NPR Host Presses Jake Tapper to Describe Horror of 'So Many Lies' by Swift Boat Vets on Kerry in 2004

Pardon the age of this item, but it's on an issue of campaign history. On March 13, NPR Fresh Air host Terry Gross interviewed new CNN host Jake Tapper about politics and journalism, and whether there was blowback from presidents and candidates over tough questions. But Gross felt compelled to bring up the "lies" told about John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign -- without expressing anything specific.

Tapper said he was assigned as a Swift Boat Veteran fact checker by ABC. Gross said, "So you were fact-checking some of the Swift Boat attacks against presidential candidate John Kerry. There were so many lies in those attacks. What was the fact-checking like, and how effective do you think it was in trying to counteract the lies?"

TAPPER: Well, I'm pretty proud of that fact-checking. We were pretty good about defending John Kerry's record as adequately and affirmatively conveyed in military records and the records of people who were actually on the boats with John Kerry, as opposed to other Swift Boat veterans who were not on the boats with John Kerry. But I don't know that - this was definitely an era of he said-she said journalism.

And, unfortunately, as is the case in society in general, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. And the untruths about John Kerry were more potent than the record-correcting that media attempted - not on behalf of John Kerry, but on behalf of medical records and facts and the war record of somebody who volunteered to captain a Swift Boat through the rivers of the jungles of Vietnam.

And it's a shame that - I mean, whether or not John Kerry should be president is a whole other discussion, but it's a shame that military records and firsthand testimonials were so often disregarded in favor of angry personal attacks.

Stop right there. Let's get in the rewind machine. Tapper now says "firsthand testimonials" were disregarded. Now who needs the fact check? On "Nightline" on August 19, 2004, Tapper was fairly objective (more objective than others) in noting there were firsthand testimonials on BOTH sides:

TAPPER: Some of the group's charges have eyewitness accounts disputing the Kerry and the official Navy version. Like about the events of March 13th, 1969, for instance, the day Kerry earned a Bronze Star for plucking Green Beret Jim Rassmann from the Bay Hap River. Kerry's bronze star citation says his boat and four others were receiving small arms and automatic weapons fire, and that Rassmann was receiving sniper fire from both banks. 35 years later, anti- Kerry veteran Larry Thurlow, commander of a nearby boat says there was never any fire.

LARRY THURLOW, VIETNAM VETERAN: He embellished his story, in fact, told lies about the situation that developed when he got his Bronze Star.

TAPPER: (Voice Over) Thurlow is supported by others in his group there that day. But as first reported in today's "Washington Post," Thurlow's own citation mentions "small arms and automatic weapons fire." Thurlow discussed in a phone interview today.

THURLOW: This comes from John Kerry's report of that day, which said we were under this extreme fire. We were not.

TAPPER: Jim Rassmann disagrees and insists he was under fire.

JIM RASSMANN, KERRY CREWMATE: I know what happened. I know that if it hadn't been for his efforts I would have been killed.

TAPPER: So, in short, contradicting accounts and memories, a confusing list of accusations, some more credible than others, none provable, all apparently disputed by official Navy records.

John Kerry ran for president for many months trashing President Bush -- including mocking his service in the Texas Air National Guard -- and touting his own Vietnam-veteran story as his greatest qualification in the Democratic field, and yet somehow, liberal journalists repeated all his war stories. Why did take until August for anyone in the media to get interested in what was true and false in it?

But nine years later, leftist NPR host Terry Gross is sticking to the line that no eyewitness could have possibly disagreed with Kerry's G.I. Joe accounting of his own combat heroism. "Official Navy records" in this case include Kerry's own reports.

GROSS: Did you find it discouraging how the media covered the Swift Boating story? Because some of the media covered both sides, as if both sides, you know, two different, valid versions of the truth, when one side was not telling the truth.

TAPPER: Yeah, I did. I did find it frustrating. I find it frustrating any time there's a false equivalence made by the media, because we are supposed to have the moral standing and intellectual standing to say when something is true and when something is not true. And I don't think that the media always measures up to it. I'm sure I haven't always measured up to it, as well.

But I will say that this - I do think that this is the flipside of a different problem, which is one of I think a cultural bias that some members of the media have. And I think that it's not - I think it's simplifying to say that the media's liberal, but I do think that the media, in general, comes from blue-state worlds or blue cities, and doesn't necessarily understand red states as well as we should. And I think trying to overcorrect that, sometimes we fall into the pit of false equivalence.

GROSS: Was it interesting for you to have watched Senator Kerry's confirmation hearings as Secretary of State and now see him as Secretary of State after having fact-checked all of the Swift Boat allegations against him?

TAPPER: I have to tell you, I was - because I was cleaning out my office at ABC News and moving to CNN, I came across my John Kerry Swift Boat file. And I kept it, because I thought that we were going to hear all the same arguments again. And I wanted - you know, I had all the military records and official after-action reports and testimonials from his - from firsthand witnesses and the like.

And I was pretty amazed that none of it came out, except for a little bit, I guess, on Sean Hannity. There was very little of the smears against his war record. And I guess instead, they just focused on a different nominee for a different position. But it's pretty telling.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis