John Kerry's soldier-smearing

Posted: Aug 25, 2004 12:00 AM

It's late August, and someone in America decided it's time to scrutinize John Kerry's life story on television. For a week in Boston, John F. Kerry wrapped himself around a war effort he had spent decades denouncing, and Dan, Peter and Tom sat around and nodded. No one even considered the possibility that Kerry could be -- should be -- challenged on any point of his self-serving history.

 Then the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth came along and shattered that mythology. Without their TV ads, the pro-Kerry media would have spent the entire election year with their collective fingers in their ears avoiding any criticism about the life story of the man who would be president.

 While reporters breathlessly pass on the Kerry protests that he's the victim of an unproven "smear," from January to August, and on a smaller scale stretching back to the Vietnam War itself, our "prestige press" has been spreading around John Kerry's unsubstantiated war-hero stories without any troublesome fact-checking, or even a simple request to Kerry for confirmation. John Kerry has refused to release his records, refused to debate his fellow veterans and refused to ask his personal biographer Doug Brinkley to release his vaunted wartime journals, and yet nobody in the liberal "news" media cares.

 Now, in a second ad, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have raised the issue of John Kerry's scabrous testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April, 1971. If you rely on the conventional news media, you are unfamiliar with this testimony, except, perhaps, for the often-quoted Kerry line, "How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

 That's gripping rhetoric, but not the substance of the smear. The meat of the testimony, as featured in the new Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad, is when young Kerry starts repeating the claims of alleged fellow veterans that "on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command," American soldiers "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies (sic), randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside" of South Vietnam.

 He did not excuse his Swift Boat brothers in his declaration of collective military guilt: "We rationalized destroying villages in order to save them."

 How many times have our most "reliable" hard news outlets passed along this passage of monstrous American evil that so inflames the veterans against John Kerry? A Nexis search reveals a list of some of the national outlets that had never relayed a quote of these words before the second Swift Vet ad was released: CBS, NBC, National Public Radio, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. Here are the major newspapers who've captured this testimony exactly once : The Washington Post and The New York Times, buried inside their papers on Saturdays in late February. ABC repeated one snippet of the paragraph, the "Genghis Khan" snippet, in four stories surrounding the anniversary of the testimony in April. Kerry said then: "I'm sorry that they're offended by that, but that's what happened."

 Liberal reporters must wonder why they should have to focus on this paragraph. To them, there was nothing outrageous in asserting in 1971 that we were there to kill communism, but "we found instead that we were killing women and children." Or that America's achievement in Vietnam to that date was creating "a nation of refugees, bomb craters, amputees, orphans, widows and prostitutes." (Those lines are from Kerry, too, from his book, "The New Soldier.")

 Reporters are supposed to be our best and brightest creators of the first draft of history, but it somehow befuddles them that Vietnam veterans take this wild testimony about daily commander-sanctioned atrocities by U.S. fighting men as a dramatic smear on their reputations.

 One would think that newspaper men and women, more than anyone else, would be skeptical of unverified allegations, especially, as the Washington Post's Paul Farhi acknowledged in February, when "many of the alleged atrocities have never been verified, and some have been disproved." Why has Kerry not been pressed on the veracity of his own testimony?

 The sad thing is that young Kerry was completely celebrated at that time by the "objective" news media, including a laudatory profile on "60 Minutes" asking if he would be president some day. Did no one care about the veracity of these scattershot smears, or did the press just despise the war so much that any lie that hastened its end was a good lie? Is that good lie the only thing that matters to our media today?