Liberal Media's Double Standard on Vietnam-Era Service

When Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe accused President Bush this spring of being “AWOL,” the Washington press corps saluted and started marching. What followed was a series of big media investigations into whether Bush, as an Air National Guard pilot, actually attended drills, as he maintained, during temporary residence in Alabama. It wasn’t the first time reporters had looked into the matter. It was at least the fourth. And this time, the White House produced additional pay records to prove Bush did his duty. Most reporters reluctantly gave up, although some organizations continue to seek more of the President’s Guard records.

This month, when Regnery Publishing (a sister company of HUMAN EVENTS) released a new book that dissects Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s Vietnam War record, the national press more or less yawned. The enthusiasm with which it greeted McAuliffe’s call to arms never materialized. Some reporters expressed outright disgust for John E. O’Neill and Jerome R. Corsi, authors of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. The liberal press’s message: Bush’s military record is fair game. John Kerry’s is not.

But in a way, it makes no difference. Republicans have grown accustomed to such double standards. It is a major reason for the rise of the alternative conservative media in the forms of talk radio, Internet web sites and some cable TV outlets. And Messrs. O’Neill and Corsi are riding that right-leaning wave to the top of bestseller lists.

The book is selling so well because it proves a central point. John Kerry, who has made his four months in Vietnam in 1968-69 the centerpiece of why he should be commander in chief, lied about what he did. The most glaring lie is the now-well-reported Senate speech on March 27, 1986. Looking for any angle to attack Ronald Reagan’s policy to stop communism in Central America, Sen. Kerry said this: “I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by the 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.”

Seared or not, the memory is false. Unfit for Command documents that during that time period, Kerry’s riverboat, its squadron and its division were safely tucked away at a base camp in the Mekong Delta at least 50 miles from the Cambodian border. The authors interviewed the division’s sailors who placed the Navy lieutenant at the base. “The truth is that Kerry made up his secret mission into Cambodia,” the book says.

The authors are so thorough in debunking the Cambodia story that, after O’Neill started his media campaign, Kerry aides stopped defending the 1986 speech. Kerry’s biographer is reportedly re-researching the issue. A revised version may contend the senator was in Cambodia commanding a swift boat at another time. But Swift Boat colleagues say no such mission was ever undertaken during the brief time Kerry served in Vietnam.

The book also examines Kerry’s three Purple Hearts, a benchmark that automatically won his early release from the Viet Cong-invested Mekong Delta. One rose-thorn-size puncture came from shrapnel from the officer’s own grenade, the book says. A wound in the butt came from, of all things, rice. Kerry was tossing grenades into a rice paddy to deny the enemy its staple.

Awarding a Purple Heart is somewhat subjective. A reading of Army regulations suggests one can injure himself in battle and still earn the award. But lying is another matter. Unfit for Command‘s real importance is the exposure of lies such as the Cambodia speech. The real test for a presidential candidate is whether he tells the basic truth about his life experiences.

O’Neill, who, like Kerry, is a former swift boat commander, first raised the issue 33 years before he started researching his book. He became enraged that at a 1971 Senate hearing, the then-anti-war leader Kerry cavalierly made charges of widespread atrocities by U.S. troops in Vietnam. O’Neill challenged him on the Dick Cavett Show to give examples. Kerry could not. “The reason that he could not describe any atrocities was because there were no atrocities,” he writes.

Kerry has claimed for years that at a commanders’ meeting with top admirals he stood up and complained about the fruitlessness of interdiction missions on the Delta. Such stories bolstered Kerry’s image as an anti-war warrior. The authors interviewed people at that meeting who contend it’s a lie. “He did not ask one question or otherwise participate in the dialogue,” says retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffman, who commanded Kerry’s task force.

Hoffmann appears in the book again. Kerry told his biographer that Hoffmann ordered a Swift Boat assault on Vietnamese fisherman who used floating baskets to haul their catch. Kerry said the assault went flawlessly; all the fishermen and baskets were sunk. But Hoffmann says he never gave such an order and there was no such mission. O’Neill and Corsi write they could find no evidence of the purported slaughter. All sources they contacted denied it ever took place.

On the Cavett show, Kerry said he deliberated for two weeks before making the “difficult decision” to leave Vietnam. Records show he suffered the buttocks wound on March 13, 1969. Four days later, his written request to leave Vietnam sat at the Navy Department in Washington. “John Kerry would like many people today to view his service in Vietnam as one of honor and courage,” the authors say. “But the real John Kerry of Vietnam was a man who filed false operating reports, who faked Purple Hearts, and who took a fast pass through the combat zones.”

Polls say there are few undecided voters in this year’s election. But those on the fence should ask why a vast majority of sailors who served on Swift Boats during Kerry’s tour oppose his presidential bid? How would the Democrats and its media friends react if a few Air National Guard veterans came forward to question Bush’s fighter pilot skills. My guess is the Bush opponents would lead off on the “Today Show,” be interviewed on Dan Rather’s CBS “Evening News” and end the day on ABC’s “Nightline.” But Unfit for Command is doing quite well without the liberal media. The double standard just doesn’t matter as much anymore.