At the start of the 2004 Campaign, John Kerry’s military experience was a political asset. Then came the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose smears against the candidate’s military record were picked up and reported uncritically by the media. Last week, there was another attempt at swift-boating, as the GOP-connected Cybercast News Service ran a story poking holes in Congressman John Murtha’s military career. This time, Brooke says, the press didn’t take the bait.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now a recent case in which reporters largely lived up to the old adage "once burned, twice shy." This time when would-be arsonists tossed a match, instead of fanning the flames, reporters reached for the hose.
KEITH OLBERMANN: Today's worst person in the world!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Keith Olbermann, on his MSNBC show, "Countdown," put it more emphatically than most.
KEITH OLBERMANN: The winner is Brent Bozell. [ORGAN MUSIC UP AND UNDER] His Cybercast News Service is apparently trying to start another one of those Swift Boat Vet hatchet jobs, this time against the Vietnam vet, Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania. The, quote, "CNS News," unquote, story is a rehash of 25 years of unproven allegations that Murtha, who volunteered to go to Vietnam and won two purple hearts there, didn't deserve them. In massaging those charges, Bozell's writers used the following words: "allege," "alleging," "apparently," "appears," "indicated," "may" and "reportedly." Brent Bozell of CNS News – today's worst person in the world!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Like I said, emphatic. I mean, Osama's still out there. But nerves are still raw from when the last so-called Swiftboat incident occurred, the one that smeared Democratic candidate John Kerry during the 2004 election. An ad campaign launched by a GOP-connected group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth labeled Kerry a liar and his Vietnam war decorations a sham. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Cable news went wall-to-wall on the ads and the charges therein.
ON-AIR REPORTER: We begin this hour with a display of political showmanship, gamesmanship, brinksmanship that's sure to keep the Swift Boat flap afloat for a few more days.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It was classic he-said/she-said coverage, and it gave the story traction, which, in hindsight, most agree it didn't deserve. It would have been funny if it weren't so sad. Well, to "The Daily Show" it was funny.
JON STEWART: You've seen the records, haven't you? What's your opinion?
ROB CORDDRY: I'm sorry. My opinion? [LAUGHTER] No, I don't have opin-ions. [LAUGHTER] I'm a reporter, Jon. My job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says and half the time repeating the other - a little thing called objectivity. You might want to look it up someday. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: According to the dictionary, it's "judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices." The media applied "The Daily Show's" definition to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, but reporters do seem to be sticking with the dictionary when it comes to the Cybercast News Service assault on Murtha. There was a recent Washington Post piece that was slammed for the way it picked up the Cybercast News story, citing the attacks against Murtha without much examination of the attackers, who either carried old grudges or were explicitly partisan or were apparently dead. But for the most part, the news pages declined to spill much ink on the charges while the op-ed pages took umbrage at yet another attempt to smear a veteran exercising the right to dissent. Maybe the story hasn't stuck because we're not in the midst of an election. That's when torrents of campaign money soaked and spread the mud hurled at Kerry and at Senator Max Cleland, maimed in Vietnam, and, in 2000, at former prisoner-of-war John McCain. Or maybe that particular tactic has finally run its course. Maybe it's a little too obvious or, in its shabby treatment of former soldiers, a little too crude. We'll see next election season. For now, we'll just offer a provisional bon voyage to the little Swift Boat that couldn't. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]