On July 28, Internet gossip Matt Drudge revived and expanded on a discredited charge about Senator John Kerry (D-MA). On his highly trafficked website, The Drudge Report, Drudge reported that Kerry reenacted combat scenes on videotape during his service in the Vietnam War in order to enhance his future political ambitions. Drudge cited a 1996 Boston Globe article and two books by known Kerry-bashers: retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert "Buzz" Patterson and anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth founder John O'Neill.
On September 7, 2002, The New York Times' current executive editor and then-columnist Bill Keller took up the issue of Kerry's wartime films and debunked the reenactment charge, which he wrote that he believed at first: "[R]elying on a report in the usually dependable Boston Globe, I mocked him for pulling out a movie camera after a shootout in the Mekong Delta and re-enacting the exploit, as if preening for campaign commercials to come."
Simply not true, Keller found after sitting through 40 minutes of footage in Kerry's office. Contrary to Drudge's assertion -- which apparently quoted O'Neill's upcoming book -- that Kerry would "reenact combat scenes where he would portray the hero," Keller wrote:
The first thing to be said is that the senator's movies are not self-aggrandizing. Mr. Kerry is hardly in the film, and never strikes so much as a heroic pose. These are the souvenirs of a 25-year-old guy sent to an exotic place on an otherworldly mission, who bought an 8-millimeter camera in the PX and shot a few hours of travelogue, most of it pretty boring if you didn't live through it.
Keller also wrote that, according to the Swift Boat Sailors Association, "a group of veterans who manned" the kind of riverboat that Kerry commanded, "lots of enlisted men did the same." Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a strong Kerry supporter who lost three limbs in Vietnam, told Keller that he has hours of film from his service in Vietnam, which, Keller wrote, "he has had edited into a three minute meet-the-senator video."
As Media Matters for America has noted, both Patterson and O'Neill have a history of issuing false claims about Kerry. Patterson, author of the new book Reckless Disregard: How Liberal Democrats Undermine Our Military, Endanger Our Soldiers, and Jeopardize Our National Security (Regnery Publishing, 2004), severely distorted Kerry's record on defense spending, intelligence spending, and veterans' pay in two recent appearances on the FOX News Channel. Patterson also asserts in his book that "every terrorist" is "hoping" the Democrats win the upcoming U.S. election.
O'Neill's group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, was founded to discredit Kerry's record during and after his service in Vietnam. His book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry is forthcoming from the conservative Regnery Publishing. As Media Matters for America has noted, O'Neill has long-standing ties to the GOP establishment, and O'Neill's own p.r. adviser has described O'Neill as sounding like "a crazed extremist." MMFA also noted O'Neill's participation in Republican efforts to smear Kerry, dating back to the Nixon administration.
Later in the day on July 28, FOX News Channel's chief political correspondent Carl Cameron repeated the Drudge story on FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume; he reported a "controversy" over Kerry's video footage from Vietnam, which "critics" charge showed Kerry and his crewmates "re-enacting Kerry's heroism for future political use." After quoting from the same 1996 Boston Globe article that Drudge cited, Cameron noted that the Kerry campaign "adamantly den[ies] there was any re-enactment." Cameron failed, however, to provide key details that support the campaign's denial.