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Fact Check Project Evaluates Swift Boat Ad

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by Emmettology 101, Aug 25, 2004.

  1. Emmettology 101

    Emmettology 101 3/4 ton status

    May 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    "Local" article on the Swift Boat ads and Kerry:


    [ QUOTE ]

    Fact Check Project Evaluates Swift Boat Ad
    Aug 11, 2004 9:45 a.m.

    By Andrea Wood

    YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- What is the truth? Did John Kerry lie about his war record? Or is the political committee called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth lying about their war experiences?

    Some $50,000 worth of advertising time has been purchased on Mahoning Valley television stations to broadcast the most controversial attack ad produced this presidential campaign (READ STORY) -- putting the region on veterans group’s political map along with six other TV markets in battleground states.

    Lawyers for the Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee urged local TV stations to refuse the spot on the grounds it is libelous and false (READ STORY). But the veterans groups produced more than 40 pages of affidavits and other documents to substantiate its claims.

    Yesterday an academic research center at the University of Pennsylvania published a detailed analysis of the ad’s accuracy and released its findings at FactCheck.org.

    The Annenberg Political Fact Check project is conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Funded by an endowment from the Annenberg Foundation, created in 1994 by publisher and philanatrhopist Walter Annenberg, the center accepts no funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals.

    States theFact Check project’s mission statement: “We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.”

    The project’s Web site also contains detailed analyses of the accuracy of other political ads broadcast by the presidential campaigns and political advocacy groups.

    Here is the full text of the Fact Check project’s findings on the accuracy of the ad produced and paid for by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth:

    A group funded by the biggest Republican campaign donor in Texas began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which former Swift Boat veterans claim Kerry lied to get one of his two decorations for bravery and two of his three purple hearts.

    But the veterans who accuse Kerry are contradicted by Kerry's former crewmen. One of the accusers says he was on another boat "a few yards" away during the incident which won Kerry the Bronze Star, but the former Army lieutenant whom Kerry plucked from the water that day backs Kerry's account. In an Aug. 10 opinion piece in the conservative Wall Street Journal, Rassmann (a Republican himself) wrote that the ad was "launched by people without decency" who are "lying" and "should hang their heads in shame."

    "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" is a group formed March 23 after Kerry wrapped up the Democratic nomination. It held a news conference May 4 denigrating Kerry's military record and his later anti-war pronouncements during the 1970's. The group began running an attack ad Aug. 5 in which 13 veterans variously say Kerry is "not being honest" and "is lying about his record."

    Where the Money Comes From
    Although the word "Republican" does not appear in the ad, the group's financing is highly partisan. The source of the Swift Boat group's money wasn't known when it first surfaced, but a report filed July 15 with the Internal Revenue Services now shows its initial funding came mainly from a Houston home builder, Bob R. Perry, who has also given millions to the Republican party and Republican candidates, mostly in Texas, including President Bush and Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose district is near Houston.

    Perry gave $100,000 of the $158,750 received by the Swift Boat group through the end of June, according to its disclosure report. Perry and his wife Doylene also gave more than $3 million to Texas Republicans during the 2002 elections, according to a database maintained by the Institute on Money in State Politics. The Perrys also were among the largest Republican donors in neighboring Louisiana, where they gave $200,000, and New Mexico, where they gave $183,000, according to the database.

    At the federal level, the Perrys have given $359,825 since 1999, including $6,000 to Bush's campaigns and $27,325 to DeLay and his political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, according the a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics.

    The Silver Star
    Several of those who appear in the ad have signed brief affidavits, and we have posted some of them in the "supporting documents" section to the right for our visitors to evaluate for themselves.

    One of those affidavits, signed by George Elliott, quickly became controversial. Elliott is the retired Navy captain who had recommended Kerry for his highest decoration for valor, the Silver Star, which was awarded for events of Feb. 29, 1969, when Kerry beached his boat in the face of an enemy ambush and then pursued and killed an enemy soldier on the shore.

