SMEAR BOAT VETERANS (PART 2)! John ONeill likes to tell nasty tales. So what if his vets say theyre bogus?
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2004
SMEAR BOAT VETERANS (PART 2): Thats right—Larry Thurlow, who was actually there, disagrees with John ONeills account of the Kerry Bronze Star incident (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/14/04). What really happened on the Bay Hap River when Kerry pulled Jim Rassmann out of the drink? In particular, did a frightened Kerry flee the scene, then return to save Rassmanns life only when the coast was clear? Thats the way ONeill likes to tell it (examples below). But in Tom Infields piece for Knight-Ridder this Sunday, Thurlow says Kerry didnt flee—and he shows how a Swift Boat Smear was invented. Heres the key passage from Infields piece—the passage we looked at yesterday:
INFIELD (9/12/04): Swift boat veteran Larry Thurlow flew in from Bogue, Kan., after the group offered to pay his and his wife's expenses. Thurlow said he was hesitant to become involved but [Admiral Roy] Hoffmann kept asking him to join the group.Thurlow was told to say that Kerry fled—but he says that isnt a fair assessment. But so what? It made for a nasty tale about Kerry, so ONeill—who wasnt on the river that day—told the tale all over cable. Here he was on August 10, telling it to Alan Colmes:
ONEILL (8/10/04): Jim Rassmann and Kerry have taken the position that Kerry came under fire. All the boats came under fire. They all left, and then Kerry came back and saved Rassmann. That is a boldfaced lie.Theres your key smear-point—John Kerry fled. And ONeill kept repeating it, all over cable. Indeed, he told the story that same night in Scarborough Country. He spoke with guest host Pat Buchanan:
ONEILL (8/10/04): What actually happened, Pat, was that an explosion lifted PCF 3 out of the water. It threw the crew of PCF 3, at least three of them, into the water and the boat was disabled. It couldn't flee, Pat. And all of our boats gathered around PCF 3, not far from Rassmann, within 25 or 30 yards, except for John Kerry. He fled, Pat.ONeill said fled all over cable—the nasty word Thurlow was told to say. Indeed, by August 22, ONeill was telling his tale on This Week, to George Stephanopoulos:
ONEILL (8/22): What really happened is a boat blew up, the Number 3 boat. Sailors were in the water. It was a terrible situation. All four boats closed to save the Number 3 boat. It's undisputed. One guy fled, John Kerry. He now says he was trying to turn around or he was going to put troops in. But he went a mile away and returned. Meanwhile, the people who were really there were trying to save the Number 3 boat. It's undisputed now. He left, so instead of one man left behind, what we have is one man fled.And yes, Kerry flees in ONeills kooky book, too. But dont take our word for it. On August 11, CNNs Brian Todd quoted the passage on Wolf Blitzer Reports:
TODD (8/11/04): O'Neill strongly disputes Kerry's biographical claims of many incidents in Vietnam including one involving a central figure in the campaign.Larry Thurlow was told to say that Kerry fled. The word connotes fear, as Thurlow noted; the word says Kerry was a coward. So ONeill went out and kept repeating it, even though Thurlow calls the tale bogus. John ONeill was spreading a smear. The truth could go jump in the drink.
This is the perfect anatomy of a Swift Boat Smear, a smear that was endlessly pushed by ONeill. And make no mistake—this isnt the only case where ONeill told a nasty tale which his own eyewitnesses dispute. On August 26, the Louisville Courier-Journal published a profile of local Swift boat vet Larry Lee. Lee is a member of ONeills group; he was present and active on the day when Kerry won his Silver Star. But Lee says Kerry deserved that award! Heres how Joseph Gerths profile started:
GERTH (8/26/04): A Kentucky Vietnam veteran who was involved in the fighting that earned Sen. John Kerry the Silver Star for gallantry says the Democratic presidential nominee deserved the award.Lets not get into tedious detail. But Lee, an eyewitness/participant in the Silver Star action, disagrees with the carefully shaped account of the incident in ONeills book. But so what? ONeill, a rank propagandist, tells versions of these stories designed to make Kerry look weak and dishonest. Do his own eyewitnesses disagree with his tales? So what? He keeps telling them anyway.
Thurlow was told to say something bogus. ONeill, a dissembler, went out there and said it. Readers, how should your press corps deal with such men when they intrude on a White House election? Well offer our views as this series moves forward. But make no mistake—John ONeill defrauded the nation when he kept saying that John Kerry fled. Sadly, your press corps was too weak to stop him. ONeills dissembling has transformed this race, and your press corps—timid, overpaid and afraid—remains unwilling to notice.
TOMORROW: Part 3! Kooky claims! But shhh! Mustnt tell...
