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ANOTHER FINE ANSWER! A Vietnam vet told Sean the wrong thing. But then, so did General Tommy Franks: // link //

PART FOUR TOMORROW: Yes, we’ve really seen it all with these shaky Swift Boat accusers! We’ve seen a prosecutor, Swift Vet Al French, swear to facts he didn’t witness. We’ve seen George Elliott change his story three days in a row—then try to say he was just misquoted. We’ve seen John O’Neill lie in the face of a big TV host—a host who was too hapless to realize. We’ve seen William Schachte mysteriously turn up on Kerry’s boat—although he won’t talk about it.

And we’ve seen Larry Thurlow fumble and flounder on Hardball. We print the following exchange once again because it captures the perfect clowning of much of this ongoing episode:

MATTHEWS (8/19/04): Tell me about the time you discovered that [Kerry] wasn't honest about his account of events. When did you first discover that habit of his, as you say?

THURLOW: Well, on a firsthand basis, I understood that the Purple Heart that he received at Cam Ranh Bay was fabricated and wasn't based on any factuality at all, but—

MATTHEWS: How did you learn that, sir?

THURLOW: I learned that from the people who had been with him at that time, when he reported that he received an injury from hostile fire, when in fact, there was none.

MATTHEWS: Who was the person who told you this, that he didn't deserve the Purple Heart?

THURLOW: The people—keep in mind—

MATTHEWS: Can you give me a name, sir?

THURLOW: The name I would give you, after the fact, is Dr. Letson.

MATTHEWS: No. At the time. At the time. You said at the time this happened, you discovered he had a habit of fabricating the truth.

THURLOW: I can’t give you a specific name. It was a crew member that came from Cam Ranh Bay to our division.

MATTHEWS: But could you help us figure out who it might be? You're saying the man had a record of not being honest about his battle bravery. I just want to know how we know this is true or not.

THURLOW: OK. The only name that comes to mind now is a guy that is actually a member of our group. But what I'm telling you is the story—

MATTHEWS: What's his name? We want to talk to him.

THURLOW: Steve Gardner.

MATTHEWS: Since he's your—since he's your source, we just want to know who he is.

THURLOW: Steve Gardner.

MATTHEWS: Steve Gardner.

In this episode, Larry Thurlow—who didn’t observe the events in question—reveals his source of knowledge to be Steve Gardner—who also didn’t observe the events! How can accusers get away with such nonsense? Simple! In this case, Thurlow spoke with an unprepared host (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/04). Clueless about the simplest facts, Matthews showed no sign of knowing that Gardner lacked knowledge of these events. Life is good when you’re an accuser—and you get to deal with such unprepared hosts.

But then, clueless accusers have ruled the roost over the course of the past fifteen years. And you know the ways of that Washington press corps! The Washington press corps just loves those accusers; indeed, they’ve lived off their tales for years. Tomorrow, we’ll help you remember some of the highlights—and we’ll ask when this clowning will end.

O’NEILL ABROAD: Did John O’Neill ever enter Cambodia? That’s what he seems to have told Richard Nixon, right there in the Oval Office. But release of the tape in which O’Neill makes his statement has occasioned little press comment. In this morning’s New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller gives it two paragraphs:

BUMILLER (8/26/04): The Kerry campaign this week released long-ago recordings of statements that John E. O'Neill, a leader of the anti-Kerry Swift boat group, made to President Richard Nixon, in which he put himself in Cambodia. “I was in Cambodia, sir, I worked along the border on the water,'' Mr. O'Neill told Nixon.Asked in an interview about those statements, Mr. O'Neill said: “What I was trying to say is, and I believe he understood me, was that I was on the border.” He added that Mr. Kerry was assigned to a different region, which he argued made it less likely that Mr. Kerry could have sailed to the same watery border.
Would O’Neill lie to Nixon, right there in the Oval? Who knows—when you’re dealing with John O’Neill, maybe it all depends on what the meaning of “in” is! The point is intriguing, because O’Neill has persistently ridiculed the very idea that Kerry ever entered Cambodia. “It was a made-up story,” he told George Stephanopoulos on Sunday’s This Week. “It was a lie” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/04). Indeed, O’Neill insists that Kerry would have been court-martialed had he engaged in such outrageous conduct. Who’da thunk that we’d hear this outraged accuser say that he’d been in Cambodia too?