    Elliott, who had been Kerry's commanding officer, was quoted by The Boston Globe Aug 6 as saying he had made a "terrible mistake" in signing the affidavit against Kerry, in which Elliott suggested Kerry hadn't told him the truth about how he killed the enemy soldier. Later Elliott signed a second affidavit saying he still stands by the words in the TV ad. But Elliott also made what he called an "immaterial clarification" - saying he has no first-hand information that Kerry was less than forthright about what he did to win the Silver Star.

    What Elliott said in the ad is that Kerry "has not been honest about what happened in Viet Nam." In his original affidavit Elliott said Kerry had not been "forthright" in Vietnam. The only example he offered of Kerry not being "honest" or "forthright" was this: "For example, in connection with his Silver Star, I was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back."

    In the Globe story, Elliott is quoted as saying it was a "terrible mistake" to sign that statement:

    George Elliott (Globe account): It was a terrible mistake probably for me to sign the affidavit with those words. I'm the one in trouble here. . . . I knew it was wrong . . . In a hurry I signed it and faxed it back. That was a mistake.

    In his second affidavit, however, Elliott downgraded that "terrible mistake" to an "immaterial clarification." He said in the second affidavit:

    Elliott (second affidavit): I do not claim to have personal knowledge as to how Kerry shot the wounded, fleeing Viet Cong.

    Elliott also said he now believes Kerry shot the man in the back, based on other accounts including a book in which Kerry is quoted as saying of the soldier, "He was running away with a live B-40 (rocket launcher) and, I thought, poised to turn around and fire it." (The book quoted by Elliott is John F. Kerry, The Complete Biography, By The Reporters Who Know Him Best.)

    Elliott also says in that second affidavit, "Had I known the facts, I would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for simply pursuing and dispatching a single, wounded, fleeing Viet Cong." That statement is misleading, however. It mischaracterizes the actual basis on which Kerry received his decoration.

    The official citation shows Kerry was not awarded the Silver Star "for simply pursing and dispatching" the Viet Cong. In fact, the killing is not even mentioned in the official citation. The citation - based on what Elliott wrote up at the time - covers Kerry's decision to attack rather than flee from two ambushes, including one in which he "led a landing party." It says Kerry first attacked an "entrenched enemy" less than 50 feet away: "Unhesitatingly, Lieutenant (junior grade) Kerry ordered his boat to attack as all units opened fire and beached directly in front of the enemy ambushers. This daring and courageous tactic surprised the enemy and succeeded in routing a score of enemy soldiers." It says "many enemy weapons" were captured. Later, 800 yards away, Kerry's boat encountered a second ambush and a B-40 rocket exploded "close aboard" Kerry's boat. "With utter disregard for his own safety, and the enemy rockets, he again ordered a charge on the enemy, beached his boat only ten feet away from the VC rocket position, and personally led a landing party ashore in pursuit of the enemy." There is no mention of enemy casualties at all. Kerry was cited for "extraordinary daring and personal courage . . . in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire."

    Elliott had previously defended Kerry on that score when his record was questioned during his 1996 Senate campaign. At that time Elliott came to Boston and said Kerry acted properly and deserved the Silver Star. And as recently as June, 2003, Elliott called Kerry's Silver Star "well deserved" and his action "courageous" for beaching his boat in the face of an ambush:

    Elliott (Boston Globe, June 2003): I ended up writing it up for a Silver Star, which is well deserved, and I have no regrets or second thoughts at all about that. . . . (It) was pretty courageous to turn into an ambush even though you usually find no more than two or three people there.

    Elliott now feels differently, and says he has come to believe Kerry didn't deserve his second award for valor, either, based only on what the other anti-Kerry veterans have told him. He told the Globe Aug. 6:

    Elliott: I have chosen to believe the other men. I absolutely do not know first hand.