LIBERAL BIAS IN ACTION: Did CBS run with crudely forged docs? Here at THE HOWLER, we cant really say. But how comical are the outraged squeals about liberal bias which are all over cable? Those squeals are very comical. What does this current episode show? It shows this: If you broadcast a shaky tale about Bush, the world will land on your head in an instant. Does this show the corps liberal bias? Wed have to say that it does not.
Yes, a shaky tale about Bush has produced instant outrage. But what if you broadcast shaky tales about Democrats? Twelve years later, has anyone ever made the New York Times explain its Jeff Gerth Whitewater hoax—the hoax-like stories that gave the name to a decade of phony tales about Clinton? Has anyone ever made the press to explain all those bogus tales about Gore? And by the way—will anyone ever ask ONeill why he keeps saying that John Kerry fled? At best, ONeills kooky book is highly marginal; more reasonably judged, the book is a joke. But has anyone landed on ONeill the way the press corps has beaned Kitty Kelley? Indeed, very few papers have even printed a formal review of ONeills kooky book. Liberal bias? To all appearances, major papers are afraid to say how kooky this book really is.
Readers, treat yourselves to a dark, mordant chuckle! ONeill has dissembled all over the land—and the wolves are screaming for Dan Rathers head! But were supposed to see these troubling events as the latest proof of a liberal bias. Big orgs have produced a string of fake tales about Dems—but one shaky tale about Bush proves a point. Well-trained pundits swarm over cable. And they know what to yell: Liberal bias!
CORE KNOWLEDGE: Last night, we drove down to American U to lecture a lucky group of seniors. As we drove, we listened to WMAL—and we heard Chris Core air the first bulletin about those CBS consultants. Emily Will and Linda James say they warned CBS about those disputed Bush documents. According to Maureen Balleza in todays New York Times, The womens accounts seemed to undercut CBS network officials previous denials that producers had questions about the documents authenticity.
The key word there, of course, is seemed. CBS is disputing what Will and James have said. The pair may be telling the Gods honest truth. Or they may be spinning just a tad—covering their keisters about their role in this unfolding story.
We dont know the truth of this matter. Neither, of course, did WMALs Core. But so what? Having read a spare bulletin about Will and James, he immediately assumed their complaints were on-target. Soon, local pols were calling to tell the world that CBS may have broken the law.
Chris Core, a great guy, was very upset. CBS had jumped to conclusions without knowing the facts! But of course, thats exactly what he was doing as he assumed the truth of this first, spare report. Eventually, well know if those docs were fake. But the human mind is very weak; its deeply inclined to draw conclusions before it actually has all the facts. As we entered AUs ivied halls, we pondered this piece of Core knowledge.
THE PERFECT TSURUMI: This morning, Nicholas Kristof tells a tale so perfect that we dont quite believe it. According to Kristofs single source, Bush blew the whistle on himself! It occurred back in 73:
KRISTOF (9/15/04): One fall day in 1973, when Mr. Bush was a new student at Harvard Business School, he was wearing a Guard jacket when he ran into one of his professors. The professor, Yoshi Tsurumi, says he asked Mr. Bush how he wangled a spot in the Guard.Could that be true? Of course—it could be. But doesnt this tale sound a little too perfect? According to Tsurumi, young George Bush lowered the boom on himself and his family! Indeed, as Kristof continues the pleasing tale, the pleasing tale just keeps improving:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): Professor Tsurumi says he remembers Mr. Bush so vividly because he was always making outrageous statements: denouncing the New Deal as socialist, calling the S.E.C. an impediment to business, referring to the civil rights movement as ''socialist/communist'' and declaring that ''people are poor because they're lazy.'' (Dan Bartlett, an aide to Mr. Bush, denies that the president ever made these statements.)Did Bush make these statements? Maybe he did. But have you ever read an account of Young Bush in which he goes around making such outrageous statements? Weve read a lot of bios of Bush, and frankly, we dont recall such a pattern. Wasnt the problem supposed to be that Bush didnt give a goldang?
By the way, Tsurumi is a fount of perfect anecdotes. Heres another perfect tale, told to Corky Siemaszko of the New York Daily News:
SIEMASZKO (9/10/04): President Bushs former Harvard Business School prof says his ex-student supported the Vietnam War but wanted somebody else to fight it.He just smirked! We dont know if Tsurumi knows business. But he surely does know every spin-point.
In a word, Kristofs column is embarrassing. By now, a great deal is known about Bushs Guard record. (Indeed, some unflattering new facts have just become known about the months before Bush fled to Bama.) But did Bush really make these statements to Tsurumi? We dont have the slightest idea, and neither, wed have to think, does Kristof. But so what? Increasingly, were developing a political culture in which we simply repeat those tales we find pleasing. Theres a reason scribes should avoid single sources—and theres a reason scribes should avoid ancient memories. (Scribes should also be wary of perfect stories.) Tsurumis story could be true. But Kristof seems to have little way of knowing. He should try an old favorite—real knowledge.