John O'Neill, co-founder of the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and co-author of the Regnery book Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, is making the rounds on the cable news circuit to promote his book and peddle smears of Senator John Kerry (D-MA).
On August 10, O'Neill appeared on FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes; he also appeared on Scarborough Country, where he was interviewed by guest host and MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan for 25 minutes. On August 11, O'Neill also appeared on FOX News Channel's FOX & Friends and CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, where, as with the August 10 shows, he was permitted to air attacks that are contravened by official records and by eyewitness accounts; and to flatly lie about his group's partisan ties.
O'Neill's account of Rassmann rescue, which earned Kerry Bronze Star, is inconsistent with official Naval documents
On Scarborough Country, Buchanan read an excerpt from former Kerry crewmate Jim Rassmann's August 10 Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which Rassmann recounted that Kerry risked his own life under enemy fire to save Rassmann's. O'Neill responded as follows:
O'NEILL: It's not what happened, Pat. ... John Kerry fled. And he came back and did pick up Rassmann shortly before the other boats picked him up. Our boats stayed. They did not flee. And that is not the truth for Rassmann to say that. We had only one guy in our unit who would flee. That's John Kerry. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here tonight. I wouldn't be alive tonight if our guys fled.
O'Neill's claim that Kerry fled is inconsistent both with Rassmann's firsthand account and with the account of Kerry's actions in his Bronze Star citation (pdf) for which Rassmann nominated him: "Kerry's calmness, professionalism and great personal courage under fire were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
On FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, O'Neill also took issue with "the position that Kerry came under fire" in the events surrounding his saving of Rassmann. But official Naval documents specifically detail the boats involved receiving, "HEAVY A/W (automatic weapons) AND S/A (small arms) FROM BOTH BANKS." Kerry's Bronze Star citation states: "For heroic achievement while serving with Coastal Division ELEVEN engaged in armed conflict with Viet Cong communist aggressors in An Xuyen Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 13 March 1969."
And, after investigating Kerry's military career, the authors of John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best, wrote that a mine blast threw Rassmann into the water and made him "a bobbing target as he dodged the bullets whizzing around him" (p.106).
O'Neill claim that Kerry received Purple Hearts under "false pretenses" is not supported by Kerry's medical records
On Hannity & Colmes, O'Neill erroneously accused Kerry of applying for two of his three Purple Hearts under "false pretenses." O'Neill expanded on this charge on Scarborough Country, where he claimed that Kerry's "first Purple Heart, that's the one where he actually fired an M-79 round. He got a tiny piece from his own round. There was no hostile fire. The third Purple Heart is the deal where he threw a grenade into rice. He caught some rice in his butt. He then attempted to attribute it to the incident involving the [PCF] 3 boat and thereby left Vietnam."
As Media Matters for America has noted, the claim that Kerry received his first Purple Heart for a non-combat wound originated with Dr. Louis Letson, who, in the ad, claims, "Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury." But there is no documentation of Letson's having treated Kerry; indeed, the record that does exist of the treatment Kerry received for the wound was signed by another medical official, not Letson. And, as Annenberg Political Fact Check (FactCheck.org) reported, Letson's claim is "based on hearsay, and disputed hearsay at that. Letson says 'the crewman with Kerry told me there was no hostile fire, and that Kerry had inadvertently wounded himself with an M-79 grenade.' But the Kerry campaign says the two crewmen with Kerry that day deny ever talking to Letson."
Despite the credibility questions surrounding Letson's claim that he treated Kerry, FOX & Friends substitute host Kiran Chetry, a FOX News anchor, appeared to accept it as fact; Chetry invited O'Neill to "talk about what the doctor who treated him [Kerry] said about that wound [resulting in Kerry's first Purple Heart]." And while O'Neill did not appear on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews instead aired the Swift Boat Veterans ad and said he was "impressed when the doctor who says I treated him for his Purple Heart says he doesn't deserve it. That impresses me." When Matthews's guest, media strategist Steve McMahon, pointed out that "the records don't indicate that he [Letson] treated him at all. It was a different doctor," Matthews responded, "Is that for real?" After McMahon answered affirmatively, Matthews continued to press him.
