Kerry Blast at Bush Moves Nets to Finally Show Swift Boat Ad --8/20/2004
2. Kerry at VFW Doesn't Prompt Nets to Look at Vietnam Record
3. NY Times Admires Kerry's Audience Q&A Day After Deriding Bush's
John Kerry achieved Thursday what 250 swift boat veterans from the Vietnam war could not: Some broadcast network attention for their contention that John Kerry greatly exaggerated and/or made up his exploits in Vietnam, even if the anti-Kerry vets were painted, without evidence, as insidious operators doing President Bush's bidding. ABC's World News Tonight, which ignored the May 4 press conference by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and hasn't since mentioned their charges or early August ad, led Thursday night with how, as anchor Elizabeth Vargas framed the matter: "John Kerry fights back against charges he lied about his war record. He accuses a veterans' group of doing the President's 'dirty work.'"
The CBS Evening News led with how the group's "ads may be working" since a CBS poll found a significant drop in support for Kerry amongst veterans. The CBS Evening News certainly couldn't credit or blame itself since its total coverage of the ad consisted of two sentences on August 5 when anchor John Roberts stressed criticism of it: "A harsh new television ad that attacks John Kerry is being denounced as quote, 'dishonest and dishonorable' by a Bush supporter, Republican Senator John McCain." See: www.mediaresearch.org
The MRC on Wednesday published a Media Reality Check study, "TV Gives No Respect to Swift Boat Vets for Truth: ABC, CBS & NBC Gave 75 Stories to Bush 'AWOL' Charge, 9 to Claims Kerry Embellished War Record." See: www.mediaresearch.org
Indeed, on Thursday's Nightline, while Chris Bury expressed awe at how "remarkable" it was that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth "campaign evolved from a political molehill into a mountain in just a few months" after "the group made its public debut early in May, taking its case to a podium guaranteed to maximize exposure: the National Press Club here in Washington," he acknowledged that though "the swift boat stories were all the rage on talk radio," they "were mostly ignored in the mainstream media."
# Thursday night coverage highlights:
None of the broadcast evening networks stories, nor CNN's NewsNight mentioned, as did FNC's Carl Cameron on Special Report with Brit Hume, that as a result of John O'Neill and his Unfit for Command book, the Kerry campaign has had to back off Kerry's claim to have been in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968.
Three weeks after Peter Jennings acknowledged that "there are a few who served with him who dispute his record and question his leadership" and promised that "we'll hear from them in the weeks ahead," World News Tonight on Thursday finally got around to the Kerry detractors, though like Jennings ("a few"), reporter Brian Rooney minimized their number as he described Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as "a small organization with members still angry over Kerry's anti-war protests after he left the Navy." In fact, compared to the mere dozen or so Kerry colleagues from Vietnam who are part of his "band of brothers," the anti-Kerry group of veterans of the swift boat service, at over 250 members, is far larger.
ABC devoted the most time Thursday night to the controversy with Jake Tapper (who also contributed a long piece to Nightline later) outlining one of the specific charges. But anchor Vargas couldn't resist pleading: "But even Republican Senator John McCain has called on the President to condemn this ad. Why hasn't he done so?"
Picking up on a Washington Post story, NBC's Carl Quintanilla stressed how "today a new report said military records contradict one of Kerry's most vocal critics." But ABC's Jake Tapper provided that critic time for a retort: "This comes from John Kerry's report that day, which said we were under this extreme fire. We were not."
Even though Kerry was the one who hurled an unsubstantiated charge about how Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is "a front for the Bush campaign" which is doing Bush's "dirty work," CBS and NBC treated Kerry as the aggrieved party. NBC's Quintanilla saw "a political push back planned just last night. Kerry, arriving home in Boston, was said to be frustrated by the attacks and had his staff up until 3am, cutting this political ad debuting today:" Narrator from Kerry ad: "The people attacking John Kerry's war record are funded by Bush's big-money supporters."
CBS's Byron Pitts similarly framed the issue: "Kerry, who's made his tour of duty in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign, realized today he could no longer let the ad go unanswered and took aim at President Bush for not condemning it." Pitts didn't hesitate to try to discredit a Kerry detractor by bringing up Nixon: "The men behind the Swift Boat Veterans ad refused to back off. Their leader, John O'Neill, was also Richard Nixon's point man in attacks on John Kerry's protest of the Vietnam War 30 years ago."
