CNN: Will Rudy Be ‘Swiftboated’?

A report on Tuesday’s "The Situation Room," which highlighted the anti-Giuliani campaign of some family members of firefighters killed on 9/11, also tried to throw some retrospective doubt on the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" who opposed John Kerry in 2004. CNN correspondent Deborah Feyerick proposed the following question about the campaign: "is this another 'Swift Boat' situation, in which unsubstantiated attacks against John Kerry's service in Vietnam, scuttled his presidential candidacy. These families say no."

In addition to this question, CNN played two sound bites, one from Sally Reganhard, a prominent member of this campaign, and the other from a Baruch College professor, which reenforced the "unsubstantiated" label used by CNN. Reganhard indirectly accused the "Swift Boat" veterans of using lies. "The difference between the 'Swift Boating' and this is that everything that we are saying is the truth." Also, a chyron during the report proclaimed that "9/11 Families Challenge Giuliani: Efforts Compared to ‘Swiftboating.’"

Host Wolf Blitzer introduced the report, which aired at the bottom of the 5 pm hour, by immediately bringing up the "Swift Boat" comparison. "It's the cornerstone of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, the 9/11 terror attacks. But now, an unlikely group is trying to undermine that with an effort that some are comparing to the 'Swift Boat' campaign against John Kerry." Neither Blitzer nor Feyerick mention who is making this comparison.

One thing that is mentioned is the campaign’s connection to the International Association of Firefighters, a union who endorsed John Kerry in 2004. As Feyerick put it, "over the summer, these firefighter families appeared in a scathing anti-Giuliani video made by the International Association of Firefighters." The union’s president, Harold A. Schaitberger, started a close relationship with Kerry early during his 2004 campaign. In August 2007, a CNN report quoted Kerry as saying, "I still keep a picture at home of Harold Schaitberger… standing by my side the night we won the New Hampshire primary."

Immediately after the three-minute report, Blitzer conducted a four-and-a-half minute interview of Jim Riches, a deputy chief for the Fire Department of New York City who is a member of the family members’ campaign against Giuliani. After a commercial break, Blitzer then interviewed Howard Safir, a former NYC fire and police commissioner and Giuliani supporter who accused the members of the campaign of "turning the terrorist attacks of September 11th into a political football."

The full transcript of the report from Tuesday’s "The Situation Room:"

WOLF BLITZER: It's the cornerstone of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign, the 9/11 terror attacks. But now, an unlikely group is trying to undermine that with an effort that some are comparing to the 'Swift Boat' campaign against John Kerry. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is joining us now. She's watching all this unfold. So, who's challenging, Deb, Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 credentials?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is not a new group. In fact, the faces, to many New Yorkers, are familiar. These are people who have repeatedly criticized Rudy Giuliani's handling of 9/11 and all the events before and after that day. The big question - can this small group gain momentum and, if so, what does that mean to the mayor's candidacy?

FEYERICK (voice-over): This is the image many Americans have of Rudy Giuliani -- the New York City mayor covered in dust moments after the World Trade Center towers collapsed. It is an image he has evoked in his run for the White House to spotlight his leadership on that tragic day. But Sally Regenhard and others are challenging that image.

SALLY REGENHARD, MOTHER OF 9/11 FIREFIGHTER: Rudy Giuliani is no hero of 9/11.

FEYERICK: Regenhard's son was one of 343 New York City firefighters to die when the towers fell. She is part of a small, determined group of firefighter families taking on the former mayor.

REGENHARD: We want to give people the opportunity to hear the true story and to make their own decisions.

FEYERICK: On Monday, the group traveled to New Hampshire, a crucial state where Mr. Giuliani recently began running these ads.

RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe I have been tested in a way in which the American people can look to me. They're not going to find perfection, but they're going to find somebody who's dealt with crisis.

FEYERICK: The families told a handful of people about some of the fire department radios that didn't work on 9/11, about the emergency command center to coordinate a response that, instead, literally collapsed, and about the lack of respirators provided to firefighters searching for colleagues in the toxic rubble.

Political scientist, Doug Muzzio says these issues are not new, at least not to New Yorkers.

DOUG MUZZIO, BARUCH COLLEGE: There is a lot of hyperbole in what Rudy Giuliani says about what he did prior to 9/11, on 9/11, and after 9/11. But the kernel of truth is that Rudy Giuliani had his finest hour on 9/11.

FEYERICK: The Giuliani campaign cited news reports praising Giuliani's efforts on behalf of firefighters, and touting the city's preparedness. A former fire commissioner, speaking on Giuliani's behalf, accused Regenhard's group of quote, 'turning the terrorist attacks of September 11th into a political football.' The question now -- is this another 'Swift Boat' situation, in which unsubstantiated attacks against John Kerry's service in Vietnam, scuttled his presidential candidacy. These families say no.

REGENHARD: The difference between the 'Swift Boating' and this is that everything that we are saying is the truth.

FEYERICK (on-camera): Now, over the summer, these firefighter families appeared in a scathing anti-Giuliani video made by the International Association of Firefighters. Giuliani's representative called the group highly partisan. It is endorsing Democrat Chris Dodd, but says it was not part of this particular New Hampshire trip. Still, that firefighters' union is meeting after Thanksgiving to consider a much larger campaign against the former mayor. Wolf?

BLITZER: Deb Feyerick in New York, thanks very much.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center