On August 23, while vacationing at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, President George W. Bush responded to advertisements released by the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, saying, "I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV of the 527s." When asked specifically about the Swift Boat Vets' advertisements, Bush said that he was calling for an end to "that ad, every other ad." He said of all 527 groups (independent political fund-raising and advocacy organizations known by the section of the tax code that defines them), "I don't think we ought to have 527s. I can't be more plain about it." While many news outlets accurately reported that Bush only denounced 527 ads in general and did not specifically condemn those sponsored by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, numerous newspapers incorrectly reported that the president's remarks explicitly denounced the anti-Kerry group's ads.
The Boston Globe accurately reported Bush's remarks under the headline "Bush rips third-party ads, is mum on anti-Kerry push." In that article, Globe staff writer Anne E. Kornblut wrote:
President Bush, on the defensive over his supporters' attacks on John Kerry's war record, sidestepped a barrage of questions yesterday about the content of ads assailing his Democratic opponent and instead repeated his broader call for an end to all third-party advertising in the election.
The following are examples of newspaper articles that misleadingly reported Bush's remarks:
The Washington Times
Under the headline "Bush raps anti-Kerry ads on Vietnam," Washington Times senior White House correspondent Bill Sammon led his article with this misleading report: "President Bush yesterday denounced TV ads that question Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's Vietnam record." Sammon then noted that Bush's condemnation was not specific to those ads. Sammon's article continued as follows: "'I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV of the 527s,' Mr. Bush told reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. 'I hope my opponent joins me in condemning these activities of the 527s.'"
The Orlando Sentinel
Under the misleading headline "Bush denounces ads attacking Kerry at war," staff writer Maria T. Padilla's article cut short a remark by the president, thereby giving the impression that Bush had specifically condemned the Swift Boat Vets' advertisements. Padilla wrote, "'That means that ad,' Bush said of the anti-Kerry ad that has roiled the race for the White House." The president's full comment was: "That means that ad, every other ad." Padilla's article also opened with misleading information: "President Bush on Monday denounced an ad accusing Democrat John Kerry of lying about his combat record in Vietnam, and called for an end to attack ads aired by independent groups."
Associated Press special correspondent David Espo led his August 23 article by misleadingly reporting that the president had specifically condemned ads attacking Kerry's Vietnam record, before accurately noting Bush's general criticism of independent ads: "President Bush on Monday criticized a commercial that accused John Kerry of inflating his own Vietnam War record, more than a week after the ad stopped running, and said broadcast attacks by outside groups have no place in the race for the White House. 'I think they're bad for the system,' added Bush, who had ignored calls to condemn the ad while it was on the air."
The original headline for Espo's article was "Bush assails anti-Kerry ad." A version subsequently sent to AP subscribers also had a misleading headline: "Bush criticizes anti-Kerry television ad." The article was later distributed with the more accurate headline, "Bush condemns ads by outside groups."
MSNBC's article on the president's remarks had the misleading headline "Bush calls for halt to Swift Boat veterans' ads"; the article's subhead, however, correctly indicated that the "President calls so-called 527 ads 'bad for the system.'" Yet the beginning of the article contained information identical to that in the Associated Press article described above, which gave the misleading impression that Bush had criticized the Swift Boat Vets' advertisements in particular.
The NBC News political unit knew better. From the August 24 edition of their daily political memo, "First Read": "The swiftees story lives on into Day 20 despite the fact that President Bush said nothing yesterday that was really new (we don't consider "that ad, every other ad" to signify a shift in position), and Kerry said nothing."
Under the misleading headline "Bush says Kerry ad should stop," Reuters reporter Adam Entous led his article: "President George W. Bush has called for ads attacking John Kerry's record in Vietnam to be stopped along with others run by independent groups, and has said Kerry should be proud of his war service." Like Espo of the AP, Entous gave the misleading impression that Bush specifically called for a stop to the Swift Boat Vets' advertisements.
Star-Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota)
The Star-Tribune also put a misleading headline on its front-page article (from the Cox News Service wire) on Bush's remarks: "Bush calls for end to anti-Kerry war ads" -- even as the newspaper's website carried the original, accurate Cox headline: "Bush refuses to condemn anti-Kerry war ads."
Writer and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall posted similar observations about the AP report. He also posted the headlines from Yahoo News ("Bush criticizes anti-Kerry television ad") and Reuters ("Bush says Kerry ad should stop"). Marshall named the Bloomington, Indiana, Herald Times the "winner for the most inane Bush-Swift Boat headline," which read, "Bush calls anti-Kerry ad 'false and libelous'."