Comedy is not pretty

by Ted on August 20, 2004

The New York Times has looked into the claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

There were a lot of folks on the right who knew better than to lie down with these dogs. They knew that they were promoting a huge pile of horseshit, but they were desperate to believe that there was a pony in there somewhere. What they found is a charge that Kerry misreported being in Cambodia, thirty-six years ago, by as many as five whole weeks. Devastating.

They wanted mainstream media attention for this campaign. I do hope that they enjoy it.

(UPDATE: OK, sometimes comedy is pretty.)

A few highlights below.

The group decided to hire a private investigator to investigate Mr. Brinkley’s account of the war – to find “some neutral way of actually questioning people involved in these incidents,” Mr. O’Neill said.

But the investigator’s questions did not seem neutral to some.

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….”

The group also offers the account of William L. Schachte Jr., a retired rear admiral who says in the book that he had been on the small skimmer on which Mr. Kerry was injured that night in December 1968. He contends that Mr. Kerry wounded himself while firing a grenade.

But the two other men who acknowledged that they had been with Mr. Kerry, Bill Zaladonis and Mr. Runyon, say they 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. And even Dr. Letson said he had not recalled Mr. Schachte until he had a conversation with another veteran earlier this year and received a subsequent phone call from Mr. Schachte himself.

Mr. Schachte did not return a telephone call, and a spokesman for the group said he would not comment….

The group says Mr. Kerry himself wrote the reports that led to the medal. 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, a group of Swift boats was leaving the Bay Hap river when several mines detonated, disabling one boat and knocking a soldier named Jim Rassmann overboard. In a hail of enemy fire, Mr. Kerry turned the boat around to pull Mr. Rassmann from the water.

Mr. Rassmann, who says he is a Republican, reappeared during the Iowa caucuses this year to tell his story and support Mr. Kerry, and is widely credited with helping to revive Mr. Kerry’s campaign.

But the 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 hit the day before. He also received a Bronze Star for the day, a fact left out of “Unfit for Command.”



trostky 08.20.04 at 4:18 pm

One of the stranger twists of this tortuous tale is that Thurlow apparently now says his Bronze Star paperwork is wrong. It says he was under fire (in the same time and place as Kerry) but he still denies it.


Tim 08.20.04 at 4:21 pm

It’s about time that NYT ran an article debunking this crap. Most of their story is just rehashing info that was already out there.

The damage is done, I’m afraid. NPR ran a story covering the VFW conference and quoted some vets who are mad at Kerry over a photo depicting Kerry and Jane Fonda together.

The photo is a fake.

The vets have shaped their negative view on Kerry based on a fake photo. Lies can be powerful things. This is what we have to look forward to between now and November. Kerry needs to effectively shed light on the lies and connect them to Bush.


James Surowiecki 08.20.04 at 4:36 pm

Trostsky’s post is right on. Yesterday’s Washington Post story on Thurlow was remarkable. When confronted with the text of his own citation for the Bronze Star, which mentions enemy fire, Thurlow denied that it was possible and insisted that a mistake must have been made thirty five years ago, rather than now. The standards of evidence for these guys are so upside-down that they think the thirty-five-year-old memories of people with an obvious political ax to grind should be considered more reliable than the official after-action reports.


keef 08.20.04 at 4:36 pm

A pertinent point is how many mainstream commentators, as well as hacks like Instapundit say (quoting Instahack): “And Kerry played right into this with all the stuff about Vietnam and medals.”

As the NYT points out, “It all began last winter….,” so these idiots were going to attack Kerry no matter if he played up or played down his biography.

Not every political candidate has the luxury George W. Bush does of being undistinguished well into his forties — and Instahack and the mainstream media letting him off the hook for it. Candidates generally run on their biographies, even though Bush runs away from his.

Whether Kerry “played up” or played down his heroic service, these slimebags were going to jump on him about this.

And I’m sure there will be more slime about other parts of his life, too. Even ones he didn’t “play up.”

Now, let’s have a real look at the formative years of George W. Bush — i.e. through his fortieth birthday.



anonymous 08.20.04 at 4:47 pm

I have a question. Conservatives will find it very when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wifeish, and I apologize for that, so just ignore it. I want to ask other liberals:

I think it’s fair to say that crap like this is part of a larger pattern, and that something has gone deeply rotten in the G.O.P. & right-of-center press.

For now the solution is to work actively for John Kerry and a Democratic Congress. But after the election–the best-case realistic scenario has at least one and possibly two GOP houses of Congress. The worst-case realistic scenario has this party in charge of all three major branches of government, with the Bush administration now free of whatever constraints reelection imposed, the Congress not operating independently at all, a Supreme Court that will probably have at least 2 and as many as 4 Bush appointees, and a press corps cowed into near-uselessness.

What do we do about this? Can European readers think of a precedent where an equally nasty group of people got into power but has since been gotten safely out of it? Can someone in the U.S. who has lived through more history than I have? Nixon is the obvious precedent, but I don’t know if we have a Woodward or a Bernstein out there, and am absolutely certain that this Congress will not conduct a serious investigation even if we do.

