Skip to comments.For Kerry's Chief Accuser, a Flashback to a Political Battle From 1971
Posted on 08/27/2004 8:22:44 PM PDT by ambrose
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August 28, 2004
For Kerry's Chief Accuser, a Flashback to a Political Battle From 1971By RALPH BLUMENTHAL and ROBERT F. WORTH
OUSTON, Aug. 27 - Twice in his life, in episodes more than 30 years apart, John E. O'Neill watched John Kerry on television and what he saw, he says, stirred him to angry action.
The first time was in 1971. As a young Vietnam veteran home from the very same Navy Swift boat that Mr. Kerry had commanded, Mr. O'Neill says he was so outraged by Mr. Kerry's graphic Senate testimony against the war that he threw himself into the talk show circuit to promote an opposing view. The next time was last February when, he says, he looked up from a hospital bed to see Mr. Kerry on the campaign trail and decided he had to stop him from becoming president.
"It was a moment for me like that John Kennedy deal," he said, comparing his reaction to his turbulent emotions after the Kennedy assassination. And as much as he said he venerated President Kennedy, he despised Mr. Kerry. "I felt strongly he would be a terrible commander in chief," he said.
That conviction, not Republican machinations, he said in an interview in his law office on Friday, explained his campaign against the Democratic presidential nominee, which has included a book, television advertisements and blanketing media appearances. As a leader of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Mr. O'Neill has become the most public face of an effort by angry fellow veterans to discredit Mr. Kerry, who enjoys equally vehement support from other war buddies who see him as a hero.
Mr. O'Neill was disdainful of President Bush's comments Thursday that he did not believe Senator Kerry lied about his war record. "There's no indication that George Bush has read our book or made any study of it," Mr. O'Neill said. "He was not with us in Vietnam in our unit. He would definitely not have had firsthand knowledge of what were talking about."
To many Democrats, Mr. O'Neill, 58, is little more than a Republican hit man. Last week the Kerry campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission accusing the Swift boat group of coordinating its activities with the Bush campaign, a charge that the Bush campaign has angrily denied. A top campaign lawyer quit last week after disclosures that he had advised Mr. O'Neill's group.
But while enemies portray him as a one-dimensional partisan, Mr. O'Neill is man of intriguing contradictions. He has extensive ties to prominent Texas Republicans, but he has told friends he considers Mr. Bush an "empty suit" who is unfit to lead the country, and says he voted for Al Gore in 2000, and for Ross Perot in 1996 and 1992.
Mr. O'Neill, who says he graduated first in his class from the University of Texas law school and clerked for William H. Rehnquist when he was an associate justice, is known in the Houston legal community for a near-photographic memory and an ability to master complex facts and that have helped him win big trial judgments. Yet the book he co-authored against Mr. Kerry, "Unfit for Command," is riddled with inconsistencies and differences with the official record.
"It's very difficult to stereotype John O'Neill," said the chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, Gerry Birnberg, a lawyer who has known and worked with Mr. O'Neill for 20 years.
Mr. O'Neill's Texas colleagues, including some who dislike him, agree on one thing: his crusade against Mr. Kerry is a personal one, the eruption of a grudge he has held for more than three decades. They say his attacks on Mr. Kerry are consistent with his overall approach to law and life, as a tenacious and aggressive litigator who rarely changes his mind once it is made up.
"He's very black and white," said Dan Hedges, a lawyer and former United States attorney in Houston who has known Mr. O'Neill since they arrived at law school together 33 years ago, and counts him as a friend and former colleague. "There's right and wrong, good and bad. He can be a formidable foe, and he doesn't back down."
Mr. O'Neill grew up in San Antonio, the fifth of seven children in a family with strong military traditions. His father and grandfather were high-ranking Navy commanders, and altogether, he said, 18 relatives are graduates, like him, of the Naval Academy.
After leaving the Navy in June 1971, Mr. O'Neill quickly emerged as a critic of the antiwar movement and drew the attention of President Richard M. Nixon, who invited him to the White House for a personal chat. Although the president was clearly happy to have an articulate young man who could debate the telegenic Mr. Kerry, Mr. O'Neill recalled Friday that he shocked the president by telling him he was a Democrat and had voted for Hubert Humphrey.
Two weeks later, the two young veterans had their celebrated debate on "The Dick Cavett Show." On the videotape, rebroadcast repeatedly in recent months, Mr. O'Neill looks like an angry Boy Scout, his short hair slicked back, his white socks visible beneath a powder blue suit.
"Mr. Kerry is the type of person who lives and survives only in the war weariness and fears of the American people," he says, glancing down occasionally at his notes.
A year later, Mr. O'Neill spoke at the Republican National Convention in support of Mr. Nixon. He does not recall having spoken with Mr. Nixon again after that time, he said. Mr. O'Neill said he has never met the current President Bush, and only met his father once, in passing, 25 years ago.
