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KOPPEL UNPREPARED! O’Neill kept lying in Koppel’s face. And Koppel? What else? Unprepared!! // link // print // previous // next //

KOPPEL CONFLICTED: As we told you on Saturday morning, Ted Koppel was unprepared for Thursday’s interview with John O’Neill (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/16/04). But even as we typed that report, the Washington Post was landing on doorsteps, describing the gentleman’s inappropriate personal conduct and inexcusable conflict of interest. For the record, reporter Anne Schroder showed no sign of knowing that she was describing a conflict. But who is Ted Koppel? To get the flavor of Koppel conflicted, go ahead—just click here. (Read it all.)

Yes, Koppel finds time to hob-nob with the people he covers—but no time to do basic background reading. More tomorrow on Koppel conflicted. Today we give you something that’s worse. We give you Koppel unprepared:

KOPPEL UNPREPARED: Simply put, John O’Neill won’t stop lying. Last Thursday night, Nightline reported an investigation of the events for which Kerry received the Silver Star. Nightline reporters had gone to Vietnam and interviewed witnesses to these events. A full report can be read here, but let’s make a long story short. The recollections of local villagers support the official account of this story. By contrast, these villagers—who witnessed the Silver Star events—contradict the things John O’Neill has long said. Local villagers say they will never forget that day—and they support John Kerry’s account.

But O’Neill simply won’t, or can’t, stop lying. Last Thursday, he was interviewed in Nightline’s final segment, after Ted Koppel presented ABC’s report. Here was his first exchange with Koppel:

KOPPEL (10/14/04): As I mentioned to you before the broadcast, Mr. O'Neill, we're just going to have time to focus on the one issue that we have looked at tonight. That is the Silver Star issue. And if I could—go ahead.

O’NEILL: May I say, Ted, that's a real shame. It's a shame that you focused only on the one minor accomplishment of John Kerry, and refused to ever cover the sampan incident where the small family was killed, the two times he fled that are described in the book, or the time he visited the North Vietnamese.

O’Neill just won’t stop lying. He now refers to a sampan incident in which a “small family was killed,” although it is clear, from every record and from O’Neill’s own book, that a twelve-year-old child was inadvertently killed in this incident, not an entire family. (Indeed, the dead child’s mother and a second child were rescued—brought aboard Kerry’s boat.) Steve Gardner, O’Neill’s own eyewitness, has never disputed these facts—facts which are universally agreed to, except when O’Neill goes on TV and lies in the face of the public. And did Kerry actually “flee” two times—in the Bronze Star incident, for example? As we have noted, O’Neill’s own witness, Larry Thurlow, is on record denying this claim (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/15/04). But so what? O’Neill keeps mouthing (and embellishing) his phony stories, and interviewers like Koppel keep letting him do it. Back in August, we asked a question to which we lacked a clear answer: “Does John O’Neill ever tell the truth?” By now, the answer is abundantly clear. Without question, O’Neill is one of the most consistent liars in recent American political history. He is also one of the most effective—thanks to the work of unprepared journalists like the man to whom he spoke Thursday night.

What is O’Neill’s account of the Silver Star incident—the incident he came on Nightline to discuss? According to O’Neill, Kerry shot and killed a “teenager in a loincloth”—a hapless lone assailant. According to O’Neill’s book, Unfit for Command, Kerry has lied over the years in pretending that other enemy forces were present. According to O’Neill, Kerry’s Silver Star citation is factually wrong when it refers to a confrontation with a “superior enemy force.” And on Nightline, O’Neill pushed this story-line hard. Indeed, O’Neill told Koppel that his account is supported by two well-known Kerry biographies—even by Kerry himself! What follows is O’Neill’s first remark to Koppel about the Silver Star event. First he cites the Globe biography. Then he cites a second bio, Tour of Duty, by Douglas Brinkley. Note—O’Neill persistently calls these books “autobiographies,” although neither was written by Kerry:

O’NEILL (10/14/04): This is the book, Ted, published by the Boston Globe [holds up book]. This is their autobiography [sic] of John Kerry, with his assistance. Ted. In their autobiography [sic], they describe, on page 101, a single teenager in a loin cloth, Ted. They weren't trying to make it up. This is—this is John Kerry's own approved biography, Tour of Duty [holds up second book]. On page 296 of that book, John Kerry says, Boy, he's glad there was only a single person there and not more. What you've done is gone into a closed society, instead of interviewing direct witnesses, and produced a story that isn't even the story in his biography or that of the Boston Globe.
According to O’Neill, the two biographies say the same thing—that Kerry confronted “a single” assailant. As the discussion continued, O’Neill repeatedly made this claim—and Koppel never disputed it:
O’NEILL: Ted, this is the biography by the hometown newspaper of John Kerry. It says there was a single Vietcong teenager in a loincloth.

