September 11, 2004

Swifties vs. National Guard

I tried to write last week about the difference between media coverage of the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" vs that of possible interruptions in President Bush's National Guard service.

I will instead link to two stories that capture it. First Mark Steyn takes the discrepancy on directly:

A few weeks ago, Thomas Oliphant of the Boston Globe was on PBS' ''Newshour'' explaining why the hundreds of swift boat veterans' allegations against John Kerry's conduct in Vietnam was unworthy of his attention. "The standard of clear and convincing evidence," he said, talking to Swiftvet John O'Neill as if he were a backward fourth-grader, ''is what keeps this story in the tabloids -- because it does not meet basic standards.''
[...]
Unfortunately for CBS, Dan Rather's hairdresser sucks up so much of the budget that there was nothing left for any fact-checking, so the ''60 Minutes'' crew rushed on air with a damning National Guard memo conveniently called ''CYA'' that Bush's commanding officer had written to himself 32 years ago. ''This was too hot not to push,'' one producer told the American Spectator. Hundreds of living Swiftvets who've signed affidavits and are prepared to testify on camera -- that's way too cold to push; we'd want to fact-check that one thoroughly, till, say, midway through John Kerry's second term. But a handful of memos by one dead guy slipped to us by a Kerry campaign operative -- that meets ''basic standards'' and we gotta get it out there right away.

One dead guy whose wife and son disavow the memos vs more than 200 living, breathing Navy Veterans who will sign their name and take questions today. That is a stunning difference, yet Rather & Co. opted for the former.

Next I would like to reinforce a little recent history. The Swifties were not covered in the mainstream media, until the story reached critical mass in new media. Jonathan Last nails it in last week's Weekly Standard. The piece is called "The Not-So-Swift Mainstream Media"

Over the next 11 days, an interesting dynamic took hold: Talk-radio and the blog world covered the Cambodia story obsessively. They reported on border crossings during Vietnam and the differences between Swift boats and PBRs. They also found two other instances of Kerry's talking about his Christmas in Cambodia. Spurred on by the blogs, Fox led the August 9 Special Report with a Carl Cameron story on Kerry's Cambodia discrepancy.

All the while, traditional print and broadcast media tried hard to ignore the story--even as Kerry officially changed his position on his presence in Cambodia. Then on August 19, Kerry went public with his counter assault against Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and suddenly the story was news. The numbers are fairly striking: Before August 19, the New York Times and Washington Post had each mentioned Swift Boat Veterans for Truth just 8 times; the Los Angeles Times 7 times; the Boston Globe 4 times. The broadcast networks did far less. According to the indefatigable Media Research Center, before Kerry went public, ABC, CBS, and NBC together had done a total of 9 stories on the Swifties. For comparison, as of August 19 these networks had done 75 stories on the accusation that Bush had been AWOL from the National Guard.

I am reading "Unfit for Command" today. There are many serious charges that have still not been investigated. The ones that have have seem to come out on the Swifties' side.

Many of their charges are emotional and improvable. But many deserve a closer look, say half the attention similar charges against President Bush would receive.

Posted by jk at September 11, 2004 03:43 PM
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