After graduating from law school, he went to Washington, then moved to Houston, raising a family and starting a career in commercial litigation.
As a lawyer, Mr. O'Neill became known for his tenacity and single-mindedness. Some colleagues coined the phrase "Johnovision" to describe his tendency to settle on a particular view and then defend it remorselessly.
His clients have included some of the state's most powerful Republicans. Among the companies he represented was Falcon Seaboard, the energy company founded by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst of Texas.
But Mr. O'Neill has also taken cases that put him at odds with prominent Republicans. In the 1990's he worked on a fraud case against the HCA hospital chain - founded by the family of Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader - that ultimately helped to win an $880 million settlement on behalf of the federal government.
In 1990, President George Bush selected Mr. O'Neill to serve as a judge in the federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. But the nomination never went forward. In response to a question about the selection, Mr. O'Neill said he did not know whether the American Bar Association, which at that time reviewed federal judicial candidates - had thrown up a roadblock but that unnamed members of the Senate Judiciary Committee believed he lacked "judicial temperament."
A bar association spokeswoman declined to comment, citing its policy of confidentiality in reviews of potential judges.
Mr. O'Neill says he rarely thought about John Kerry over the three decades since their televised debate. It was not until February, he said, that he decided the time had come to take up arms again. At the time, he was in the hospital recovering after donating one of his kidneys to his wife, Anne Bradley O'Neill, who has Wegener's disease, a virulent form of lupus.
Reporters began calling his hospital room, he said. He was still very ill, but he began making calls to friends, and quickly discovered that a group of veterans was already making plans to attack Mr. Kerry. As soon as he was well enough to join them, he did. By that time, it was becoming clear that Mr. Kerry would be the Democratic nominee, and his face was everywhere on television, just as it had been back in 1971.
"It was déjà vu, as Yogi Berra says, all over again," Mr. O'Neill said.
The NYT likes the fact that he called Bush an empty suit.
Slowly, grudgingly, the MSM start to understand how foolish they look carrying Kerry's campaign for him and begin to show a bit more respect for the Swiftvets.....
The rats accuse Karl Rove of being begind this. If that's true, Bush should double his salary.
A patented nyt technique: no examples.
Some colleagues coined the phrase "Johnovision" to describe his tendency to settle on a particular view and then defend it remorselessly.
A patented nyt technique: no names.
This is just this sort of throw away line which betrays the fading New York Times. If this is the newspaper of record, if it is really willing to reveal all the news that is fit to print, let it "riddle" us with a few examples of the book's assumed inconsistencies. Let the New York Times not present the "differences with the official record" as that which calls the validity of the book into question, let the Times tell the reader that those "differences" are part of the explicit message of the book, a main point of the book.
It is this sort of sophistry, not flatly incorrect but smarmy nonetheless, which is slowly killing the reputation of a once great American institution. The Old Grey Lady is no longer the whited sepulcher which conceals all its corruption within.
Not a great article, but it's fairer than the other stuff the Times has written. Of course, it is in the Saturday paper, their least-read edition.
Mickey Kaus wrote that some of his MSM media buddies are troubled because they find the SwiftVets to be quite credible.
The offical record - written by Kerry.
Times is shameless.
They should be. Even the Houston Democratic Party chairman has said nice thinks about O'Neill. The thing the media has failed to focus on is that, contrary to the "web of connections" nonsense, these guys didn't need Republicans to spur them on with a reason to hate John Kerry. They already hated him on their own.
Thanks for the ping!
Item the first: The good professor is happy to help the New York Times prepare a front-page August 20 story reporting that the unflattering accounts of John Kerry's Vietnam career being offered by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are "riddled with inconsistencies."
This is a good illustration of how disinformation becomes Lexus/Nexus gospel.
Worse, here is the New York Times quoting itself exactly 8 days later,without attribution, in turn quoting the author of the very book which provoked the book critical of the author.
And so the Old Grey Lady exposes herself again as she bends over to pull on the ole bootstraps.
Please see my post 13.
Note: These are easily verifiable facts.
So what's the Time's point here? That it is O'Neill and not Kerry who is the prevaricating and seditious self-promoter?
Right out of the ol' (somewhat tattered) clinton playbook...
There were two major techniques that we used to implement McCurry's strategy of getting all the bad news out early and helping reporters write bad stories.
The first was overt and fully approved within the White House chain of command... "document dumps." The second method was covert, both to the outside world and within the "official" channels of the White House - the selective placement of certain stories and hot documents with a particular news organization, on "deep background," in a manner designed to minimize damage.