I don’t want to go back to ignoring the news if Bush wins, and I don’t want to just tear my hair and gnash my teeth. I also don’t want to become complacent again if Kerry wins.

Because the thing is, it could actually get much worse than it’s been. Bush has honestly inflicted relatively little damage in terms of lost lives & serious injuries. Iraq, bad as it is, is simply not on the same scale as Vietnam. Abu Ghraib, bad as it is, is not the horror of My Lai or the Tiger Force. The abuses of Arab immigrants, bad as they are, are not on the same scale of the WW2 internments. And we have had the incredible fortune not to have another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. The damage to the budget is not yet irrevocable; right now it’s still on the scale of Reagan, and Bush Sr. and especially Clinton helped fix that. There’s a limit to how fast you can gut environmental laws.

I don’t think those things will last. What do we do about this? Is there any way to help Kerry beyond the obvious donations and swing state canvassing? And what do we do after the election?


Ted Barlow 08.20.04 at 4:50 pm


I couldn’t agree more. I had someone tell me that they trust a veteran’s memory more than they trust “some government report.” Never mind that these veterans contradict other veterans’ memories, or that their standard of could invalidate every military medal ever awarded.


I had to rewrite this post several times to remove jabs at Instapundit.


Davis X. Machina 08.20.04 at 4:55 pm

Can European readers think of a precedent where an equally nasty group of people got into power but has since been gotten safely out of it?



Katherine 08.20.04 at 4:58 pm

If Reynolds feels its his job to tell other people what to write about, does that make his willful ignorance on:

–Abu Ghraib,
–Maher Arar & “extraordinary rendition”
–the recent incident with teh Oregon National Guard
–Allawi’s less than democratic treatment of the press, and
–any major foreign policy story that makes the Bush administration look bad

fair game?

Yeesh. I can’t believe how many people still feel obligated to link to him. (Not you guys, I know your academic link policy and it’s cool. But it used to drive me nuts how my old site linked to him in a way that didn’t make it clear that I had nothing to do with that decision…)


anonymous 08.20.04 at 5:03 pm

I assume “Ceaucescu” is tongue in cheek, we’re obviously not there or anywhere in the vicinity and a serious comparison would be pretty offensive.

I am talking about nasty people who are elected* in constitutional democracies….what’s Jorg Haider up to these days?

*with or without asteriks or dishonorable assists from the Supreme Court.


paul 08.20.04 at 5:16 pm

The reference to Nixon is on the money: the Times pointed out that John O’Neill, the public face of this cabal, was Nixon’s boy in 1971 and he’s doing the same schtick now.

I’m amazed that there are people who would deny their own honorable service history to undermine another’s.


Donald A. Coffin 08.20.04 at 6:11 pm

Someone, I forget who, wrote that what these attacks on Kerry really are is attacks on the integrity of the entire Navy command structure. That is, these attacks say Kerry was awarded medals he “didn’t deserve.” But, since those medals were approved by the command structure, then it follows that the command structure lacks integrity. So the attacks really impugn the integrity of everyone in the Navy’s command structure in the late 1960s. Now there’s a thought…


paul 08.20.04 at 6:47 pm

Thank you, Donald Coffin, you may have seen it here.

It’s a point I have been throwing back at the Kerry-bashers since May (also here). It shuts them right up, since very few of them even remember Vietnam, let alone have any recollections of scrambling for deferments or positions in various “champagne squadrons.”


Barry 08.20.04 at 7:30 pm

IIRC, Kerry’s CO and that CO’s superior are people who (1) back then praised Kerry to the skies, (2) back then signed off on his medals *and* (3) now trash Kerry.

So it comes down to:

a) They changed their tune for political reasons, or

b) They repeatedly lied then, but for some reason decided to tell the truth now. Only about Kerry, though – telling the truth about everybody else is not on their agenda.


Chris Martin 08.20.04 at 8:11 pm

Why doesn’t Kerry sue them for libel? He could easily bankrupt them.


Steve 08.20.04 at 8:16 pm

Silly silly silly.

While I don’t agree with what you fools are saying, if I did so, intellectual honesty would require that I admit that even UNDER THE WORST POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION, the swiftboat kids did nothing worse or more dishonest that Michael Moore. What are you arguing? That American democracy is threatened because a right wing group formed a 30 second commercial and wrote a book that is as dishonest as a 2 hour documentary and several books by Moore, Dowd, Ivins, etc?
The democratic leadership attended the D.C. opening of Fahrenheit 911-has the republican leadership done anything comparable with the Swiftboat group/commercial/book?
You guys are so hypocritical, you should write for the Times.



abb1 08.20.04 at 9:15 pm

The worst-case realistic scenario has this party in charge of all three major branches of government, with the Bush administration now free of whatever constraints reelection imposed…

If they win, they won’t be free of constraints. For two years after 9/11 Bush was flying high in the polls – between 90% and 60% and this is how they were able to do all the crap they’ve done. He now has 47-48% approval. Even if he wins it’s not going to be a cakewalk. If his rating goes down to 40% and under, he is likely to become totally irrelevant.