Pitts launched the same attack on May 4, the night of the group's press conference which CBS, unlike ABC and NBC, covered, sort of. Pitts went back to 1971 as he recalled how John O'Neill, who debated Kerry about Vietnam on ABC's Dick Cavett Show, "was handpicked by the Nixon administration to discredit Kerry." Pitts added, without any explanation, that "the press conference was set up by the same people who," in 2000, "tried to discredit John McCain's reputation in Vietnam service." Then Pitts connected the anti-Kerry veterans to a presumed nefarious "strategy" they had nothing to do with implementing: "It's the same strategy used to go after Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam." See: www.mediaresearch.org
# Now a complete rundown of the broadcast network evening show coverage, as well as an excerpt from Keith Olbermann's hysterics on MSNBC, from Thursday, August 19 as collated by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Elizabeth Vargas teased: "On World News Tonight, politics post-9/11. John Kerry fights back against charges he lied about his war record. He accuses a veterans' group of doing the President's 'dirty work.'"
Vargas soon began: "Good evening. As the country prepares to decide who should be President, a key issue this year is which man voters believe will be the best Commander-in-Chief. Polls show fear of terrorism and the war in Iraq are foremost in voters' minds. And this makes a candidate's military credentials all the more important. Which is why John Kerry fought back so fiercely today on allegations that he lied about his war record. ABC's Brian Rooney is on the campaign trail in Boston and joins us tonight. Brian?"
Rooney explained: "Elizabeth, at a convention of firefighters here in Boston this morning, John Kerry came out swinging. And he issued a challenge using some of President Bush's own words."
Rooney played a clip from the group's ad, its first ever mention on World News Tonight:
ABC then jumped to another Kerry soundbite: "They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They're a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything that you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work."
Vargas segued: "All right, Brian I'm sure we'll hear much more about that, thank you. President Bush has refused to engage in the controversy, saying the swift boat group is an independent organization. ABC's Terry Moran is traveling with the President. Terry, these were serious charges by Mr. Kerry that this group is doing the President's, quote, 'dirty work.' Any reaction?"
Vargas set up a third story: "All right. ABC's Terry Moran with the President in Texas. As we reported, the group behind this ad is called the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. It is a new group whose members have a long history with Mr. Kerry. Here's ABC's Jake Tapper."
Tapper began: "John O'Neill has been a nemesis of John Kerry's since the Nixon years. Now he's returned to help form a group of anti-Kerry veterans. The group has been angry with Kerry ever since he returned from Vietnam, joined the anti-war movement and accused soldiers of war crimes."
-- CBS Evening News. Anchor Scott Pelley teased up top: "Tonight, John Kerry fights back against political ads questioning his military record, as polls show those ads are costing him votes."
Pelley opened the broadcast: "Good evening. Dan is away tonight. I'm Scott Pelley. We begin tonight with what looks like a reversal of political fortune. Three weeks after the Democratic convention, it appears that John Kerry has suffered a significant drop in support among key voters -- independents, Catholics, and, at least for the moment, Kerry is also losing the battle for the hearts, minds and votes of fellow veterans. A CBS News poll out tonight shows that in the presidential race, Kerry and President Bush are now separated by just one point -- a virtual tie. Correspondent Byron Pitts reports that may explain Kerry's new counter-offensive today against campaign ads attacking his Vietnam War record."
Pitts began: "Today Senator Kerry did what he's always done when pushed in a corner: He pushed back."
CBS ran an excerpt from the ad:
Pitts resumed: "The ads may be working. Today's CBS News poll shows that Kerry's support among veterans has dropped from 46 percent right after the Democratic Convention to 37 percent. Support among veterans for President George W. Bush is up. Kerry, who's made his tour of duty in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign, realized today he could no longer let the ad go unanswered and took aim at President Bush for not condemning it."