KOPPEL: I heard you —I heard you the first time.

O’NEILL: I asked the author of it, Michael Kranish, I said, “How did you get that information?” And he said, I got it because that's what everyone told me. It's the same information I got. In John Kerry's autobiography [sic], the same information appears.

KOPPEL: Mr. O’Neill—

O'NEILL: Except that they don’t give the age.

Eventually, Koppel explained what Nightline’s reporters had found. Did Kerry kill a single, teen-aged assailant? “Turns out he was 26 or 27 years old,” Koppel said, “was sent by provincial headquarters, was a leader of a 12-man Viet Cong unit that was sent to that place, and—I am simply giving you what the folks on the scene describe—in order to ambush American Swift boats. Why do you have trouble accepting that?” In his response (full transcript below), O’Neill disputed this notion, again falling back on those two biographies:
O’NEILL: Ted, I have a lot of trouble, Ted, because you went to a country that is a closed society. You ignored every single report. You've ignored the written biography of John Kerry by the Boston Globe that concludes exactly what we did. Michael Kranish, who interviewed American after American, including Kerry's crewmen. You ignored Kerry's own autobiography [sic], Tour of Duty, in which he says there was, there was—he was glad there was only a single gunman.
On and on the battle raged, with O’Neill repeatedly citing the two biographies. With apologies for the length of our excerpts, here is the next exchange:
KOPPEL: Do me a favor. Just explain to me, just explain to me if you can, why you think it is that a bunch of peasants in a truly remote part of southern Vietnam would have an interest in making up stories that would somehow benefit John Kerry and raise questions about your version of that particular incident? What motive could they possibly have?

O’NEILL: First thing that I can tell you for sure, Ted, is that their story is totally different than Kerry's story. It’s totally different.

KOPPEL: Yes, you’ve mentioned that. But, I mean, try and answer my question. I've heard you say that three times now.

O’NEILL: New discovery—the marvelous new discovery in Vietnam occurs in a closed society. In a country that has honored John Kerry himself as a hero in their war museum, who helped them win the war. You could see the government personnel directly with him. I guess if I have a choice, Ted, between relying, as I did, on the Boston Globe autobiography, on Kerry's own autobiography [sic], on his crewmen, on your prior show that you had in July, which said essentially the same thing, and on the recollection of the guys that we had that were there, or a group of people coming up with a totally new story in a closed society, I choose to rely on Kerry's books, Kerry's crewmen, our crewmen and the other sources. And I don't think it was worthy of you all to go and, go and interview these people and try and impeach me without bothering to look at the Boston Globe autobiography, at Kerry's own book.

Over and over, O’Neill kept saying it: The Boston Globe bio supports my account. So does Brinkley; so do Kerry’s crewmen; and so does Kerry himself! O’Neill specifically said that the villagers’ recollections represent “a totally new story.” At no point in the back-and-forth did Koppel ever challenge these claims.

But John O’Neill was lying again—and Koppel showed no sign of knowing it. In fact, the Globe biography doesn’t support O’Neill’s account; it plainly contradicts it, in plain detail. Was there only “a single gunman?” Or was the man whom Kerry killed part of a larger Viet Cong force? As O’Neill noted, Michael Kranish wrote this part of the Globe biography; here is his account of what occurred when Kerry killed the man with the B-40 rocket launcher. Yes, this comes from the very same page O’Neill cited to his unprepared host:

KRANISH (page 101-102): Kerry, faced with the deadly prospect that a deadly rocket grenade could come whizzing toward his crew, had made a split-second decision to leave his crew and pursue the Vietcong fighter. “This guy could have dispatched us in a second, but for—I’ll never be able to explain, he with his B-40 rocket and us in our boat, and he didn’t pull the trigger. I would not be here today talking to you if he had,” Kerry said in an interview.

