Republicans in a parallel universe

By Craige McMillan

Lately I’ve been wondering how stories we read in “Big Media” would be different if 90-plus percent of reporters and editors were Republicans – not Democrats. Here’s how I think the swiftboat-vets story might read.

A “band of brothers” nearly 300 strong asserted today in a new TV advertisement that John Kerry lied about his service in Vietnam, then “shot his fellow sailors in the back” following his 4-month “service,” when he assumed leadership of the Vietnam Vets Against the War and offered false testimony before Congress about nonexistent atrocities committed by American servicemen.

Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, a nonpartisan group formed under last year’s campaign finance reforms allowing independent groups to comment on presidential elections, launched the advertisement with less than half-a-million dollars in the bank. Contrast that with the $100-plus million already spent by and America Coming Together, groups attacking President Bush and funded by big-bucks liberal contributors with billions in the bank.

The Kerry camp immediately fired back at the veterans, stressing that none of them had actually served under John Kerry’s command or on his boat. But further investigation by this newspaper has revealed that swiftboats frequently traveled in groups, and other sailors on other boats often had a better view of the action and clearer grasp of what was happening than the boat “in the thick of it.” “Unfit for Command,” a new book still backordered at the nation’s bookstores, elaborates on what these vets point out are Mr. Kerry’s lies and distortions about his “service” in Vietnam. Only about a dozen swiftboat veterans support John Kerry’s recollection of events in Vietnam, while hundreds say he’s lying.

As readers are no doubt aware, the controversy began when Mr. Kerry used a 1969 photo of himself and fellow swiftboat commanders published in Newsweek Magazine on March 8 of this year, to promote his campaign for the presidency. These vets tried to avoid a public conflict and requested the Kerry campaign stop using the photo and implying they supported him for president. Here is an excerpt from their June 1, 2004 letter, signed by their attorney Alvin A. Horne:

Below are listed the names of eleven swiftboat officers of a total of 20 depicted in the referenced photograph with your client, Sen. John Kerry. They are: George Bates, Thomas Heritage, Terrance Costello, Robert “Rocky” Hildreath, Robert Elder, William Houle, George Elliott, William Schumadine, Al French, Larry Thurlow, Jim Galvin.

These officers demand that Sen. Kerry’s campaign cease and desist from all uses of that photograph, taken on Jan. 22, 1969. To my knowledge, of the remaining eight individuals, Mr. Gilbert and Mr. Crosby are deceased and Messrs. Baker, Bernique, Imbrie and MaCann have not indicated a willingness to presently take any position regarding Mr. Kerry.

Only when this letter failed did the vets go public in an effort to save the nation from what they had experienced firsthand. Mr. Kerry has made his medals and Vietnam service the centerpiece of his campaign, but its interesting that even his own diary calls into question whether his first Purple Heart was earned – or the result of fabrications (“Diary refutes Kerry claim,” Washington Times, Aug. 25, 2004). Mr. Kerry has repeatedly refused to release his diary, his complete service record, or to authorize the reprinting of his 1971 book, titled “The New Soldier,” in which he “details” atrocities by American soldiers in Vietnam that most veterans say never happened.

Many Vietnam veterans say the lies Mr. Kerry propagated upon his return hurt them even worse than their battle wounds. Former POW Paul Gallanti is one of them. He says in a new advertisement that, “John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in North Vietnam, in the prison camps, took torture to avoid saying. It demoralized us.”

The question of Mr. Kerry’s medals and service could be easily settled, but the candidate has been less than forthcoming by releasing only selective portions of his military records. Instead, Mr. Kerry’s campaign manager directed attorneys to threaten TV station managers with a lawsuit should they run the advertisements. This attitude concerns many First Amendment experts, who worry what a Kerry presidency might mean for the freedom of the press.

Meanwhile, launched a series of personal attack ads against the veterans who have challenged Mr. Kerry’s Vietnam “service.” is financed and run by numerous Clinton-era Democratic donors, and staffers and election watchers are worried the group may be violating campaign finance law by illegally coordinating their actions with the Kerry campaign. did not immediately return calls for comment.