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THE PRESS CORPS STILL LOVES THOSE ACCUSERS (PART 3)! John O’Neill’s gang can’t seem to shoot straight. Why won’t the press corps confront them? // link //

MAKING MERRIE: Finally! Merrie Spaeth, spokeswoman for the Swift Boat Vets, finally appeared on cable last night, showing up in Scarborough Country. Quickly, Joe got right in her face. Was she behind those nasty ads that hammered McCain in South Carolina?
SCARBOROUGH (8/24/04): The New York Times says that you've been involved with the Swift Boat Vets. The New York Times also said that you were the spokesperson for that fringe veteran group that also smeared John McCain [in 2000]. Is that true?
At last, a chance to get the facts! And Spaeth was happy to tell the world that she hadn’t pushed those ads. In fact, the whole thing was just a big puzzle:
SPAETH (continuing directly): No, absolutely, positively not. I run a corporate firm. We've been in business for 17 years. I am—I'm astounded that they would say things like that and even more astounded that journalists wouldn't take the time to go check it out.
Merrie was astounded by the whole thing! As always, Joe pretended that he was trying to get the “real deal.” Just watch the way he keeps on digging:
SCARBOROUGH (continuing directly): What's the real story, then?

SPAETH: Well, you have to go ask the people who put on the ads in South Carolina. The guy who put on the ads in New York has come forward, sent a letter to the Times, and tried to clarify the record. But the idea that the Kerry campaign can repeat things that aren't true, it’s very disturbing to me.

SCARBOROUGH: Did you have no connection with the McCain ads in South Carolina in 2000?

SPAETH: None. None! Zero! What's lower than zero? Nothing.

SCARBOROUGH: You didn't act as a spokesperson for one day, for one minute, for one second?


Phew! With one unexplained reference to “the ads in New York,” Spaeth played pious victim.

The real victims, of course, were Scarborough’s viewers, who he and Spaeth were playing for fools. As he grilled Merrie, Joe showed the chart about Bush-Swift Boat ties, the chart from last Friday’s New York Times. And he had Merrie’s name gaily circled. But what had the Times report really said about Spaeth? Do you mind if we quote the actual real deal? It was written by Kate Zernike:

ZERNIKE (8/20/04): In 2000, Ms. Spaeth was spokeswoman for a group that ran $2 million worth of ads attacking Senator John McCain's environmental record and lauding Mr. Bush's in crucial states during their fierce primary battle. The group, calling itself Republicans for Clean Air, was founded by a prominent Texas supporter of Mr. Bush, Sam Wyly.
The Times didn’t say squat about “fringe veterans” or South Carolina. (Wyly’s phony ads about McCain ran in later, northern primaries.) But then, the Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller said the same thing in yesterday’s paper, before Joe ran his fake interview:
BUMILLER (8/24/04): Mr. Perry has donated $200,000 to the Swift boat group, records show, and Merrie Spaeth, a Republican strategist who has been advising the Swift boat group, was a spokeswoman for Sam Wyly's advertising campaign in 2000.
Again, nothing about fringe vets or South Carolina. But so what! Joe and Merrie both played it dumb, pretending that they couldn’t imagine what the Times was doing—and trashing “the Kerry campaign” for its lies. Readers, if you like to be played for a total fool, just cross into Scarborough Country.

By the way, how fake was Joe this day? The previous night, Spaeth had been mentioned on his show, by someone from that lyin’ Kerry campaign. Here’s what Steve Elmendorf said:

ELMENDORF (8/23/04):Merrie Spaeth, who did the P.R. for the Wyly brothers attack on John McCain, is doing the P.R. for the Swift Boat Veterans.
Maybe Joe just wasn’t listening. The next night, Merrie complained about the troubling way “the Kerry campaign” has been lying about her past conduct.

Our current series: The press corps still loves those accusers (part 3)!

THE VETS WHO CAN’T SHOOT STRAIGHT: John O’Neill has a way with numbers—and when he appeared on Sunday’s This Week, he seems to showcased this striking skill. George Stephanopoulos quoted Kerry saying, in 1986, “I remember Christmas of 1968, sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia.” And he quoted O’Neill in Unfit for Command, saying, “Kerry's statements are complete lies. Kerry was never in Cambodia during Christmas '68 or at all during the Vietnam War. Kerry was never ordered into Cambodia by anyone and would have been court-martialed had he gone there.” After laying out the quotes, Stephanopoulos asked O’Neill for a comment. And O’Neill had the numbers on Kerry:

