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Sunk! Swift Boats weren't meant to ride on sewage
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
August 9, 2004

Readers who are already familiar with the smear job pulled by the "Swift Boat Vets Against Kerry" will probably want to skip this piece; you've already spent the last couple of days alternating between grinning in disbelief and shaking your head in disgust. The rest of you, gather Śround, because Uncle Zepp is gonna tell you a story.

There was this guy, a Vietnam Vet, who was approached in 1971 by Charles Colson, who was then one of Nixon's nastiest hatchetmen. The guy, one John Ellis O'Neill, had formed a group called "Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace." This group was formed to counter the much vaster "Vietnam Veterans Against the War," who had basically taken over the anti-war movement in recent years. Nixon was dismayed, both by the size of the anti-war movement, and the fact that they had found a charismatic and fearless representative to expound their views before Congress, Lieutenant John F. Kerry.

Colson wanted O'Neill to do anything possible to discredit Kerry. He wrote, "Let's destroy this young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader." Colson did everything he could to boost O'Neill and his group of vets (the term, "Astroturf political groups" didn't exist yet, but the VVJP definitely fit the description). They even arranged a meeting with the President so they could shake hands and Nixon could tell them what brave patriots they were and all the rest of it. O'Neill's moment of glory came when he got to debate John Kerry about the war on the old Dick Cavett Show. The tone taken by each man is illustrated by the following quotes:

O'Neill: "Mr. Kerry is the type of person who lives and survives only on the war weariness and fears of the American people. This is the same little man who on nationwide television in April spoke of, quote, crimes committed on a day to day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."

Kerry: "We believe as veterans who took part in this war we have nothing to gain by coming back here and talking about those things that have happened except to try and point the way to America, to try and say, here is where we went wrong, and we've got to change."

In the end, the disgraceful war staggered to a disgraceful end, and the disgraceful Nixon presidency also staggered to a disgraceful end. Kerry went on to law school and then became a prosecuting attorney. O'Neill clerked for William Rehnquist for a year, and then wound up in the law firm of Clements, O'Neill, Pierce, Wilson and Fulkerson. His partners included Margaret A. Wilson, who was George Putsch's general counsel, and the late Tex Lezer, champion of conservative causes and, like O'Neill, a permanent Kerry enemy. He, in turn, was married to one Merrie Spaeth. Her name will appear several times more.

For the next 25 years, O'Neill was a generally apolitical and obscure cog on one of the right wing's legal apparatuses, while Kerry went into politics and eventually became a United States Senator.

In April, when it became clear that Kerry was going to be the Democratic nominee in the Presidential elections, the right wing blew the dust off O'Neill's container and led him, blinking and scowling, into the light to square off once again against his foe from thirty years past.

O'Neill, still steaming over the effrontery of Kerry in describing war crimes and other atrocities committed by US troops (Colin Powell described the same things, but apparently it's ok if a conservative does it) was more than up for the task of rekindling his thirty year feud, and, in conjunction with Gannon Industries, a big Putsch supporter, set up "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth." This groups' existence was announced in May, when right wing operative Merrie Spaeth (remember Merrie? Widow of the late Tex, O'Neill's late law partner) arranged a press conference, seeing to it that outfits such as Drudge, Fox, NewsMax, Free Republic, Washington Times and Regnery Publishing were there.

At this point, there's nothing unusual about the story. The right wing is constantly dragging old warriors back for carefully orchestrated promotions in the right wing echo chamber of newly-founded astroturf groups. In the normal course of events, the group would get a blaze of publicity from the Scaife, Aielles and Murdoch empires, along with the Drudge Report, and they would hope the real media would notice and report on it. Eventually, a right wing hack or two would write a book about the group for Regnery Press, Scaife or someone would make bulk purchases in order to push the book into the top twenty sales, and a new right wing propaganda piece would be born. These carefully orchestrated hit pieces have been run, over and over, attacking the Clintons, and any and all liberals and moderates that the right thinks needs to be destroyed.

And sure enough, Hannity and O'Reilly and Limbaugh and Scarsborough and all the rest praised the group to the skies, incorrectly describing them as "crewmates" and superior officers of Kerry, and assuring one and all that Kerry was a phony who didn't deserve the medals he threw away.

This time, things went catastrophically wrong.