From the tub, [Fred] Short tried to protect his skipper by firing with the twin .50-caliber guns. Around the boat, he said, “rounds were coming everywhere. We were getting fire from both sides of the river.” As Short recalled, the guerilla raced behind a hut.

Kerry followed and fired, killing the man.

Was this “Vietcong fighter” a single assailant? As usual, O’Neill was lying about the Globe biography, in which Kerry’s crewman plainly says that the boat was “getting fire from both sides of the river” as Kerry chased down the assailant. One page earlier, Kranish describes the firefight that immediately preceded Kerry’s killing of the guerilla:
KRANISH (page 100): The machine guns on the No. 23 boat were thundering in response to the attack as skipper [William] Rood beached the boat. Reese, who believes in retrospect that this was the boat he was on, went ashore with other U.S. and South Vietnamese forces and promptly engaged in a firefight with Vietcong. As Rood later wrote in a naval report, the U.S.-led forces routed “more than 20 VC from their spider holes and entrenched positions, fleeing across open fields and heavy mangroves. Accurate gunfire cut down 3 VC and the chase which ensued netted Vietnamese militiamen, 6 VC dead and 6 weapons captured.”

Kerry’s craft, meanwhile, was just behind, and gunfire was erupting from Vietcong forces along the shoreline.

Compare that with O’Neill’s stupid statements on Nightline. Meanwhile, here is the final paragraph of the Kranish account:
KRANISH (page 103): The fighting had happened in a burst, and now it was over. Ten Vietcong had been killed and remnants of the Vietcong force had fled, according to after-action reports. U.S. forces and their South Vietnamese counterparts scoured the landscape and discovered an underground Vietcong encampment, complete with sewing machines to make uniforms.
That’s what it actually says in the Boston Globe biography, although Koppel showed no sign of knowing. And O’Neill was wildly dissembling about Brinkley’s biography too. For example, here’s how Brinkley describes the scene as Kerry and his crew examine the body of the dead guerrilla:
BRINKLEY (page 292): In the distance they could see VC running toward a tree line out of range, looking for cover in the U Minh Forest. Meanwhile, the PF [South Vietnamese] soldiers began hiking their way through the tall elephant grass. Along the way they engaged in firefights that claimed the lives of two more Viet Cong operatives. “Spider holes were all over the shore,” Fred Short recalled. “The VC were all over the place.” But after February 28, there were nine fewer of them, thanks to the uncommon bravery of John Kerry and the rest of the crew of PCF-94.
Fred Short, of course, was one of Kerry’s crewmen—the crewmen who supposedly agree with O’Neill. But Kerry’s crewmates, and Kerry himself, have always described the scene this way, not in the ludicrous way O’Neill described to Koppel.

But what about that passage on page 296, the passage O’Neill cited to Koppel? Did Kerry really say he was “glad there was only a single person there and not more?” As usual, O’Neill was slickly dissembling. Here is the passage in question:

BRINKLEY (page 296): The day after the action that won him the Silver Star, Kerry’s PCF-94 was ordered back to the Bay Hap River, but not a man on the boat felt good about it. “Morale was just beginning to reach the lowest depths,” Kerry wrote in his journal for March 1, 1969...As Kerry saw it, he had simply been lucky that the VC rocket had missed his Swift, and that he had thought quickly enough to beach it [and kill the assailant]. He could not stop wondering: Instead of one VC with a B-40 in the spider hole, what if there had been three, or five, or ten? He knew the answer, of course; in all likelihood Western Union would have been delivering death notices to the families of the men under his command, not to mention to his own parents.
By this time, Brinkley has already described the VC attacks along the river and the number of VC who were eventually killed. He has quoted the Silver Star citation, which praises Kerry for “attacking a numerically superior enemy force in the face of intense fire.” In this one passage, Kerry is thinking that if there had been more VC with B-40s at that particular spot, he and his troops would have been killed before he could have gone ashore. And as usual, O’Neill cherry-picks that single passage to mislead the public about what Brinkley’s book says. Both these books describe a substantial enemy force during the events for which Kerry won the Silver Star. O’Neill was baldly dissembling again. Quite clearly, it’s the thing he does best.