For a summary of the new CBS News poll which puts Kerry ahead 46 to 45 percent: www.cbsnews.com
-- NBC Nightly News. From Athens, Brian Williams teased: "Decision 2004: John Kerry, stung by attacks by pro-Bush Vietnam vets, accuses the President of letting them do his 'dirty work.'"
Following some stories on Iraq, Williams arrived at the Kerry in Vietnam subject: "Now to the presidential campaign and the fight that spilled out into the open today over John Kerry's tour of duty in the Navy in Vietnam. Some of his decorations and actions during and after combat have been questioned. And today John Kerry said, 'Enough.' Our report tonight from NBC's Carl Quintanilla."
Quintanilla began: "In Boston, the most bare-knuckled attack from John Kerry so far against the vets who dismiss his medals-"
-- MSNBC's Countdown. Keith Olbermann opened his 8pm EDT show: "Good evening. Considering how much political time has speeded up since 1964, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth commercial has had the modern shelf life of the Lyndon Johnson ad showing the little girl picking daisies while an atomic bomb goes off. And there's a second version of it coming out tomorrow morning. But in our fifth story on the Countdown, today two symbolic atomic bombs went off inside Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. John Kerry attacked back, and the 35-year-old Navy records of one of Kerry's chief attackers actually attacks the attacker's version of the day Kerry earned his Bronze Star. Brooks Jackson of the bipartisan watchdog Web site Factcheck.org will join us in a moment about that. First, the Senator himself. In Boston, Kerry took the gloves off. He blasted the President for still not disavowing the Swift Boat ad nor calling for its withdrawal. He blasted him for not acknowledging a connection to it, blasted the group portrayed in the ad itself."
Olbermann played a Kerry soundbite and then a clip of a new Kerry ad: "The people attacking John Kerry's war record are funded by Bush's big-money supporters. Listen to someone who was there, the man whose life John Kerry saved."
Olbermann picked up: "A bigger, far more impartial hit to the anti-Kerry ad came from the United States Navy. Kerry and Larry Thurlow were two of the five commanders who led their swift boats into Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. For what he did that day, Kerry was awarded the Bronze Star. Last month, Thurlow, as part of the anti-Kerry campaign, swore an affidavit in which he said Kerry's craft was, quote, 'not under fire,' and that the Bronze Star citation was, quote, 'totally fabricated,' and, quote, 'I never heard a shot.' But the Naval records about Thurlow from 1969 tell an entirely different story. Released to the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, the document that recommended Thurlow for his own Bronze Star says that Thurlow's craft and the other four boats, including Kerry's, were, quote, 'under constant enemy small arms fire.' The after-action reports in such cases are usually written by the senior officer in a flotilla. On that day, it would have been Larry Thurlow. Thurlow told the newspaper he thinks Kerry may have written it himself. Tonight, on Hardball, Thurlow told Chris Matthews he thinks that the medals and the reports were all pre-arranged by Kerry."
For a rundown of summaries of CyberAlert items on coverage of anti-Kerry veterans: www.mediaresearch.org
On Wednesday, the ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC evening newscasts all covered John Kerry's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but none used the opportunity to directly mentioned the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad or the book by John O'Neill challenging Kerry's story about his service during Vietnam. ABC and CNN made oblique references to "the hullabaloo," as NewsNight anchor Aaron Brown described it, surrounding Kerry's credentials. CBS and NBC skipped the topic completely, but NBC showed a clip of an ad from the left-wing MoveOn.org charging that George W. Bush failed to show up for his National Guard service in the early 1970s. CBS noted how Kerry's condemnation of Bush's plan to withdraw troops from South Korea contradicted what Kerry said weeks ago on ABC's This Week, but ABC didn't mention it.
[The MRC's Rich Noyes submitted this item for CyberAlert]
On the August 18 NBC Nightly News, reporter Carl Quintanilla set up the anti-Bush ad clip: "Kerry has gained support among traditionally Republican veterans, surprising even the campaign which, until now, hasn't even bothered to poll them. Kerry's been helped by a convention with a heavy veteran lineup and third-party ads like this one." Then he played the tape, as the screen first showed Kerry raising Max Cleland's arm followed by a shot of an unattended locker with the name "G.W. Bush" etched above it: "John Kerry, who left no man behind, and George Bush, who simply left."