First, questions were raised about the group's basis for their claims. A group of people who said they were Kerry's crewmates had appeared at the Democratic convention, and a quick check showed they WERE his crewmates, and the people at "Swift Boats" were not. In fact, most of them didn't even know Kerry over in Vietnam, hadn't heard of him until he appeared before Congress in 1971. None of them - not one - had actually served with Kerry on Kerry's boat.

Then there was the nature of the accusations. Claims were made that Kerry had somehow put in himself for his medals, that he had received purple hearts for minor scratches, even that he had self-inflicted wounds in order to get medals. Talk like this doesn't sit well with vets, and to top it off, here were Kerry's real crewmates, staunchly defending their Lieutenant.

Then one of the star witnesses to the entire Kerry affaire, one George Elliott, had said that Kerry, who was then under his command, didn't deserve the silver star. According to Elliott, Kerry "lied about what occurred in Vietnam. . . for example, in connection with his Silver Star, I was never informed that he had simply shot a wounded, fleeing Viet Cong in the back."

This was tried out on the under-the-media-radar area of Free Republic, Usenet, and other internet conversation areas, and while people asked why Elliott, as commanding officer, put Kerry up for a silver star he felt he didn't deserve, right wingers noted approvingly that the accusation caused consternation among the hated liberals and Democrats. They decided it was good to go, and made a TV ad and had a hack "co-write" [ghost-write] a book for Regnery Publishing.

At which point, the whole smear job blew apart. Elliott, in an interview with the Boston Globe, said, "I still don't think he shot the guy in the back. It was a terrible mistake probably for me to sign the affidavit with those words. I'm the one in trouble here."

Reporters quickly discovered that none of the group had actually served with Kerry. Some never even met him under any circumstances. The ones who had were all at the convention, supporting him. Ooops.

John McCain, Republican Senator from Arizona, said of the ad, "I deplore this kind of politics. I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable." He went on to say he couldn't believe the President could be involved in such a cheap stunt. The White House hurriedly put out a memo denying any involvement with the ad while failing to condemn it, which is their usual feint-and-jab response when called on dirty tricks.

Alert reporters noticed that Merrie Spaeth, along with the law offices of Stevens, Reed, Curcio & Potham, had been involved in the smear campaigns against John McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000, and the Max Cleland campaign in 2002 in Georgia. The woman apparently doesn't mind pissing on war vets if it's for a good, partisan cause. McCain himself drew a sharp focus on the White House by reminding everyone that he had been subject to the same sort of smear in 2000, when he was accused of, among other things, betraying his prison mates to the North Vietnamese in return for favors.

Then there was the matter of the BOOK. "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry." Everyone knows that O'Neill is the supposed author. But the fellow who "co-wrote" it was one Jerome R. Corsi, PhD. And Corsi, it seems, is what can be best described as a vicious right wing crackpot. Media Matters, David Brock's outfit, looked into Corsi, and discovered that he was an active participant in the lunatic-fringe "Free Republic" website. Posting under the name "jrlc" he opined that Kerry was secretly Jewish (apparently this is a grave character flaw in Corsi's eyes) and usually referred to the Senator as "John F*ing Commie Kerry" (For full details about this guy and a list of the utterly insane stuff he posts, go to http://mediamatters.org/items/200408060010 ).

Not only has this smear attempt backfired and made all the right people look stupid and ridiculous, but if Putsch doesn't condemn it in strong terms, he will lose a lot of military votes, and it almost certainly will ruin any hope he has of winning this election. It may put him so far behind he won't even be able to steal it.

Others on the right wing may have already realized this. When researching for material about Corsi and his book, I went to Regnery's Press website. I found no mention of the book anywhere on the site, which is a very strange omission for a publisher to make regarding a book where all the other promotions, including TV ads and interviews on Faux, are in full swing.

But then, this isn't the first time Regnery Press has engaged in the Stalinesque habit of making books and authors "unhappen." You can search in vain for their all-time best selling author, the man who wrote three of their top five best sellers: David Brock.

That Regnery has dropped the promotion is the best evidence yet that this is a smear job that backfired. My prediction: if you hear anything more about the Swift Boat Veterans, it won't be from the GOP and their vast right wing echo chamber.

Posted: August 14, 2004


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