O’NEILL (8/22/04): You asked about Cambodia. How do I know he’s not in Cambodia? I was on the same river, George. I was there two months after him. Our patrol area ran to Sa Dec, it was 50 miles from Cambodia. There isn’t any “watery border.” The Mekong River's like the Mississippi. There were gunboats stationed right up there to stop people from coming. And our boats didn't go north of, only slightly north of Sa Dec. So it was a made-up story. He’s told it over fifty times, George. That was on the floor of the Senate [in 1986].
“He’s told the story over fifty times,” O’Neill said. But was O’Neill just showing his way with numbers again? In yesterday’s Post, Joshua Muravchik wrote a shaky op-ed piece trashing Kerry as a big liar (“Kerry’s Cambodia Whopper”). But Muravchik, a scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, seems to count differently than O’Neill does. He referred to Kerry’s “apparently fabricated claim that he fought in Cambodia:”
MURAVCHIK (8/24/04): It is an assertion he made first, insofar as the written record reveals, in 1979 in a letter to the Boston Herald. Since then he has repeated it on at least eight occasions during Senate debate or in news interviews, most recently to The Post this year (an interview posted on Kerry's Web site).
So which is it? Is it fifty times? Or more like eight? You’re never quite sure when O’Neill plays the numbers. After all, moments earlier he had told Stephanopoulos that “there's not a bullet hole anywhere” in the Bronze Star incident (a baldly false statement) and “we have every other officer on the scene that day, all of whom, four of them, who say there was no enemy fire” (also untrue). It seems O’Neill has a way with numbers. In fact, it seems that he just makes them up.

Did Kerry ever enter Cambodia? Muravchik’s reasoning is sometimes weak, sometimes non-existent. We expect to learn more about this matter in the days ahead. But more generally, can reporters believe the various things O’Neill says? It’s a question the mainstream press should be asking as they decide how to handle the Swift Boat accusations. Shouldn’t accusers be held to high standards when they push themselves into a White House campaign? The answer to that seems fairly obvious. But the Washington press corp has been afraid to tell the truth about the Not-Too-Swift Veterans. John O’Neill’s gang, time and again, have seemed like The Vets Who Can’t Shoot Straight. But alas! A cowering press corps—indifferent, afraid—seems unwilling or unable to confront this.

Yes, O’Neill will lie in Stephanopoulos’ face—and Stephanopoulos, unprepared, won’t correct him (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/04). And yes, Vets will give Chris Matthews irrelevant information—and Matthews, unprepared, won’t realize (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/04). Yes, the millionaire squires of the Washington “press corps” are often too lazy to acquire real facts. But by now, the overt clowning of the Swift Boat Vets should be apparent even to slackers like these. But sadly, the Washington press corps is just too indifferent to take on these water-logged warriors.

How clownish are the Swift Boat Veterans? Let us start to count the ways—and let us ask why the Washington press corps refuses to discuss their blatant clowning.

First, should the press corps put up with a clown like Al French? In the first Swift Boat ad, French is the very first Veteran to speak. “I served with John Kerry,” he mournfully says. Moments later, he says, without specificity: “He is lying about his record.” And French even swore to the truth of his statements, as the AP’s Andrew Kramer reports:

KRAMER (8/24/04): Before recording the ad, French signed an affidavit that said: "I am able to swear, as I do hereby swear, that all facts and statements contained in this affidavit are true and correct and within my personal knowledge and belief.”
But French did not have “personal knowledge.” How long will the press corps continue to tolerate a group made of clowns like Al French?
KRAMER: In an interview with The Oregonian newspaper last week, French said he relied on the accounts of three other veterans in making the statement about Kerry and did not personally witness the events. French did not return two messages left at his office Monday.
French didn’t know whereof he spoke! But he went ahead and swore an oath anyway—and thereby became the very first person seen on the first Swift Boats ad! And yes, John O’Neill put French in the ad. How long will the Washington press put up with men of this hopeless low caliber?

And while we’re asking: How long will the Washington press cover up for a kook like George Elliott? The scatter-brained skipper has been all over the creek, contradicting himself left and right about Kerry (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/04). And yet he’s one of the leading players in this whole Swift Boat saga! In early August, in fact, Elliott reversed himself three times in a week; in response, the Swift Boat Vets tried to cover his tracks with a phony story about the Boston Globe’s Michael Kranish posted by—who else?—Matt Drudge! But have you seen a major pundit complain about Elliott’s overt, bizarre conduct? When will they drop their polite descriptions of Elliott’s flips and ask the world the obvious question—why do we tolerate men like this when they intrude on a White House election?

