Put simply, the 2004 election recap was emblematic of why the media’s biased and this series was made way too soon. Instead of focusing on how the 2004 election results yielded a mandate for Bush, it offered a wink and nudge to the audience that the Bush campaign stole it from John Kerry thanks to dark money propping up Swift Boats Veterans and scaring voters about gay people.
Among the more noticeable cases of bias by omission were the absences of Kerry’s flip–flopping on support for the Iraq War and Dan Rather concocting and peddling some fake news about Bush’s military service. Yes, really.
Instead of shaming Rather, the makers of the documentary repeatedly touted Rather in old news clips, such as this one seeking to tar and feather the Republican National Convention (which the MRC chronicled here):
Good evening, we’re a block off Broadway and it’s opening night for the first Republican convention ever held in New York City. The choice of this city was no accident. It's much about image. The image of President Bush at Ground Zero as commander-in-chief on a war on terror. That's the picture he wants voters to remember, but that image is competing with this one. The massive weekend protest here against President Bush's policies and the war in Iraq.
Thomas looked back with glee that “Kerry seemed to solve a problem for the Democratic Party” and its image as the “mommy party” seen as being “softer and...weaker and the Democrat had to show they were more war-like.”
“He was able to use his Vietnam service as a weapon really against George W. Bush. He's able to say when the bell rang at Vietnam, I said send me. I want a Silver Star. I won a Bronze Star. I won three purple hearts,” fellow liberal historian Douglas Brinkley swooned.
Working for CBS at the time, Byron Pitts was a chief Kerry suck-up, so it was no surprise that election sounbites featured him fretting about the Swift Boats ad and defending Kerry against a fact-free, partisan attack:
There was a time when John Kerry’s war record seemed untouchable, but in just two weeks, a small veterans group has managed to put the Senator on the defensive....The public face that of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is that of a salty band of Vietnam vets who served the same time as Kerry, but a closer look shows the group has the support of big money Republicans in Texas with direct ties to the Bush White House and the President’s political adviser Karl Rove.
A soundbite that was not included but flagged down in an August 18, 2004 Media Reality Check was Pitts’s assertion that the Swift Boat Vets “unleashed decades of bitterness” and “[i]f you think this is just a concerned group of veterans, think again.”
Thomas agreed, complaining that they “made it seem like he had exaggerated his exploits” and thus it was “unfair” and “untrue, but it worked and Kerry lost some altitude because of those Swift Boat Veteran attacks.”
It’s interesting that Thomas was even interviewed as he admitted on July 10, 2004 that “[t]he media, I think, wants Kerry to win” while portraying he and running mate John Edwards “as being young and dynamic and optimistic” with “this glow” that will give them a 15-point pump in the polls. Of course, Thomas didn’t mention any of that in 2018.
Following the election, the MRC’s Brent Baker, Rich Noyes, and Tim Graham compiled the “Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004” with Rather’s taking the top spot.