Aug. 28, 2004
by David Kopel
President Lyndon John- son's political career was significantly aided by a Silver Star he "won" in World War II. We now know that the Silver Star was a fraud which given as a political favor to Rep. Johnson from Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur; Johnson never saw a moment of combat, but merely flew on a single routine 13-minute flight in the Pacific as an observer.
In "Why Kerry's War Record Matters," Business Week's Roger Franklin points to Johnson's sham Silver Star, and wonders if "a Johnson who was less keen to gild his reputation as man of action might have been more wary of Indochina's swamp?" Johnson repeatedly lied to the American people about his own war record, and he repeatedly lied to the American people about the war in Vietnam.
LBJ was the darling of the establishment media when he won a landslide election in 1964, and a World War II vet who tried to expose Johnson's lies would have stood little chance of being heard. But the subplot of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth vs. John Kerry saga is the mounting fury of the traditional media at its inability to suppress the Swift Vets. The candidate who boasted that he was "Reporting for duty" and will lead the United States just like he led in Vietnam no longer can shield his war record from scrutiny just because the traditional media loathe his opponent at least as much as they loathed Barry Goldwater in 1964.
Typical of the traditional media attitudes was the Aug. 23 column from Denver Postmedia critic Joanne Ostrow telling readers that "the Kerry camp knocked down the claims intended to discredit the candidate's war record." Not hardly. In fact, the Kerry campaign had already admitted - as the Swift Vets charged - that Kerry's repeated stories about his spending Christmas Eve 1968 in Cambodia were false.
Early this week, a Kerry campaign spokesman admitted - as the Swift Vets had charged - that Kerry's first Purple Heart might have been the result of an accidentally self-inflicted injury on Dec. 2, 1968, rather than as a result of "intense combat" as Kerry's Web site has claimed. (As reported by columnist Bob Novak late this week, retired Rear Adm. William L. Schachte Jr. said that he was on Kerry's boat that day, and that "Kerry nicked himself with a M-79" grenade launcher.) The campaign's admission was reported by Fox News and The Washington Times,while most of the traditional media pretended that nothing had happened.
By the way, the first journalists to point out that Kerry's wound was probably not the result of enemy action were Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, writing in their far-left magazine CounterPunch, in a July 29, 2004, article. Of course Fox, The Washington Times,and CounterPunch,are biased and have an agenda. As do the traditional media. According to an informal New York Timespoll, journalists at the Washington bureaus of the mainstream media support Kerry over Bush by a 12-to-1 margin.
When the traditional media actually investigate the substance of the Swift Vets' charges, they make important contributions. For example, the front page of the Aug. 22 Postincluded a lengthy Washington Postinvestigation of the March 13, 1969, incident in which Kerry won a Bronze Star and his third Purple Heart. The article investigated the conflicting eyewitness accounts of whether Kerry's boat was under communist fire when Kerry fished Jim Rassmann out of the water, after Rassmann's boat hit an enemy mine.
The article concluded that there were many eyewitnesses whose accounts directly conflicted, and therefore the Swift Vets' allegation that Kerry fraudulently won a Bronze Star by claiming to be under fire was not proven.
On Aug. 24, the Rocky Mountain Newsand the Postfurther advanced the story by publishing articles about a Vietnam vet from Telluride who supports Kerry's version of March 13, 1969.
Likewise advancing the story was a Boston Globearticle (reprinted in the Newson Aug. 19) which investigated Kerry's claim that even if he hadn't been in Cambodia for Christmas, and even though he has described the supposed Cambodian Christmas as a turning point of his life, he was in Cambodia sometime. As the Globereported, no person from any of Kerry's boats recalls ever being in Cambodia.
A good follow-up story might investigate Kerry's current Cambodia story: that Kerry (on a date which his spokespeople will not specify) ran guns to anti-communist fighters in Cambodia, and dropped off special operations forces in Cambodia. As noted in a Kansas City Stararticle which the Postreprinted (Aug. 15), in June 2003, Kerry told The Washington Postthat he always carries in his attache case a hat which he was given by a CIA agent he dropped off in Cambodia.
The problem with the Special Forces and/or CIA hat story is that there is not a single person - other than Kerry's spokesmen - who says that swift boats were ever used for insertions into Cambodia when Kerry was in Vietnam. The Cambodia insertions being illegal, they were typically accomplished by helicopter or by much smaller watercraft, rather than with 55-foot noisy swift boats. Nationally syndicated radio host Hugh Hewitt (online at www.hughhewitt.com and heard in Denver on KNUS-AM 710) has taken the lead on this issue, and he did on the now-retracted Christmas in Cambodia tale.
The Swift Vets have been proven right on some incidents, and cannot prove their case on others. The avalanche of traditional media articles denouncing the Swift Vets as a pure smear is itself a smear, as the traditional media flails in rage at the loss of its ability to control public discourse.