John Leo

 Media handling of the charges by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was even more peculiar. Most major news media stayed silent for nine or 10 days as the story of the charges spread over radio and the Internet. A few bloggers argued that this was an attempt by big-time media outlets to rule the Swifties? charges out of bounds. It seemed that way to me, too. When big media finally did rouse themselves and address the issue, they tended to focus tightly on Democratic talking points, such as who provided the funding and were the Swifties illegal surrogates for the Bush campaign. In many news outlets, the adjective ?unsubstantiated? seemed welded to the noun ?charges.?

 A few major papers, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, produced long and incurious reports on the issue, generally hostile to the Swifties. In the New York Times, Kerry?s imaginary Christmas-in-Cambodia yarn was pushed way to the back of an endless story, along with the news that Kerry had told the Senate in 1986 that he had entered Cambodia on his swift boat. The Times apparently had no room to mention that Kerry had told this story many times over 25 years and had described it as a life-changing incident seared into his memory.

 But the life-altering experience of Christmas in Cambodia apparently never happened. It was a Kerry fantasy. The press yawned and looked the other way. Kerry said he entered Cambodia with a CIA agent. But how likely is it that the CIA would choose to penetrate an illegal area with a clunky, noisy boat commanded by someone as inexperienced as Kerry?

 Soon the words ?discredited? and ?debunked? began to describe the Swifty charges in news reports and commentary. Some Swifty allegations were indeed wildly out of line. But not all. Kerry got his first Purple Heart after alleged hostile fire, but nine days later he wrote in his journal, ?We hadn?t been shot at yet.? No witnesses have come forward to tell us how Kerry?s first Purple Heart came to be issued. Then there was the mysterious third version of the Silver Star citation, an improved and glowing one that appeared late and that John Lehman, secretary of the Navy, said he didn?t write or order to be written. Nobody came forward to explain how or why the citation improved over the years. Kerry refused to make public his journal or his full military records, and the media seemed uninterested in pushing for him to do so. (Compare this with the energetic media demands for Bush?s National Guard records.) Apparently only one media outlet, the Washington Post, made an effort to open up Kerry?s records and received only six of 100 pages. On the whole, big-time media reporting on the Swifties was dismal. No wonder the credibility of the news media is headed south.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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