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August 12, 2004
Washington Post Dances Around Swiftvet Charges

Today's editorial from the Washington Post denigrating the Swiftvets is a mastery of slicing just enough off the truth to retain the sheen of credibility without actually addressing the issues that the Swiftvets have raised. First, the editorial attempts to portray a fairness in its opening paragraphs that it quickly discards later on:

. To the extent, then, that there are legitimate questions about Mr. Kerry's behavior -- either in Vietnam or back home as a prominent antiwar activist -- those are fair game. Mr. Kerry's four-plus months in Vietnam made for an unusually short tour. He used his third Purple Heart to go home early, and his wounds were relatively superficial.

After that, it's Katy bar the door, as the Post goes into full damage control -- protecting its own lack of coverage on the Swiftvets as a subtext to attacking them:

But a new assault on Mr. Kerry -- in an ad by a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and in a new book -- crosses the line in branding Mr. Kerry a coward and a liar. This smear is contradicted by Mr. Kerry's crew mates, undercut by the previous statements of some of those now making the charges and tainted by the chief source of its funding: Republican activists dedicated to defeating Mr. Kerry in November.

Ah, yes, those eeeeeeeevil Republican activists! Why, one of them donated $100,000 to the Swiftvets, accounting for two-thirds of their funding prior to the book's publication. (They've raised about $200,000 since from 5,000 individual donors.) It's a ludicrous non-sequitur; the Swiftvets' testimony is what should be at issue here, not a single donation from a Republican. Does the Post seriously think that Democrats would line up to assist over 200 veterans from Viet Nam tell the truth about John Kerry? And will the Post be as dismissive of allegations from MoveOn, which has been funded to the tune of millions of dollars by rabid partisan George Soros?

The rest of the editorial descends into a series of he-said, she-said comparisons that manages to avoid noting that one side has over 200 he-saids, compared to the less-than-10 she-saids. And for their supposed coup de grace, the Post pulls out Jim Rassman:

If accurate, this would demolish a central part of the picture of Mr. Kerry as Vietnam hero. But the weight of the evidence supports Mr. Kerry. Mr. Rassmann, having had no contact with Mr. Kerry for the previous 35 years, came forward during the primaries to tell the story of how Mr. Kerry, braving enemy fire and with an injured arm, pulled him back on board. "John came up to the bow, and I thought he was going to get killed because he was so exposed," Mr. Rassmann recalled. Other surviving crew mates corroborate that account. "I was there," crew mate Del Sandusky told CNN. "I saw the bullets skimming across the water. I saw the firefight gun flashes from the jungle. I know the firefight and the ambush we were in." Another crew mate, James Wasser, told ABC: "What boat were you riding on? Because you weren't there -- we were."

It's worth noting, although the Post doesn't, that several boats were part of that engagement -- and that the crews on the other boats all remember that engagement quite differently than Rassman, Sandusky, and Wasser. Even Rassman remembers it differently, depending on when he's been interviewed. In January, Rassman rode on a boat following Kerry and his boat was disabled in the mine blast. Earlier this week, Rassman wrote that he was on Kerry's boat, which struck the mine and threw him overboard, but Kerry's boat was not disabled.

And the Post manages to write an entire editorial about the veracity of the Swiftvets without even noting that their first charge scored a direct hit this week. John Kerry has been forced to withdraw the story he's told for decades, his Christmas in Cambodia myth that supposedly catalyzed his transformation from gung-ho military man to anti-war activist. The memory that he told the Senate was "seared" into him turned out to be a confusion of dates, according to his campaign advisor, Jeh Johnson. Now the Kerry campaign has retreated into the explanation that his Cambodia incursion happened "sometime later," but he can't remember when, and now it involves a CIA and/or Navy SEAL expedition, so no paperwork will exist. Convenient, eh?

The Post doesn't address that in its article because it would demonstrate that the Swiftvets have built a presumption of credibility over John Kerry that turns all of those he-said, she-saids around on them. It also points out that the Post and the rest of the mainstream media have blown it by not covering John Kerry more carefully, let alone the Swiftvets. In other words, their editorial is little more than damage control, but it's far too late for that. The press is supposed to hold up a magnifying glass to the powerful. In Kerry's case, they've failed miserably, the Swiftvets have proved their failure, and the Post intends to make them pay for it.

For more on this, be sure to read Patterico and Beldar, who have excellent deconstructions of the Post's rather transparent attempt at self-defense.

UPDATE: Steve Sturm also takes on the Post:

As I see it, there are two aspects to this story. One is whether there was hostile fire at the time Kerry fished Rassman out of the water (or at any time, for that matter), and two, whether Kerry's boat had initially fled the scene, returning later.

The Post defense of Kerry takes the approach that, if any aspect of the controversy can be sufficiently muddled, then none of the allegations can be true (which may be why they don't go into the 'Christmas in Cambodia' story). The Post editorial focuses solely on the point as to whether there was shooting going on at the time Rassman was pulled out of the water. It does not address the second point at all, whether Kerry's boat had taken off, only to return later to save the day (reminds you of Tom Cruise in 'Top Gun', doesn't it?).

Quite a lot of this makes me think of Hollywood, and the Top Gun reference crossed my mind before Steve put it so well here. Don't forget that Kerry himself, in his letter to the Boston Herald, attempted to tie this experience to Apocalypse Now, which had just come out into the theaters at the time.

And welcome to Instapundit readers!

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 12, 2004 7:39 AM

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