NYT's Attack on Verb 'Swift Boat' Ignores Facts and Media's Role

The New York Times published an article Monday about the anger some Vietnam veterans feel over the vessel they used to serve on, Swift Boat, now being synonymous with "the nastiest of campaign smears."

In dredging up this issue, Times' writer Kate Zernike not only misrepresented many of the facts surrounding the claims made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, but also completely ignored the mainstream media's role in turning the name of this patrol craft into a political pejorative.

In fact, something the Times conveniently chose not to share with its readers was how one of its own columnists, Frank Rich, wrote one of the earliest and most prominent pieces recharacterizing this nautical term as a smear tactic in his August 21, 2005, article "The Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan."

But before we get there, here's what the Times had to say Monday (emphasis added throughout, h/t NBer Bingo):

“Swift boat” has become the synonym for the nastiest of campaign smears, a shadow that hangs over the presidential race as pundits wait to proclaim that the Swiftboating has begun and candidates declare that they will not be Swiftboated.

Swift boat veterans — especially those who had nothing to do with the group that attacked Senator John Kerry’s military record in the 2004 election — want their good name back, and the good names of the men not lucky enough to come home alive.

As the piece ensued, Zernike continued the misinformation campaign that she's been on for years concerning this issue with some of the same falsehoods present in her May 28, 2006, column "Kerry Pressing Swift Boat Case Long After Loss."

A week later, investigative reporter and editor Thomas Lipscomb, who had broken a lot of the military record information of both Kerry and George W. Bush during the 2004 campaign, debunked much of Zernike's misrepresentations in a June 5, 2006, op-ed at Real Clear Politics:

Kate Zernike's story on the front page of the Memorial Day Sunday New York Times, "Kerry Pressing Swift Boat Case Long After Loss," is an unfortunate reminder of the Times's embarrassingly poor coverage of Kerry in the face of the Swift Boat Veterans' for Truth charges in the 2004 election.

In a truly delicious example of serendipity, Lipscomb published a blog at the Huffington Post Sunday evening just in time to bash recent media reports concerning the Swift Boat Vets:

The vast majority of what is left of the press is a decidedly atypical group of Americans who don't smoke or drink and have never been in the cub scouts or brownies, much less in the military service. And they do a lousy job of even reading military records intelligently, much less reporting on them.

And they continue to do so, as one can see with the latest frisson in The Huffington Post where both Jeffrey Klein and Sam Stein have run with stories that were just dead wrong in their basic facts about John Kerry's records release and his bet with Boone Pickens. And at the same time a minor Boston Globe columnist and Kerry's New York Times kneepads in residence reporter got the Pickens-Kerry bet story just as wrong for the same reason as they celebrated the Sandusky-Short group's appearance.

They have covered only one side of the story and they hadn't a clue how to research the realities of a confusing situation. No one had apparently even looked at the basic correspondence between Kerry and Pickens of November 16, 2007 which established their positions at the beginning.

Readers are strongly encouraged to review Lipscomb's entire lengthy analysis for information concerning Kerry, the Swift Boat Vets, and the wager offered by T. Boone Pickens that virtually no press outlet dares cover with such detail and clarity.

Moving forward, what's even worse than Zernike's abuse of facts in her most recent piece was that in her seeming angst concerning the pejorative use of the term Swift Boat, she chose not to address how liberals in the media are responsible for it.

Most comical indeed is that one of the earliest, prominent such usages was by her own colleague, Frank Rich (emphasis added):

Once [Cindy] Sheehan could no longer be ignored, the Swift Boating began. Character assassination is the Karl Rove tactic of choice, eagerly mimicked by his media surrogates, whenever the White House is confronted by a critic who challenges it on matters of war. The Swift Boating is especially vicious if the critic has more battle scars than a president who connived to serve stateside and a vice president who had "other priorities" during Vietnam.

The following day, Fox News's Bill O'Reilly took issue with the use of this term:

Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thank you for watching us tonight. The swift boating of Cindy Sheehan, that is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo".

This story is no longer about Ms. Sheehan. It's now about the far left media trying to legitimatize her in the face of some damning evidence. Sympathetic newspaper columnists are putting forth that Cindy is being smeared by people like me. They call it the swift boating of Cindy Sheehan. Catchy, but totally misleading.

And, the rest, as they say, is history. From that point, press outlet after press outlet began referring to the right's treatment of Sheehan as "Swiftboating," forever changing the meaning of this previously innocent nautical term.

For instance, readers should recall Arianna Huffington's January 16, 2006, column "The President Needs to Denounce the Swift-Boating of Murtha... Now!," as well as Times columnist Paul Krugman's May 29, 2006, piece "Swift Boating the Planet."

As such, Ms. Zernike, if you really are angered by the pejorative use of Swift Boat, and want to help the veterans referred to in your article return the term to one "[connoting] service with honor," why don't you call on your fellow liberal journalists to cease and desist from using it this despicable way?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.