In his coverage of the VFW speech, FNC's Carl Cameron also made a mention of the questions about Kerry's service, which were the focus of a subsequent story by reporter Major Garrett, and Cameron stressed how few of the veterans turned their back on Kerry: "A pair of veterans out of a few thousand present turned their backs while a handful more boycotted Kerry's remarks outside, claiming that Kerry has exaggerated his military service. Kerry backers dispute those charges while at the same time, raising questions about the president's service in the Texas Air National Guard."
ABC, CNN and NBC -- but not CBS -- also noted the less-than-enthusiastic reception Kerry received from the veterans group. ABC reporter Brian Rooney uniquely labeled the vets as he introduced his story on the August 18 World News Tonight: "The VFW is a heavily Republican group, but John Kerry chose this audience to blast President Bush's plan for withdrawing troops from Europe and Korea."
CBS's Byron Pitts, back on the Evening News for the first time since July 29, puffed Kerry's credentials: "Few know better the high cost of war than the men and women who've fought in them. So in a speech before the VFW's annual convention, Senator John Kerry appealed to those sensibilities."
But Pitts was the only reporter to relay the contradiction in Kerry's condemnation of the President's proposal to withdraw troops from Europe and South Korea: "The Bush campaign also wasted little time pointing out what it calls Kerry's latest flip flop: A recent TV interview in which the Senator supports reducing troops in Iraq and elsewhere."
CBS then showed a clip of Kerry sitting next to John Edwards and talking to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, an interview shown on This Week on August 1. Kerry insisted: "I think we can significantly change the deployment of troops, not just there, but elsewhere in the world -- in the Korean Peninsula, perhaps; in Europe, perhaps."
But ABC's Rooney, who found a veteran who applauded Kerry's new position against a withdrawal from South Korea, did not tell World News Tonight viewers that Kerry had outlined a different position on ABC's airwaves just 17 days earlier:
ABC showed a clip of John Kerry: "Why are we withdrawing unilaterally 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time that we are negotiating with North Korea, a country that really has nuclear weapons?"
On CNN's NewsNight, reporter Dan Lothian found the VFW divided: "After listening to Bush and Kerry in Ohio, the choice for some veterans is clear, a partisan divide. These two men turned their backs on Senator Kerry's speech to protest his actions after returning from Vietnam. At both candidate sessions, some sat still, as others stood and applauded." He then showed two veterans, one pro-Bush, one pro-Kerry:
Following his report, anchor Aaron Brown wanted to know if all of the "hullabaloo" about Kerry's service record had affected Kerry's reception by the veterans' group, although if the VFW members limit themselves to CNN's NewsNight they probably had no idea there was any controversy about Kerry's past at all, since NewsNight had until then carried only run a single story mentioning the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on Tuesday August 17.
Brown asked Lothian: "To what extent, if any, has all the hullabaloo over his Vietnam service in the last couple of weeks made any impact at all?"
"It is very important," Lothian replied, but then asserted that Kerry's military record earning him support from other veterans: "We were talking to one of the veteran leaders here tonight and he tells me that that is the key issue. That is why he believes so many veterans are behind Senator Kerry and he believes that what has happened in the past is in the past. He believes that Senator Kerry's record, his military record, makes him a good candidate to become President of the United States."
"Same Campaign Tactic, Two Different Takes," a reprint of an August 17 posting by Clay Waters on the MRC's TimesWatch.org site dedicated to documenting liberal bias in the New York Times:
Same campaign tactic, but two very different takes: Both Kerry and Bush held informal campaign chats with handpicked supporters. But according to the Times, while Bush "fields softballs from the faithful" that sometimes "aren't even questions at all," Kerry supporters merely "raised hands with questions rather than waving signs with slogans." While Bush's campaign comes off as cynical, Kerry's was described as "homespun."
White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller's Monday story, "On the Road, Bush Fields Softballs From the Faithful," opened by talking about Bush's Q&A sessions: "His father loved them, Richard Nixon started them and President Bush has turned them into the near-daily warm bath of his re-election campaign. Last week alone, in Virginia, Florida, New Mexico and Oregon, Mr. Bush had four 'Ask President Bush' question-and-answer sessions with rapt Republican audiences. The week before he had one in Columbus, Ohio, and this week he has one scheduled for St. Croix, Wis."