    The Bronze Star
    The most serious allegation in the ad is that Kerry received both the Bronze Star, his second-highest decoration, and his third purple heart, which allowed him to be sent home early, under false pretenses. But that account is flatly contradicted by Jim Rassmann, the former Army Lieutenant whom Kerry rescued that day.

    Van O'Dell, a former Navy enlisted man who says he was the gunner on another Swift Boat, states in his affidavit that he was "a few yards away" from Kerry's boat on March 13, 1969 when Kerry pulled Rassman from the water. According to the official medal citations, Kerry's boat was under enemy fire at the time, and Kerry had been wounded when an enemy mine exploded near his own boat. O'Dell insists "there was no fire" at the time, adding: "I did not hear any shots, nor did any hostile fire hit any boats" other than his own, PCF-3.

    Others in the ad back up that account. Jack Chenoweth, who was a Lieutenant (junior grade) commanding PCF-3, said Kerry's boat "fled the scene" after a mine blast disabled PCF-3, and returned only later "when it was apparent that there was no return fire." And Larry Thurlow, who says he commanded a third Swift Boat that day, says "Kerry fled while we stayed to fight," and returned only later "after no return fire occurred."

    Jim Rassmann was the Army Special Forces lieutenant whom Kerry plucked from the water. Rassmann has said all along that he was under sniper fire from both banks of the river when Kerry, wounded, helped him aboard. Rassmann is featured in an earlier Kerry ad, in fact, saying "he (Kerry) risked his life to save mine."

    On Aug. 10, Rassmann wrote a vivid account of the rescue in The Wall Street Journal that contradicts the Kerry accusers. Rassmann said that after the first explosion that disabled PCF-3:

    Rassmann: Machine-gun fire erupted from both banks of the river and a second explosion followed moments later. The second blast blew me off John's swift boat, PCF-94, throwing me into the river. Fearing that the other boats would run me over, I swam to the bottom of the river and stayed there as long as I could hold my breath.

    When I surfaced, all the swift boats had left, and I was alone taking fire from both banks. To avoid the incoming fire I repeatedly swam under water as long as I could hold my breath, attempting to make it to the north bank of the river. I thought I would die right there. The odds were against me avoiding the incoming fire and, even if I made it out of the river, I thought I thought I'd be captured and executed. Kerry must have seen me in the water and directed his driver, Del Sandusky, to turn the boat around. Kerry's boat ran up to me in the water, bow on, and I was able to climb up a cargo net to the lip of the deck. But, because I was nearly upside down, I couldn't make it over the edge of the deck. This left me hanging out in the open, a perfect target. John, already wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat, came out onto the bow, exposing himself to the fire directed at us from the jungle, and pulled me aboard.

    Rassmann said he recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for that action, and learned only later that the Bronze Star had been awarded instead. "To this day I still believe he deserved the Silver Star for his courage," he wrote. Rassmann described himself as a retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "I am a Republican, and for more than 30 years I have largely voted for Republicans," Rassmann said. But he said Kerry "will be a great commander in chief."

    "This smear campaign has been launched by people without decency," Rassmann said. "Their new charges are false; their stories are fabricated, made up by people who did not serve with Kerry in Vietnam."

    The Third Purple Heart
    The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth further says Kerry didn't deserve his third purple heart, which was received for shrapnel wounds in left buttocks and contusions on right forearm. The Swift Boat group's affidavits state that the wound in Kerry's backside happened earlier that day in an accident. "Kerry inadvertently wounded himself in the fanny," Thurlow said in his affidavit, "by throwing a grenade too close (to destroy a rice supply) and suffered minor shrapnel wounds."

    The grenade incident is actually supported by Kerry's own account, but the shrapnel wound was only part of the basis for Kerry's third purple heart according to official documents. The evidence here is contradictory.