There is a chance, of course, that he’ll hit another jackpot if something gets blown up in the US again…


william 08.20.04 at 9:20 pm

So, do you think John Kerry’s birth certificate is real or did they fake that, too?


Barry 08.20.04 at 9:46 pm


“intellectual honesty would require that I admit that even UNDER THE WORST POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION, the swiftboat kids did nothing worse or more dishonest that Michael Moore.”

Incorrect, unless you have records by MM written back during Vietnam, which he is now contradicting.


JP 08.20.04 at 10:27 pm

Well, they’re still at it. Typical Karl Rove strategy. Never apologize, never back down. When people object, just turn up the volume even more. If you are always confident and aggressive and push ahead in all cases, gullible people will assume that you’re right.


Zizka 08.20.04 at 11:02 pm

Steve, if you run into my friends Adrian Spidle, Patrick R. Sullivan, or Norman Rogers, say hi for me. And give them a big wet kiss for me too.

“A lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting its pants on” — Mark Twain.

“You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time….” — Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln and Twain didn’t intend these statements to be operating instructions, but that’s how Rove took them.

BTW, all this stuff about “Adult Republicans” who should know better, etc., etc.:

If a majority of sensible conservatives reluctantly supported Hitler in 1932 (and they did)– a fortiori, the majority of sensible conservatives will support Bush in 2004.

Before invoking Godwin’s law, figure out how a fortiori functions in the sentence.

The Adult Republican is an endangered species, if not a mythical beast.


Basharov 08.20.04 at 11:14 pm

“intellectual honesty would require that I admit that even UNDER THE WORST POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION, the swiftboat kids did nothing worse or more dishonest that Michael Moore.”

Yeah, it was soooo dishonest of Moore to show the video of Bush, after he was told that the country was under attack, sitting there looking like a total idiot for seven minutes while the second graders chanted from a book about a pet goat. Damn that dishonest videotape.


Paul Gottlieb 08.21.04 at 12:01 am

Viewed correctly, the Swift Boat Veterans smear attack can be an enormous plus for Kerry. Almost everyone recognizes these attackts as a viscious stream of lies organized and coordinated by the Bush campaign. So Kerry has the opportunity to force Bush to either admit that he is behind this scurrilous attack, in which case he will be revealed as a backstabbing coward, or Bush can continue to lie and pretend he is not behing the attacks, in which case Kerry can simply call him a liar and a coward and challenge Bush to do something about it. If Kerry is agressive and smart he can shove that Swift Boat crap right down Bush’s throat


Jmote 08.21.04 at 2:09 am

Throughout all this focus on Kerry and the mudslinging of the right, I keep wondering why the mainstream media is still ignoring to investigate or report on extremely questionable issues regarding Bush’s past. Why are they still giving him a free pass?


John Gibson 08.21.04 at 2:51 am

jmote, if Bush makes his TANG service part of his campaign the media should absolutely go deeper into it.

I am going to hold my nose and vote Kerry this year because he’s ABB. But I am appalled by him making Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign and then whining when people challenge it. Most may not be true, but there is enough problems in his backround that he should of never gone there… I.e. Cambodia and his anti-war comments after he was back.


robbo 08.21.04 at 9:23 am

Well, John Gibson, I guess that’s why you’re not running Kerry’s campaign. They were going to smear him no matter what he did, so he created conditions under which he’s not simply reacting to their smears by going to his Vietnam record. He also opens up room for people to keep on questioning where the hell President Bush was all those months/years of the war that he oddly keeps not accounting for.

Bush is sinking slowly into his own tarpit…


Barry 08.21.04 at 4:13 pm

Yes, it’s so unfair of Kerry. Now, if Bush had done something like pose in a flight suit, in an arranged media event, to make a triumphant ‘mission accomplished’ speech, it’d be different.


John Gibson 08.21.04 at 5:29 pm

robbo, no doubt, and here is what I as a politically naive observer would of done.

I would brought up the anti-Vietnam war period at the convention, maybe said a line or two similar to his response on Russert’s show about not regretting it but maybe saying he regretted some of the language he used.

I would think doing something like that would do something to blunt attacks like the new one which although completly out of context is still damning. The fact that is post vietnam behavior got no play in Boston it looks like he was hiding that part of his history and it makes the current ads a lot more effective.


cafl 08.21.04 at 7:54 pm

John Kerry has nothing to apologize for in his work opposing the war. You need to read this pulitzer award winning report.


John Gibson 08.21.04 at 8:56 pm

cafl, I agree which is why I don’t understand why they didn’t bring it up at the convention. It could of diffused most of the criticism about his after war activities before it even began.

Instead it looked like he was trying to hide from his work opposing the war.

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