A Swift-Moving Story

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 18, 2006; 9:57 AM

Is Jack Murtha being unfairly Swift-boated?

The left side of the commentariat is up in arms about my piece on a conservative Web site raising questions about the congressman's two Purple Hearts.

Here's the report by the Cybercast News Service: Check it out and reach your own conclusions.

Look, anyone can dig into a congressman's record, and Cybercast (which is part of Brent Bozell's conservative media criticism group) quoted people on the record, dug up a bunch of clips and gave the Pennsylvania Democrat a chance to respond. Editor in Chief David Thibault told me that Murtha had placed himself in the crossfire by becoming a leading voice for a U.S. pullout in Iraq.

What, exactly, does whatever Murtha did near Danang in 1967 have to do with the soundness of his stance on Iraq? In the case of John Kerry, you could argue that the Swift Boat Vets -- even though the media poked significant holes in their account -- was challenging the biography of a presidential candidate who had put his Vietnam heroism at the center of his campaign. But what is Jack Murtha running for, other than reelection in his district?

Of course, politics ain't beanbag, and Murtha, as a 37-year Marine vet, must be accustomed to hostile fire. The Purple issue, in fact, has come up in some of his past campaigns. But now it's getting national play -- and sparking a liberal backlash.

Arianna Huffington is appalled:

"Last week, President Bush said that he would welcome 'an honest debate about Iraq' -- as long as 'the tone of this debate is respectful.' Oh, really? Then he should start by denouncing the despicable smear campaign being launched against Jack Murtha. The attacks, calling into question the military record of a decorated 37-year war veteran, and launched on the eve of Murtha's powerful appearance on '60 Minutes', are a vile, noxious, and blatantly obvious attempt to keep the press and the public from engaging in that 'honest debate about Iraq.'

"They are the lowest form of character assassination -- cranked out by the GOP attack machine with ruthless efficiency (and almost comical predictability). A belly flop into the Beltway sewer that degrades a political culture already so befouled it might seem beyond further degradation. But then we get this effluvium -- and the stench hanging over our democracy becomes unbearable. Bush must make it clear, immediately and in no uncertain terms, that, as a country, we need zero tolerance for this contemptible attempt to shove the reputation of a man who put his life on the line for his country into the media wood chipper.

"If Mrs. Alito cried over some of the questions asked of her husband, what should Mrs. Murtha do, slit her wrists?"

E.J. Dionne is on a similar wavelength: "A crowd that regularly defends President Bush for serving in the Texas Air National Guard instead of going to Vietnam has continued its war on actual Vietnam veterans. An outfit called the Cybercast News Service last week questioned the circumstances surrounding the awarding of two Purple Hearts to Murtha because of wounds he suffered in the Vietnam War.

"John Kerry, as well as John McCain -- who faced scurrilous attacks on his war record when he was running against Bush in the 2000 South Carolina primary -- could have warned Murtha: If you're a Vietnam veteran, don't you dare get in the way of George W. Bush . . .

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