Yes, John O’Neill simply won’t stop lying. But if O’Neill’s dissembling is all too familiar, another familiar situation obtained during that Nightline session. And here it is: Throughout the discussion, Koppel didn’t show the slightest sign of knowing that O’Neill was deceiving his viewers. Koppel showed no sign of having read the Boston Globe or Brinkley biographies. He showed no sign of knowing what Kranish and Brinkley have actually said, even as O’Neill lied in his face—and lied to Nightline’s viewers.

Kranish and Brinkley both describe robust enemy attacks on this day. “We were getting fire from both sides of the river,” Short told Kranish. “The VC were all over the place,” he told Brinkley. Both writers describe the number of Viet Cong dead; both quote the Silver Star citation, which refers to “a superior enemy force.” But Koppel never showed any sign of knowing what these books actually say. Koppel had gone on the air unprepared—and O’Neill took full advantage.

Should Koppel have known what these two books say? The answer is simple: Of course! As Koppel noted at the start of this session, he had invited O’Neill on the air to discuss one incident only—the Kerry Silver Star event. How much background reading would it have taken for Koppel to be up-to-speed on this matter? The Globe biography devotes seven pages to this incident (pages 97-103). Brinkley starts on page 289, and continues to page 296 (seven pages). O’Neill’s book also gives the event seven pages (pages 80-86). In short, the three essential Kerry books devote twenty-one pages to the Silver Star event. And Koppel never showed any sign of having done this limited reading.

How easy is it to be John O’Neill? Very, very easy. Indeed, what is most amazing about this Nightline show is O’Neill’s confidence—his plain belief that he could lie to his millionaire host, and that his millionaire host would be unprepared to challenge his blatant misstatements. Throughout a long and unedifying exchange, O’Neill persistently gave the impression that “there was only a single person there and not more”—that Kerry confronted a lone teen-age assailant, not an entire Viet Cong force. He insisted that this is what the two biographies say; that this is what Kerry’s crewmen have said; and that this is what Kerry himself has said! All these claims are blatantly false. Koppel, unprepared, didn’t know it.

But this is the way of your millionaire press corps (links below). Yes, they do find plenty of time to hob-nob with the people they’re supposed to be covering. But they simply refuse to do background work—to familiarize themselves with the simplest facts about the topic they’re allegedly covering. Simply put, Ted Koppel is too rich and unconcerned to bother with basic background reading. Result? O’Neill simply lied in Koppel’s face. And give O’Neill credit—his did know his man. He gambled that Koppel would be unprepared. Predictably, he wasn’t disappointed.

TOMORROW: Ted and Colin, sittin’ in a tree

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Do any of our millionaire “journalists” ever do any background reading? In August, O’Neill lied to George Stephanopoulos—and Stephanopoulos, unprepared, didn’t know (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/04). Just three days earlier, Swift Vet Larry Thurlow gave bogus info to Chris Matthews—and Matthews was unprepared too (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/04 and 8/21/04). Two months later, Koppel still lacks the simplest information about the basic Kerry biographies. He does find time to talk muscle cars with his best buddy, Colin Powell, of course.

Of course, Koppel is perpetually unprepared, and he makes no bones about it. To see him brag to Larry King about his cluelessness, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/3/03. In that HOWLER, by the way, you can get a glimpse of the real concerns that actually do float Koppel’s boat. Watch him struggle to get the facts about the size of the basement in his neighbor’s McMansion! You’ll catch a glimpse of the actual values that drive your astonishing “press corps.”

THAT WOULD BE ROOD: William Rood was Kerry’s fellow officer on the day of the Silver Star incident. On August 22, he described the events in the Chicago Tribune, where he has worked for thirty-six years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/04). As he started his front-page essay, he described his disgust with the likes of O’Neill:

