Pitts for pointing out -- also factually -- that the folks running the PR show for the Swift Boat Vets are "the same people who tried to discredit John McCain’s reputation in Vietnam service when McCain faced George W. Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000." Bozell also attacks "every nasty Democratic soft-money group and Michael Moore in-kind contribution," not mentioning his own group's $2.8 million in-kind contribution to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

The oddest commentary, though, came from MRC's Tim Graham, who for some reason was forced to publish his Aug. 11 piece at National Review Online. "[T]he better Clinton-era comparison for the swift-boat veterans are the Arkansas state troopers," he states.

That may not be the comparison Graham really wants to make, given that those troopers backed away from many of their lurid claims once they got under oath. And one of those former troopers, Larry Patterson, recently pleaded guilty to making a false statement to a federal agent in an unrelated federal civil rights case.

Among a ConWeb that wants to obscure the truth about the Swift Boat Veterans, Graham seems to have told a little too much truth.

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