And why does the press corps continue to tolerate a story like the one about William Schachte? What happened when Kerry won his first Purple Heart? In the original rendition, Kerry had gone on an overnight mission with two crewmates—William Zaladonis and John Runyon. But uh-oh! Zaladonis and Runyon agree with the shape of the story as Kerry (and Navy records) tell it. So what happened next? The Swift Boat Vets popped up and said that Schachte had been on the boat that night too—and he had a different story to tell (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/04). And wouldn’t you know it? The bashful boatsman won’t give any interviews—won’t explain this strange tale to reporters! How long will the national press corps put up with such overt, silly clowning?

Schachte gets air-brushed in—and won’t speak. Swift Boat Vets crawl all over cable, describing events they didn’t see. Elliott stages a day-by-day breakdown. O’Neill goes on This Week and lies in your face. And all of this is being done as the American people conduct an election! How long will the Washington “press corps” put up with men of such utterly laughable character? More specifically, when will the Washington press corps decide that it’s time to get tough with accusers?

Al French swore an oath—and he lied. Isn’t it fitting that Al French was the very first Vet who spoke on the ad? And isn’t it sad that the Washington “press” is afraid to reject such accusers?

TOMORROW: Part 4! They’ve covered for accusers the past dozen years. When will they make all this stop?

POSTSCRIPT—AL FRENCH, OFFICER OF THE COURT: Here’s the comic highlight of the Al French debacle. Try to believe that the Washington press tolerates men of this caliber:

KRAMER: District Attorney John Foote released a statement Monday chiding French for bringing unwanted publicity to the suburban county's office.
That’s right! The man who swore an oath about events he didn’t witness works as a prosecutor in Oregon’s Clackamas County! Why does the press corps put up with these people? Meanwhile, why are the prisons full of innocent people? This story gives you a clue.

POSTSCRIPT—O’NEILL IN CAMBODIA: Tape has now surfaced in which O’Neill tells Nixon, in 1971, that he, O’Neill, was inside Cambodia! Here’s the text of the exchange. The tape was played last night on CNN’s Newsnight:

O'NEILL (1971): I was in Cambodia, sir. I worked along the border on the water.

NIXON: In a Swift boat?

O'NEILL: Yes, sir.

As noted, O’Neill says in his book that Kerry would have been court-martialed had he gone into Cambodia.

At present, O’Neill is getting his story together. “O'Neill may have an explanation for this, but he has not returned CNN’s calls,” Joe Johns reported last night. Hey! We’ve got a great idea! If a court-martial comes down the pike, maybe Al French can defend him!

POSTSCRIPT—SPINNING TO CAMBODIA: How clownish is the spinning about Cambodia? As we’ve said, we expect that there will be more to come on the topic of Kerry and Cambodia. But how clownish have some in the press corps been? Here’s Tony Blankley in the Washington Times. Forgive the length of the quote:

WASHINGTON TIMES EDITORIAL (8/10/04): On the floor of the Senate on March 27, 1986, Sen. John Kerry issued this statement: "I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the President of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia, I have that memory which is seared—seared—in me."

Mr. Kerry's statement at the time was similar to other statements he had made after returning from duty in Vietnam, and throughout much of the 1970s. Writing for the Boston Herald in October 1979, Mr. Kerry said this: "I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. 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."

First, the obvious: Richard Nixon was not president in December 1968, and no history of the Vietnam era suggests that Lyndon Johnson ever ordered troops into Cambodia; but those are minor points.

Let’s start with a tedious but basic observation. Notice that Kerry only named Nixon (mistakenly) on one occasion—in 1979. He didn’t mention Nixon in 1986, a point the Blankleys like to obscure. Enjoy the clowning as you see them make a major fuss about this one pointless error.

Needless to say, Blankley’s misstatements are more entertaining. “No history of the Vietnam era suggests that Lyndon Johnson ever ordered troops into Cambodia?” On Monday, Slate’s Fred Kaplan quoted William Shawcross' well-known history, Sideshow:

SHAWCROSS (page 24): Since May 1967, when the U.S. Military Command in Saigon became concerned at the way the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong were evading American “search and destroy” and air attacks in Vietnam by making more use of bases in Laos and Cambodia, the U.S. Special Forces had been running special, highly classified missions into the two countries. Their code name was Daniel Boone.

The Daniel Boone teams entered Cambodia all along its 500-mile frontier with South Vietnam from the lonely, craggy, impenetrable mountain forests in the north, down to the well-populated and thickly reeded waterways along the Mekong River.

Duh! According to the Kerry campaign, Kerry did run one such mission, though not on Christmas Eve. We assume that details will follow. Meanwhile, the next time Tony reads a history, let’s hope he settles in and makes it to page 24.