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AD WATCH | Evaluating the Accuracy of Political Advertising

Kerry Fires at Vietnam 'Smear'

Candidate: John F. Kerry

Images: U.S. soldiers on patrol; a long-haired worker; President Bush speaking; torn pages with the words "smears" and "lies"; John McCain against an American flag; split screen of Bush with Kerry as a rifle-carrying officer in Vietnam.

Time: 30 seconds

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Audio: American soldiers are fighting in Iraq. Families struggle to afford health care. Jobs heading overseas. Instead of solutions, George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record. Attacks called smears, lies. Senator McCain calls them dishonest. Bush smeared John McCain four years ago. Now he's doing it to John Kerry. George Bush: Denounce the smear. Get back to the issues. America deserves better.

Analysis: This rare Sunday-release spot marks the first time since clinching the nomination that Kerry has attacked Bush over a negative ad. It reflects anxiety and astonishment among Kerry advisers over how much media coverage a group of Swift boat veterans has generated with a $500,000 buy accusing the candidate of lying about his Vietnam service, despite numerous inconsistencies uncovered by the media.

There is no evidence that the Bush campaign "supports a front group" that produced the attack ad. There are numerous ties between Bush aides and the veterans' backers, but there are similar ties between Kerry and some liberal groups running anti-Bush ads. Bush and his top strategists, however, have passed up numerous opportunities to condemn the Swift boat ad, calling instead for a moratorium on all advertising by outside groups.

The Portland Oregonian called the veterans' charges "smears" and the Toledo Blade "lies" (as did The Washington Post), but these were in editorials, not news stories. The ad accurately reflects McCain's criticism of the Swift boat group, despite his endorsement of the president, and seeks to remind people of McCain's accusation in the 2000 primaries that Bush had acquiesced in baseless charges against him by a fringe veterans' group. The image of U.S. soldiers in Iraq suggests that Bush is focusing on the wrong war, while the split-screen shot of the president and Lt. Kerry is meant as a subtle reminder that Bush served in the National Guard, not Vietnam.

—Howard Kurtz


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