From the August 10 edition of MSNBC'S Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: You swear that to be true?
McMAHON: Yes, I swear that to be true.
MATTHEWS: Do you swear the whole truth? If that's true, then the ad is full of it.
The day before, on NBC's The Chris Matthews Show, as MMFA pointed out, Matthews posited that Letson's accusations "could hurt Kerry."
O'Neill's claim that Kerry received his third Purple Heart because he "caught some rice in the butt" is not consistent with the Navy's casualty report for Kerry's wound. As FactCheck.org has noted, that report (pdf) indicates not only "shrapnel wounds in left buttocks" but also "contusions on his right forearm when a mine detonated close aboard PCF-94."
O'Neill's charge that Kerry received Silver Star for shooting wounded fleeing enemy is based on inconsistent claims and conflicts with Kerry's official citation
On Hannity & Colmes, O'Neill also attempted to discredit Kerry's Silver Star: "What actually happened on John Kerry's Silver Star is he went in, and there was a single man in a loincloth opposing him ... the man was wounded. He [Kerry] then climbed off the boat, chased him and shot him." On Scarborough Country, O'Neill alleged that Kerry took his "heavily armored gunboat, with 30 troops on board. They were faced by one adversary, a Viet Cong. The Viet Cong was wounded in the legs. He sought to escape and Kerry dispatched him, shot him in the back."
However, as FactCheck.org noted, Kerry was not awarded the Silver Star for killing a single Viet Cong but, rather, for "extraordinary daring and personal courage ... in attacking a numerically superior force in the face of intense fire," according to Kerry's Silver Star citation (pdf). George Elliott (a retired Lieutenant Commander, a member of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and Kerry's former commanding officer) -- who recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for valor -- has since signed an affidavit saying that Kerry did not deserve the Silver Star. However, as MMFA has noted, The Boston Globe reported on August 6 that Elliott recently recanted, telling Globe reporter Michael Kranish that he made a "terrible mistake" in signing that affidavit.
The story doesn't end there, as Elliott has since recanted his recantation, signing a second affidavit (pdf) in which he reverted to the assertion that "[h]ad I known the facts, I would not have recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for simply pursuing and dispatching a single, wounded, fleeing Viet Cong." But as FactCheck.org pointed out, "That statement is misleading" in that "[i]t mischaracterizes the actual basis on which Kerry received his decoration." FactCheck.org explained that the citation "shows Kerry was not awarded the Silver Star 'for simply pursing and dispatching' the Viet Cong. In fact, the killing is not even mentioned in the official citation." FactCheck.org also noted that "as recently as June, 2003, Elliott called Kerry's Silver Star 'well deserved' and his action 'courageous' for beaching his boat in the face of an ambush."
O'Neill falsely claimed Swift Boat Vets have "no partisan ties" and "didn't campaign in the last four elections"
On the August 11 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, O'Neill claimed: "[T]he people in our organization have no partisan ties, we didn't campaign in the last four elections for Democrats, by and large we didn't campaign for anybody." His statement is simply wrong.
Media Matters for America has extensively documented O'Neill's long-standing Republican ties. (As a guest on Scarborough Country, MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. noted that both O'Neill and Buchanan have ties to the GOP that date back to Chuck Colson and the Nixon administration: "I'm wondering if you [Buchanan] met him in 1971 when he [O'Neill] was in the Oval Office with Richard Nixon planning his first criticism of John Kerry. There is a great picture that MSNBC News has that I've been looking at with Chuck Colson, President Nixon and John O'Neill planning his debate then with John Kerry. And there is another pair of shoes in the frame, Pat [Buchanan]. I can't tell if they are your shoes or not. I don't know." "They might have been. They might have been," Buchanan replied.) FactCheck.org noted that $100,000 of the $158,750 the group had raised as of June came from prominent Texas Republican and Bush-Cheney '04 campaign contributor Bob Perry. As for O'Neill's claim that members of the group "didn't campaign for anybody," The Boston Globe reported on August 7 that Elliott appeared with Kerry during his 1996 Senate reelection campaign "and defended Kerry, saying he deserved the Silver Star."