The Kerry campaign said last week that Kerry entered Cambodia one time. And make no mistake—John O’Neill has no idea whether this statement is accurate. But so what? The Washington press corps loves those accusers, and allows them to say all the things they find pleasing. Let’s recall O’Neill’s shaky presentation of this charge on This Week—and the hapless way Stephanopoulos dealt with it:

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 50 times, George—that was on the floor of the Senate. He wrote articles about it. It was a malicious story because it painted all the guys above him, all of the commanding officers, in effect, as war criminals, that had ordered him into a neutral country. It was a lie.
Of course, history says that American officers did order sailors to enter Cambodia (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/25/04). And Douglas Brinkley’s book, Tour of Duty, has Kerry leaving Sa Dec and sailing “farther up the river” on December 24, 1968. Did Swift boats really go north of Sa Dec? As the day progresses, Brinkley describes a fire-fight that occurred “at a bend just as they were approaching the Cambodia border” (page 214). Did Swift boats only go “slightly north of Sa Dec?” Brinkley’s book—written before all this mess—seems to say something quite different.

But Stephanopoulos wasn’t prepared for O’Neill. Here’s the pitiful—but typical—way he responded:

STEPHANOPOULOS (continuing directly): And that’s what I want to move to, now, because your final charge is that John Kerry in his Senate testimony in 1971 tarred all Vietnam veterans with the allegations of war crimes.
There you see it all in a nutshell! O’Neill makes charges that seem a bit shaky—and Stephanopoulos “wants to move on” to another topic! Make no mistake—it’s very good to be an accuser when you deal with hosts like this. Tomorrow, we’ll recall other accusers who got these free rides—accusers who have made a running joke of your discourse for the past fifteen years.

ANOTHER FINE ANSWER: People keep giving Sean the wrong answer! Last night, Hannity invited Vietnam vet Jere Hill to appear on his program. When Kerry addressed the VFW convention last week, Hill stood and turned his back in protest. Sean figured he had the perfect rube. So he asked him the standard dumb question:

HANNITY (8/25/04): Did you know anybody in Vietnam—we were talking about this with Ollie [Oliver North]—that committed any atrocities?
We’re pretty sure you know the script. Hill was supposed to say that he knew no such person, and Sean would then lambaste vile Kerry for daring to say that such things had occurred. But uh-oh! Hill wasn’t an Official Trained Pundit, like Ollie. Hill did know about such conduct. And he didn’t know that he should lie:
HILL (continuing directly): Well, you put me on the spot with that one.

HANNITY: Does that mean yes?

HILL: Yes.

HANNITY: You do know. Were you a witness to it?

HILL: Not during the performance of it. Afterwards.

HANNITY: You had heard about it?

HILL: Yes.

Uh-oh! The interview had veered off-message. But Hannity’s skill at faking this issue is priceless. Here was his next clowning proffer:
HANNITY (continuing directly): In his [Kerry’s] case, if they told him these stories should he have told on them?

HILL: As a senior officer, he should have reported it.

Phew! Sean found a way to turn it back against Kerry! Of course, as Hannity knows—and Hill likely doesn’t—Kerry said, in 1971, that he didn’t know about “personal atrocities” in Nam. Hannity knows this as well as he knows his own name. But he pretends not to know every night.

Next week, we’ll examine the coverage of Kerry’s antiwar statements. But Hannity’s treatment of this issue is endlessly fake and phony—corrupt. Question: Have you ever seen any journalist comment on this, or complain in any way? You know the rules in the Washington press corps. The Washington press corps sits and stares as TV demagogues deceive viewers every night.

For the record, Hannity got another annoying answer when he raised this matter on August 3. His guest that night was General Tommy Franks. And uh-oh! Franks gave Sean a very bad answer. “The things that Senator Kerry said are undeniable about activities in Vietnam,” Franks said. “I think that things didn’t go right in—in Vietnam.” Nope—Tommy Franks wouldn’t lie for Sean, either. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/5/04.

NORTH OF SA DEC: In Tour of Duty, Brinkley discusses one of the firefights that occurred “at a bend just as they were approaching the Cambodia border.” He refers to Kerry crewmate James Wasser:

BRINKLEY (page 216): All the while his crewmates were celebrating their survival. Wasser remained silent. He was in no mood for crowing, as he realized that he had killed the old man who had been leading a water buffalo in the line of fire. “Christmas has never been the same,” Wasser confessed thirty-five years later. “Two ARVNs got badly shot up. I’m haunted by that old man’s face. He was just doing his daily farming, hurting nobody. He got hit in the chest with an M-60 machine-gun round. It may have been Christmas Eve, but I was real somber after that. We did nothing wrong. But still, to see the old man blown away sticks with you.”
Of course, O’Neill and other Swift Boat Vets have gone on TV and pretended that Kerry was holed up in Sa Dec this whole day. They have been able to mislead you this way because their hosts are routinely clueless. These host seem prepared for a couple of things. They seem prepared to cash their large checks. And they seem prepared to “move on” when confronted with topics about which they’re clueless. Life is good if you’re an accuser and you’re thrown in with losers like these.