The trumping argument used by McCurry and me for doing these document dumps was directly out of the rules: that the hot documents were going to be leaked anyway, or worse, they would not be leaked and would be released for the first time during nationally televised senate and house campaign-finance hearings. Better that we put the story out ourselves, with plenty of opportunity to answer questions and to characterize the documents favorably, or at least accurately....We did this rarely; this method was almost always limited to a potentially very damaging story that was complicated, and therefore, which needed a baseline or "predicate" story to frame the issue. I never did a deep-background private placement without at least someone at a high level of the White House chain of command at least generally aware of what I was doing.
The advantages of the predicate story as a critical tool of damage control cannot be overstated.... [I]t will become the foundation block for all other reporters and for all future reporting. It will pop up in every Lexis/Nexis database search from then on. If it is complete and accurate, it will likely kill or at least diminish follow-up stories, since there won't be much more to report. If it is incomplete and wrong, then the Lexis database will cause it to repeat and grow, like a virus, more and more difficult to catch up with, correct, and cure.... [T]his procedure offers us the maximum chance to get into the story our interpretation or characterization of the facts most favorable (or least damaging) to the President.
[W]hen we were trying to kill the impact of the story, we used certain news organizations for this purpose. And we chose certain time periods or days of the week to place these stories with the same purpose in mind.
Usually our first choice was the Associated Press. Not only was the AP's team of investigative reporters first-rate and notoriously fact-oriented and fair, but we found that when an AP story went out on the overnight wires, the major daily national newspapers, such as The Washington Post or The New York Times, would not be inclined to give it front-page play. If they printed it at all, it was often buried on an inside page. More importantly, if an AP story was comprehensive and accurate - meaning, an effective predicate story - it was less likely that the major dailies would have much left to report in the next day's papers. ...So we decided to call John Solomon at the AP and invited him to come over to the White House... We had come to regard Solomon as the most factually-oriented, middle-of-the-road journalist of any on the scandal beat. He would kill us with stories, for sure; but they were always factual and he went the extra mile to be fair and complete in his reporting.... [W]e hoped the story would have died down almost completely. As it turned out, we were right. Manipulative and strategic in the choice and timing of the publication of this story? I guess.
Usually our first choice was the Associated Press. Not only was the AP's team of investigative reporters first-rate and notoriously fact-oriented and fair, but we found that when an AP story went out on the overnight wires, the major daily national newspapers, such as The Washington Post or The New York Times, would not be inclined to give it front-page play. If they printed it at all, it was often buried on an inside page. More importantly, if an AP story was comprehensive and accurate - meaning, an effective predicate story - it was less likely that the major dailies would have much left to report in the next day's papers.
...So we decided to call John Solomon at the AP and invited him to come over to the White House... We had come to regard Solomon as the most factually-oriented, middle-of-the-road journalist of any on the scandal beat. He would kill us with stories, for sure; but they were always factual and he went the extra mile to be fair and complete in his reporting....
[W]e hoped the story would have died down almost completely. As it turned out, we were right. Manipulative and strategic in the choice and timing of the publication of this story? I guess.
Kerry, in 1971, Admitted Writing Combat Reports
(CNSNews.com) - Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's 1971 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee reveals that the then anti-war activist admitted to writing many of the battle reports during his four months of combat in Vietnam.
Kerry told the committee on April 22, 1971, "...I can recall often sending in the spot reports which we made after each mission..."
Kerry also said that many in the military had "a tendency to report what they want to report and see what they want to see."
Kerry's comments about the battle reports came in response to a question from then Senator Stuart Symington (D- Mo.), who wondered about the accuracy of information from military sources.
According to the testimony , which is available in the Congressional Record, Sen. Symington asked Kerry, "Mr. Kerry, from your experience in Vietnam do you think it is possible for the President or Congress to get accurate and undistorted information through official military channels.[?]"
Kerry responded, "I had direct experience with that. Senator, I had direct experience with that and I can recall often sending in the spot reports which we made after each mission; and including the GDA, gunfire damage assessments, in which we would say, maybe 15 sampans sunk or whatever it was. And I often read about my own missions in the Stars and Stripes and the very mission we had been on had been doubled in figures and tripled in figures.
Kerry later added, "I also think men in the military, sir, as do men in many other things, have a tendency to report what they want to report and see what they want to see."
The 34-year-old testimony could shed light on the present debate over who wrote key battlefield reports that critics of Kerry say allowed him to win awards.
B. G. Burkett, author of the book Stolen Valor and a military researcher, calls the 1971 testimony "significant."
"What is significant about this is [Kerry] is readily admitting that he often submitted reports and he is implying that he himself exaggerated in those reports," Burkett told CNSNews.com.
"We have no way of knowing specifically which documents Kerry composed; and of the the ones he did compose -- did he in fact exaggerate or outright lie in those reports? That is the issue here," Burkett said.
The controversy about who authored the now controversial after-action reports arose earlier this week, when the Washington Post obtained the military records of Larry Thurlow, one of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Thurlow's military records indicated that enemy fire erupted after Kerry's boat was hit by a mine explosion on March 13, 1969.