As the headline indicated, Bumiller's story emphasized the softball nature of the questions: "As anyone who has sat through the 90-minute forums knows, the questions are not hand grenades that detonate onto the evening news. Take, for example, one of the first queries at the 'Ask President Bush' session in Beaverton, Ore., on Friday: 'I'm wondering if I can get some inauguration tickets?' Or consider this from Albuquerque on Wednesday: 'Can I introduce my mother and mother-in-law, who are new citizens to this country?' Many times the questions aren't even questions at all. Exhibit A might be these words from an audience member in Niceville, Fla., on Tuesday: 'I'm 60 years old and I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote. And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.'"
She let the Kerry campaign criticize Bush's events: "Bush campaign officials tell reporters at every 'Ask President Bush' forum that the questions are not planted and that the sessions are spontaneous. Senator John Kerry's campaign officials say the events are too ridiculous to be believed."
Bumiller summarized (while getting in two cracks at Bush): "The result is often a love-in with heavily Christian crowds. Mr. Bush relaxes, shows off his humor and appears more human than in his sometimes tongue-tied and tense encounters with the press. He clearly relishes the sessions: As of this coming Wednesday in Wisconsin, Mr. Bush will have had 12 such campaign forums, which is one less than the number of solo news conferences he has had in three and a half years in the White House."
By contrast, Tuesday's story from the Kerry campaign by Jodi Wilgoren, "Front-Porch Chat: Birth of a Kerry Campaign Tactic" soft-pedaled the cynicism in favor of profiling the giddy middle-class people lucky enough to be used as a backdrop for the Kerry campaign.
"For every porch picked, there are those passed over," Wilgoren wrote, as if regretful, while telling the story of a Springfield, Oregon homeowner whose house was eventually not chosen for use by the Kerry campaign: "On Friday morning here in this quintessential suburban neighborhood, such was the plight of Shannon Imponen, who was eager to share her struggle to pay for emergency post-partum health care with Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee. Ms. Imponen, 24, had instantly agreed when Mr. Kerry's aides knocked late Wednesday afternoon asking to borrow her backyard for an event just 40 hours in the future; she even said they could chop down a couple of trees to improve the view."
Imponen's backyard was in the end rejected in favor of one a few blocks away, Wilgoren explained: "So goes the back story of the Kerry campaign's newest signature, the 'front porch visit' -- though the porch is optional. Mr. Kerry and his running mate, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, have held 10 such homespun events, in middle-class neighborhoods across Iowa, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and here in Oregon since stumbling across the form in mid-June."
Unlike Bumiller's story on Bush's Q&A's, which featured criticism from the Kerry campaign, Wilgoren's story included no Bush criticism of Kerry's campaign tactics.
Also note the lack of cynicism in Wilgoren's report on Kerry's chats, compared to that in Bumiller's report about Bush's. While Bush's events are in front of "faithful," "rapt Republican audiences," Wilgoren blandly stated that Kerry's events are "invitation-only."
Wilgoren emphasized the positive: "The low-key, invitation-only events, where perhaps 100 people sit around red-checked picnic tables, raising hands with questions rather than waving signs with slogans, mimic the town-hall style campaigning for the Iowa caucuses at which both Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards excelled. For Mr. Kerry, porch visits follow the chili feeds he held at firehouses all over New Hampshire and Iowa. The first one happened almost by accident. Before a rally at a park in Columbus, Ohio, Mr. Kerry's aides sent him to the home of Lynette Farmer, thinking it would be a good image for them to walk together to the event. They chatted on Ms. Farmer's porch, and a gimmick was born. Situated mainly in swing states, the visits are intended to emphasize the Democrats' kitchen-table economic appeal -- light on partisanship, laden with 'we're here for you.'"
Wilgoren let lucky Kerry-supporting homeowner Claire Kronser gush: "It was like the day before Christmas when you're a kid. You can't sleep and you can't explain it."
END of Reprint from TimesWatch.org
For the August 16 Bumiller take on Bush's campaign tactics: www.nytimes.com
-- Brent Baker