ROOD (8/22/04): Kerry's critics, armed with stories I know to be untrue, have charged that the accounts of what happened were overblown. The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there.
As Rood described what actually happened, he contradicted everything O’Neill said on Nightline. On the Bay Hap River, “[a]mbushes were a virtual certainty, and that day was no exception,” he wrote. Did Kerry deal with a single teenage assailant? Here’s the start of Rood’s account:
ROOD: The first time we took fire—the usual rockets and automatic weapons—Kerry ordered a "turn 90" and the three boats roared in on the ambush. It worked. We routed the ambush, killing three of the attackers. The troops, led by an Army adviser, jumped off the boats and began a sweep, which killed another half dozen VC, wounded or captured others and found weapons, blast masks and other supplies used to stage ambushes.
As Kerry and Rood proceeded a short way upstream, “[i]t happened again, another ambush,” Rood wrote. “As we headed for the riverbank, I remember seeing a loaded B-40 launcher pointed at the boats. It wasn't fired as two men jumped up from their spider holes.” No, Kerry didn’t chase and kill a lone teenage assailant. By contrast, here’s what Rood wrote:
ROOD: Not long after that, Kerry returned, reporting that he had killed the man he chased behind the hooch. He also had picked up a loaded B-40 rocket launcher, which we took back to our base in An Thoi after the operation.

John O'Neill, author of a highly critical account of Kerry's Vietnam service, describes the man Kerry chased as a "teenager" in a "loincloth." I have no idea how old the gunner Kerry chased that day was, but both Leeds and I recall that he was a grown man, dressed in the kind of garb the VC usually wore.

The man Kerry chased was not the "lone" attacker at that site, as O'Neill suggests. There were others who fled. There was also firing from the tree line well behind the spider holes and at one point, from the opposite riverbank as well. It was not the work of just one attacker.

On August 22, this appeared on page one of the Chicago Tribune. On that same day, it was reprinted on page one of the Los Angeles Times and on page one of the Boston Globe. It was the subject of a major New York Times page one story, and the Associated Press sent out a report. But apparently, Koppel is too lazy and compromised to waste his time with reports like this too. As we noted on Saturday, Rood has never been mentioned on Koppel’s show, and Koppel didn’t bring Rood up when O’Neill kept making his absurd allegations. Do the men who were there support O’Neill’s account? O’Neill kept saying it, over and over. Koppel, unprepared, stared at air.

Rood told his story on August 22. Who knows? Maybe Koppel was spending the day with his buddy Colin, talking about their fast cars.

FOR THE RECORD: For the record, here is the initial exchange which defines the Koppel-O’Neill dispute:

KOPPEL (10/14/04): I am...asking you to respond to what you have just heard from a bunch of people who do not seem to have—no, we got the title, Unfit for Command. You know, just do me a favor. Stop picking up books and let's see if you and I can more or less look at one another and just get a few questions and answers back and forth. You wrote—you wrote that there was only one man. And in fact, you didn't describe him as a man, you described him as a kid. You described him as a kid in a loincloth.

O’NEILL: That's not true, Ted.

KOPPEL: Turns out he was 26 or 27 years old, was sent by provincial headquarters, was a leader of a 12-man Viet Cong unit that was sent to that place, and—I am simply giving you what the folks on the scene describe—in order to ambush American swift boats. Why do you have trouble accepting that?

O’NEILL: Ted, I have a lot of trouble, Ted, because you went to a country that is a closed society. You ignored every single report. You've ignored the written biography of John Kerry by the Boston Globe, that concludes exactly what we did. Michael Kranish, who interviewed American after American, including Kerry's crewman. You ignored Kerry's own autobiography [sic], Tour of Duty, in which he says there was, there was—he was glad there was only a single gunman. Let me suggest that when we have a choice between Kerry's crewmen and our crewmen, all saying there's a single person—you never interviewed our guys, of course—but his people and ours saying there was a single guy popping up, and a group of Vietnamese who were opponents in the war, living in a closed society, you have made a very strange choice to go all the way there and pick them.

KOPPEL: Do me a favor—just explain to me. Just explain to me, if you can, why you think it is that a bunch of peasants in a truly remote part of Southern Vietnam, would have an interest in making up stories that would somehow benefit John Kerry and raise questions about your version of that particular incident? What motive could they possibly have?

O’NEILL: First thing that I can tell you for sure, Ted, is that their story is totally different than Kerry's story. It's totally different.

But their story isn’t totally different; their story is the same as Kerry’s. And it’s the same as in the Globe and Brinkley biographies, although Koppel showed no sign of knowing it.

By the way, we’d like to link you to the full transcript, but ABC makes you pay for transcripts. Somebody has to pay the freight for Koppel’s fast cars, after all.