Thurlow now insists there was no enemy fire that day. The best selling new book by John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, details the groups' critique of Kerry. Kerry has denounced the book and the Swift Boat vets and accused them of being an affiliate of President Bush's re-election campaign.
Thurlow and Kerry were each awarded a Bronze Star for heroism on that 13th day of March. Kerry also received his third Purple Heart as a result of the events of that day.
At the center of the controversy is whether or not there was enemy fire during Kerry's rescue of James Rassmann from the Bay Hap River. Kerry and Rassmann and others say there was enemy fire, while Thurlow and other swift boat veterans insist there was not.
Thurlow's own Bronze Star citation states that there was "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire" directed at "all units." But Thurlow believes his citation was based on Kerry's own account of the day.
"I am convinced that the language used in my citation ... was language taken directly from John Kerry's report," Thurlow said earlier this week. "John Kerry was the only officer who filed a report describing his version of the incident," Thurlow added.
The Washington Post summed up the controversy this way: "Much of the debate over who is telling the truth boils down to whether the two-page after-action report and other Navy records are accurate or whether they have been embellished by Kerry or someone else."
Burkett believes that Kerry stated the controversy surrounding his war record.
"Kerry thought that he could make a grand presentation of his combat record, and there would be no response, obviously, from the Republicans, considering the lack of military experience on that side of the aisle," Burkett said.
"I think [Kerry] completely misjudged the anger of Vietnam Veterans collectively and their ability to organize and have an answer to John Kerry," he added.
"The Bush administration is so enthralled by the idea of preemption and American military might
.This is the consequence of a policy that regards legitimacy as largely a product of force and victory as primarily a triumph of arms." John Kerry "I listened to what Senator Kerry had to say in Boston, and, with all due respect to the Senator, he views the world as if we had never been attacked on September 11th. The job of the Commander-in-Chief, as he sees it, is to use America's military strength to respond to attacks. But September 11th showed us, as surely as anything can, that we must act against gathering dangers - not wait for to be attacked. That awful day left some 3,000 of our fellow citizens dead, and everything we have learned since tells us the terrorists would do worse if they could, and that they will even use chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against us if they can. In the world we live in now, responding to attacks is not enough. We must do everything in our power to prevent attacks -- and that includes using military force." Dick Cheney "While I don't agree with Bush on a single domestic issue, they are all trumped by the issue of terrorism, where he has enunciated the Bush Doctrine and proven his ability to fight this war. The Democratic Party just doesn't have the stomach to go after terrorists." Ed Koch, a Democrat
"The Bush administration is so enthralled by the idea of preemption and American military might .This is the consequence of a policy that regards legitimacy as largely a product of force and victory as primarily a triumph of arms."
"I listened to what Senator Kerry had to say in Boston, and, with all due respect to the Senator, he views the world as if we had never been attacked on September 11th. The job of the Commander-in-Chief, as he sees it, is to use America's military strength to respond to attacks. But September 11th showed us, as surely as anything can, that we must act against gathering dangers - not wait for to be attacked. That awful day left some 3,000 of our fellow citizens dead, and everything we have learned since tells us the terrorists would do worse if they could, and that they will even use chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against us if they can. In the world we live in now, responding to attacks is not enough. We must do everything in our power to prevent attacks -- and that includes using military force."
"While I don't agree with Bush on a single domestic issue, they are all trumped by the issue of terrorism, where he has enunciated the Bush Doctrine and proven his ability to fight this war.
The Democratic Party just doesn't have the stomach to go after terrorists."
Ed Koch, a Democrat
I think this puts too strong a spin on the Swift Boat vets' reactions to Kerry.
Certainly, many were disgusted by Kerry's turncoat antiwar antics and his peers were so unimpressed with Kerry's valor and judgment that they asked him to leave the Vietnam theater early (relayed by Thomas W. Wright, Cdr., USN, Ret.).
But it was not until they read passages from Douglas Brinkley's Tour of Duty, and recognized incidents described for which they had personal knowledge -- often highly embellished if not plainly wrong on the facts that many, like George M. Elliott, Capt., USNR, Ret., were persuaded to join SBVT and oppose Kerry.
Their reading confirmed their impressions that Kerry was an ambitious opportunist who had a demonstrated pattern of behavior that was not trustworthy.
Both O'Neill and Roy Hoffmann, Adm., USN, Ret., have done a terrific job in bringing this to the public's attention. The country owes them a debt of gratitude.
John E. O'Neill
Rest snipped for space
I agree with what you wrote. My point was just that Bush didn't orchestrate the SVFT to dislike Kerry; they had their own reasons, as you pointed out.
The most significant fact exposed by this article is that it breaks new ground. For the first time in the campaign, The New York Times seems to have featured a factual article related to the 2004 presidential race!