The former presidential candidate who, during his election campaign, proudly contrasted his military service during the Vietnam War with that of President Bush’s National Guard service – and who once led an organization of Vietnam veterans protesting the war in Vietnam – is being sued by some Vietnam veterans.
The Vietnam Veterans Legacy Foundation is a plaintiff along with Red, White, and Blue Productions, and Vietnam veteran turned journalist Carlton Sherwood, in a defamation action against current Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Tony Podesta, who was Kerry’s Pennsylvania campaign manager.
The lawsuit, filed in Philadelphia, claims that Kerry and Podesta libeled, slandered, and caused financial harm to the plaintiffs as they sought to prevent the presentation of Sherwood’s documentary movie Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal before the 2004 presidential election.
The lawsuit states:
Sherwood established plaintiff Red, White, and Blue productions an independent film company which produced the documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal….This documentary tells the story of Kerry’s involvement with the VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) and his participation in the so-called "Winter Soldier" investigation…Stolen Honor also reports that…Kerry testified before the United States Senate that during the Winter Soldier investigation Vietnam veterans testified to war crimes…not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day to day basis with full awareness of officers at all levels of command…in fact the stories told by participants in the Winter Solider investigation were outrageous and slanderous falsehoods against Vietnam veterans…Stolen Honor accurately reported that Kerry’s statements.. were lies concocted by antiwar activists…Kerry knew this testimony was false…Vietnam veterans including former POW’s had been falsely tarred…Sherwood produced Stolen Honor to bring this otherwise ignored history to light …and to explain the public sense of betrayal felt by many Vietnam veterans- particularly among former POW’s – against Kerry and others who built their reputations slandering America’s Vietnam veterans.
The lawsuit continues by saying that the movie received its initial funding entirely from Pennsylvania veterans. It asserts that Stolen Honor points out Kerry’s false allegations were used by the North Vietnamese to threaten and demoralize the approximately 700 POW’s in North Vietnam. Stolen Honor told this history through interviews with some POW’s including a Medal of Honor recipient and one who recounted how his interrogator went through Kerry’s statements and told him that Kerry admitted he was a war criminal and deserved punishment.
The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs had a contract with Sinclair Broadcasting to air the documentary and a contract with the Baederwood Theater of Abington, Pa., to show the movie. It further claims there was a coordinated conspiracy by, "defendants Kerry, Podesta and others acting in concert with and on behalf of Kerry, to discredit and silence Sherwood and Stolen Honor, through a campaign of knowing, deliberate, and malicious falsehoods about Sherwood and Stolen Honor and of illegitimate and malicious threats directed at Sinclair and Baederwood." The suit states these actions by Kerry et. al. caused Sinclair to show only portions of the movie and Baederwood to refuse to show it.
This may be the first time in American history that a presidential candidate was sued for actions taken by him and his campaign during an election. It may also be the first time that an antiwar activist was sued, if only tangentially, for allegations made about American military personnel.
Democrats did indeed respond vehemently to Stolen Honor. Sinclair, according to a contemporaneous Newsweek report, canceled their broadcast after being intimidated by Democrats. For example, a Democrat New York State Comptroller sent a letter to Sinclair criticizing the broadcast. The Comptroller was the sole trustee for the NY State Common Retirement Fund, which owned 250,000 shares of Sinclair stock.
The Baederwood Theater received phone calls threatening boycotts if it showed the movie. Ominous phone calls were responsible for a suburban Philadelphia conference center canceling another presentation scheduled after Baederwood.
Although the Kerry campaign denied any involvement with these efforts, an October 15, 2004 email from Podesta to Kerry activists called Carlton Sherwood a, "disgraced former journalist, right-wing propagandist and apologist for cult-leader Sun Myung Moon." Podesta urged Kerry workers to "…. take action …against this garbage…. let the theater know that, as a member of the community, you object to …this film …they should not allow "Stolen Honor" to be shown on their screen."
If this lawsuit accomplishes nothing else, it will be that the heroes of Vietnam are finally condemning the lies told about them during the war. If nothing else results from this, it will be that those who served their country meritoriously, despite great controversy, despite the adversity, those who truly deserve to be called the Greatest Generation, are once again serving their country by telling the truth about Vietnam.