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SMEAR BOAT VETERANS (PART 2)! John O’Neill likes to tell nasty tales. So what if his vets say they’re bogus? // link //

SMEAR BOAT VETERANS (PART 2): That’s right—Larry Thurlow, who was actually there, disagrees with John O’Neill’s 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 Rassmann’s life only when the coast was clear? That’s the way O’Neill likes to tell it (examples below). But in Tom Infield’s piece for Knight-Ridder this Sunday, Thurlow says Kerry didn’t flee—and he shows how a Swift Boat Smear was invented. Here’s the key passage from Infield’s 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.

“The admiral helped me to see in hindsight what was really going on with Kerry,” Thurlow said...

Thurlow said the vets were told some of what to say, with the caveat that they weren't expected to say anything they didn't believe.

“I was told to say, ‘On the river that day, Kerry fled.’ But 'fled' connotes fear and I understood why Kerry left, then returned, so I didn't use that word,” Thurlow said.

Thurlow “was told to say” that Kerry fled—but he says that isn’t a fair assessment. But so what? It made for a nasty tale about Kerry, so O’Neill—who wasn’t on the river that day—told the tale all over cable. Here he was on August 10, telling it to Alan Colmes:
O’NEILL (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.

On that day, PCF No. 3 was blown out of the water. It couldn't move. There was only one boat that fled. That was John Kerry's boat. We never had anybody that would flee, Alan, never—except John Kerry.

There’s your key smear-point—John Kerry fled. And O’Neill kept repeating it, all over cable. Indeed, he told the story that same night in Scarborough Country. He spoke with guest host Pat Buchanan:
O’NEILL (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.

Rassmann is right about that. John Kerry fled. And he came back and did pick up Rassmann shortly before the other boats picked him up. Our boats stayed. They did not flee. And that is not the truth for Rassmann to say that. We had only one guy in our unit who would flee. That's John Kerry.

O’Neill said “fled” all over cable—the nasty word Thurlow was “told to say.” Indeed, by August 22, O’Neill was telling his tale on This Week, to George Stephanopoulos:
O’NEILL (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 O’Neill’s kooky book, too. But don’t take our word for it. On August 11, CNN’s 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.

RASSMANN (videotape): I've witnessed his bravery and leadership under fire and I know he will make a great commander-in-chief.

TODD: Jim Rassmann, official records say, was pulled from a river by a wounded John Kerry on March 13, 1969 as U.S. patrol boats took fire from both banks...In the book, O'Neill writes, "in reality, Kerry's boat was on right side of the river when a mine went off on the opposite side." He continues, "there was no other hostile fire." And, quote, "despite the absence of hostile fire, Kerry fled the scene.”

Larry Thurlow was told to say that Kerry “fled.” The word connotes fear, as Thurlow noted; the word says Kerry was a coward. So O’Neill went out and kept repeating it, even though Thurlow calls the tale bogus. John O’Neill 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 O’Neill. And make no mistake—this isn’t the only case where O’Neill 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 O’Neill’s group; he was present and active on the day when Kerry won his Silver Star. But Lee says Kerry deserved that award! Here’s how Joseph Gerth’s 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.

But Larry Clayton Lee of Franklin County says he opposes Kerry's presidential bid, largely because of statements Kerry made in opposition to the Vietnam War after he returned to the United States.

"I have no problems with him getting the Silver Star," said Lee, who was a 20-year-old boatswain's mate on a swift boat accompanying Kerry's boat when they were ambushed by Viet Cong soldiers.

Lee is a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that has run controversial television commercials challenging Kerry's war record, including his three Purple Hearts and Bronze Star.

Let’s 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 O’Neill’s book. But so what? O’Neill, 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. O’Neill, 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? We’ll offer our views as this series moves forward. But make no mistake—John O’Neill defrauded the nation when he kept saying that John Kerry fled. Sadly, your “press corps” was too weak to stop him. O’Neill’s dissembling has transformed this race, and your press corps—timid, overpaid and afraid—remains unwilling to notice.

TOMORROW: Part 3! Kooky claims! But shhh! Mustn’t tell...

LIBERAL BIAS IN ACTION: Did CBS run with crudely forged docs? Here at THE HOWLER, we can’t 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?” We’d 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 O’Neill why he keeps saying that John Kerry fled? At best, O’Neill’s kooky book is highly marginal; more reasonably judged, the book is a joke. But has anyone landed on O’Neill the way the press corps has beaned Kitty Kelley? Indeed, very few papers have even printed a formal review of O’Neill’s 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! O’Neill has dissembled all over the land—and the wolves are screaming for Dan Rather’s head! But we’re 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 today’s 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 God’s honest truth. Or they may be spinning just a tad—covering their keisters about their role in this unfolding story.

We don’t know the truth of this matter. Neither, of course, did WMAL’s 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, that’s exactly what he was doing as he assumed the truth of this first, spare report. Eventually, we’ll know if those docs were fake. But the human mind is very weak; it’s deeply inclined to draw conclusions before it actually has all the facts. As we entered AU’s ivied halls, we pondered this piece of Core knowledge.

THE PERFECT TSURUMI: This morning, Nicholas Kristof tells a tale so perfect that we don’t quite believe it. According to Kristof’s 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.

“He said his daddy had good friends who got him in despite the long waiting list,” recalls Professor Tsurumi, who is now at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York. Professor Tsurumi says he next asked Mr. Bush how he could have already finished his National Guard commitment. ''He said he'd gotten an early honorable discharge,'' Professor Tsurumi recalls. ''I said, 'How did you manage that?'''

''He said, oh, his daddy had a good friend,'' Mr. Tsurumi said. ''Then we started talking about the Vietnam War. He was all for fighting it.''

Could that be true? Of course—it could be. But doesn’t 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?” We’ve read a lot of bios of Bush, and frankly, we don’t recall such a pattern. Wasn’t the problem supposed to be that Bush didn’t give a goldang?

By the way, Tsurumi is a fount of perfect anecdotes. Here’s another perfect tale, told to Corky Siemaszko of the New York Daily News:

SIEMASZKO (9/10/04): President Bush’s former Harvard Business School prof says his ex-student supported the Vietnam War but wanted somebody else to fight it.

Yoshi Tsurumi said yesterday that Bush told him his father's connections got him into the Texas Air National Guard.

"But what really disturbed me is that he said he was for the Vietnam War," said Tsurumi, who has also taught at Baruch College and the City University of New York. "I said, 'George, that's hypocrisy. You won't fight a war that you support but you expect other people to fight it for you.' He just smirked."

He just smirked! We don’t know if Tsurumi knows business. But he surely does know every spin-point.

In a word, Kristof’s column is embarrassing. By now, a great deal is known about Bush’s 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 don’t have the slightest idea, and neither, we’d have to think, does Kristof. But so what? Increasingly, we’re developing a political culture in which we simply repeat those tales we find pleasing. There’s a reason scribes should avoid single sources—and there’s a reason scribes should avoid ancient memories. (Scribes should also be wary of perfect stories.) Tsurumi’s story could be true. But Kristof seems to have little way of knowing. He should try an old favorite—real knowledge.