The NYT Wages War for John Kerry vs. Swift Boat Veterans

May 30th, 2006 12:50 PM

The Sunday before Memorial Day, reporter Kate Zernike allowed Sen. John Kerry to refight his own personal Vietnam War against the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ("Kerry Pressing Swift Boat Case Long After Loss"). The Times puts the battle on the front page, and judging by the respectful tone of the story, seems to think the pro-Kerry forces vanquish the Swift Boat Veterans.

"John Kerry starts by showing the entry in a log he kept from 1969: 'Feb 12: 0800 run to Cambodia.' He moves on to the photographs: his boat leaving the base at Ha Tien, Vietnam; the harbor; the mountains fading frame by frame as the boat heads north; the special operations team the boat was ferrying across the border; the men reading maps and setting off flares."

Meanwhile, Zernike frames the Swift Boat Veterans' arguments in the most hostile possible way:

"Three decades after the Vietnam War and nearly two years after Mr. Kerry's failed presidential bid, most Americans have probably forgotten why it ever mattered whether he went to Cambodia or that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth accused him of making it all up, saying he was dishonest and lacked patriotism."

Kerry, of course, didn't just claim he went to Cambodia. He memorably claimed that he spent Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia (at a time when President Nixon said there were no U.S. troops there). The Swift Boat Veterans said he had not, and raised doubts whether he'd in fact ever crossed the forbidden border.

But Kerry campaign spokesman Jeh Johnston told the Fox News Channel in August 2004:

"John Kerry has said on the record that he had a mistaken recollection earlier. He talked about a combat situation on Christmas Eve 1968 which at one point he said occurred in Cambodia. He has since corrected the record to say it was some place on a river near Cambodia and he is certain that at some point subsequent to that he was in Cambodia. My understanding is that he is not certain about that date."

So Zernike "forgets" the whole point of the Cambodia controversy -- that Kerry had long claimed to have spent Christmas in Cambodia, not making a "run to Cambodia" on February 12 (unless that's when they celebrate it in country!).

Kerry "remembered" his Christmas in Cambodia quite well. As he told the Boston Herald in 1979:

"I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies....The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real."

In 1986, Kerry claimed on the Senate floor that the incident was "seared" into his memory.

But today, not even Kerry claims he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve. The Times sidebar simply says Kerry claims "archived reports" show his boat was "35 miles from the border" on Christmas Eve. But the Times stays silent on the whole embarrassing episode (was he there on Christmas Eve or not?), just as it did during the campaign.

The photo-with-text sidebar to Zernike's story is apparently intended to boost Kerry and disprove the Swift Boat Veterans, under a headline, "Kerry's New Evidence." The text reads: "Senator John Kerry’s supporters have gathered new documents and photographs to rebut some of the accusations that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth lobbed during the 2004 campaign."

(Nice verb choice. What's wrong with saying "made during the 2004 campaign," as opposed to making the Swift Boat Veterans sound like irresponsible bomb-throwers with the loaded word "lobbed"?)

One of Sen. Kerry's Vietnam War awards contested by the Swift Boat Veterans was his Silver Star (he was also awarded the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts). This is how the Times frames the pro-Kerry argument:

"Swift Boat Veterans for Truth said the enemy whom Mr. Kerry shot and killed in the incident for which he won the Silver Star was actually a wounded and fleeing teenager 'in a loincloth.'"

To rebut the Swift Boat Veterans, here's the Times with Kerry's side, with an accompanied photograph:

"Mr. Kerry says his photographs show the body of a man fully dressed and lying face up, suggesting, he says, that the man was shot while approaching."

But blogger Tom Maguire thinks the Times misses the boat.

"Does the Times really not understand how absurd this is? There were no Swift Boat Veterans for Truth at the scene of the Silver Star incident -- all they did was compare different versions of the incident as described in Kerry's medal citation and by Kerry himself, years later, to the Boston Globe."

Maguire then cites a 2003 Globe story, in which the Globe itself (the sister paper of the New York Times) declares:

"Out of the bush appeared a teenager in a loin cloth, clutching a grenade launcher."

Later in the Globe’s story, there’s this:

"Instead, the guerrilla got up and started running. ‘We've got to get him, make sure he doesn't get behind the hut, and then we're in trouble,’ Kerry recalled. So Kerry shot and killed the guerrilla."

In other words, according to the Globe’s interview with Kerry himself in 2003, it was a fleeing "teenager in a loincloth."

Despite those inconsistencies, Zernike says its in fact the Swift Boat Veterans who aren’t credible:

"Naval records and accounts from other sailors contradicted almost every claim they made, and some members of the group who had earlier praised Mr. Kerry's heroism contradicted themselves. Still, the charges stuck."

For more inconsistencies -- on the part of Kerry's own supporters -- Times Watch recommends Maguire's comprehensive blogging on the matter.