    Kerry's account is in the book Tour of Duty by Douglas Brinkley, who based it largely on Kerry's own Vietnam diaries and 12 hours of interviews with Kerry. "I got a piece of small grenade in my ass from one of the rice bin explosions and then we started to move back to the boats," Kerry is quoted as saying on page 313. In that account, Kerry says his arm was hurt later, after the mine blast that disabled PCF-3, when a second explosion rocked his own boat. "The concussion threw me violently against the bulkhead on the door and I smashed my arm," Kerry says on page 314.

    And according to a Navy casualty report released by the Kerry campaign, the third purple heart was received for "shrapnel wounds in left buttocks and contusions on his right forearm when a mine detonated close aboard PCF-94," Kerry's boat. As a matter of strict grammar, the report doesn't state that both injuries were received as a result of the mine explosion, only the arm injury.

    The official citation for Kerry's Bronze Star refers only to his arm injury, not to the shrapnel wound to his rear. It says he performed the rescue "from an exposed position on the bow, his arm bleeding and in pain." The description of Kerry's arm "bleeding" isn't consistent with the description of a "contusion," or bruise.

    Rassmann's Aug. 10 Wall Street Journal article states that Kerry's arm was "wounded by the explosion that threw me off his boat," which would make that wound clearly enemy-inflicted.

    In any case, even a "friendly fire" injury can qualify for a purple heart "as long as the 'friendly' projectile or agent was released with the full intent of inflicting damage or destroying enemy troops or equipment," according to the website of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. All agree that rice was being destroyed that day on the assumption that it otherwise might feed Viet Cong fighters.

    Another major discrepancy raises a question of how close Kerry's accusers actually were to the rescue of Rassmann. Tour of Duty describes Rassmann's rescue (and the sniper fire) as happening "several hundred yards back" from where the crippled PCF-3 was lying, not "a few yards away," the distance from which the anti-Kerry veterans claim to have witnessed the incident.

    First Purple Heart
    Two who appear in the ad say Kerry didn't deserve his first purple heart. Louis Letson, a medical officer and Lieutenant Commander, says in the ad that he knows Kerry is lying about his first purple heart because “I treated him for that.” However, medical records provided by the Kerry campaign to FactCheck.org do not list Letson as the “person administering treatment” for Kerry’s injury on December 3, 1968 . The medical officer who signed this sick call report is J.C. Carreon, who is listed as treating Kerry for shrapnel to the left arm.

    In his affidavit, Letson says Kerry's wound was self-inflicted and does not merit a purple heart. But that's based on hearsay, and disputed hearsay at that. Letson says “the crewman with Kerry told me there was no hostile fire, and that Kerry had inadvertently wounded himself with an M-79 grenade.” But the Kerry campaign says the two crewmen with Kerry that day deny ever talking to Letson.

    Also appearing in the ad is Grant Hibbard, Kerry’s commanding officer at the time. Hibbard’s affidavit says that he “turned down the Purple Heart request,” and recalled Kerry's injury as a "tiny scratch less than from a rose thorn."

    That doesn't quite square with Letson's affidavit, which describes shrapnel "lodged in Kerry's arm" (though "barely.")

    Hibbard also told The Boston Globe in an interview in April 2004 that he eventually acquiesced about granting Kerry the purple heart.

    Hibbard: I do remember some questions on it. . .I finally said, OK if that's what happened. . . do whatever you want

    Kerry got the first purple heart after Hibbard left to return to the US .

    McCain Speaks Up
    Sen. John McCain -- who has publicly endorsed Bush and even appealed for donations to the President's campaign -- came to Kerry's defense on this. McCain didn't witness the events in question, of course. But he told the Associated Press in an August 5 interview: "I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is none of these individuals served on the boat (Kerry) commanded. Many of his crewmates have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam."

    At this point, 35 years later and half a world away, we see no way to resolve which of these versions of reality is closer to the truth.

    Visit the Annenberg Fact Check at www.factcheck.org

    See the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad at www.swiftvets.com

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