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AD WATCH | Evaluating the Accuracy of Political Advertising

Another Swift Attack

Sponsor: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

Images: The camera closes in on a black-and-white photograph of John F. Kerry testifying at a 1971 Senate hearing as his words appear on the screen and veterans, shot in color, criticize him.



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Time: 60 seconds

Audio: JOHN KERRY: They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads...

JOE PONDER: The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.

KERRY: ...randomly shot at civilians...

PONDER: ...and it hurt me more than any physical wounds I had.

KERRY: ...cut of limbs, blown up bodies...

KEN CORDIER: That was part of the torture, to sign a statement that you had committed war crimes.

KERRY:...razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan...

PAUL GALANTI: John Kerry gave the enemy for free, what I and many of my comrades, in the North Vietnamese prison camps, took torture to avoid saying. It demoralized us.

KERRY: ...crimes committed on a day to day basis...

CORDIER: He betrayed us in the past, how could we be loyal to him now?

KERRY: ...ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam...

GALANTI: He dishonored his country, and more importantly, the people he served with. He just sold them out.

Analysis: Kerry's testimony after returning from Vietnam helped launch his political career and is certainly fair game for a negative ad. He was a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and had just led a major Washington protest against the conflict. The strength of this spot, by the independent group that has roiled the campaign by accusing the senator of lying about his military record, is that it uses Kerry's own words and voice.

But Kerry's testimony is selectively edited in a way that is misleading. He began by talking about a conference in Detroit several months earlier in which some of the 150 veterans told him stories of atrocities. "They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads." Kerry said, but the ad deletes the first six words, making it sound like Kerry is offering a firsthand account instead of reporting on what was dubbed the "Winter Soldier" investigation. Swift boat veteran John O'Neill says the ad is "very fair" because Kerry was describing crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the knowledge of officers at all levels of command and "there's no way to put the whole speech in."

Some of the atrocities Kerry described have been documented, such as at the My Lai massacre, and others remain in dispute. While Kerry's testimony angered many veterans, he portrayed himself as speaking out on behalf of disaffected vets, not attacking them.

By using Kerry's testimony, the group avoids the credibility issues raised by its first attack spot in which some veterans have given inconsistent accounts of the candidate's military record.

— Howard Kurtz


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