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Scott Swett interview by Thom Hartmann on Air America, December 19, 2007

Hartmann: And greetings, my friends, patriots, lovers of democracy, truth and justice, believers in peace, freedom and the American way. Thom Hartmann here with you. Scott Swett is with us. Scott is the author along with Tim Ziegler of a new book, "To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry." Scott – ToSetTheRecordStraight.com, by the way, the web site – Scott, welcome to the program.

Swett: Hi, Thom. Thanks for having me on.

Hartmann: First of all – I have the book here in my hand – whose picture is this on the cover?

Swett: That would be John O'Neill. He was the lead spokesman of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Hartmann: I thought it was; I thought he looked familiar, he’s been on this program several times, and… first of all, why revisit this?

Swett: Well, it isn't exactly a matter of revisiting it. We felt that the story, the inside story of what happened in 2004 from the perspective of the veterans who opposed John Kerry had never been told, and that an accurate account of it was therefore a useful thing.

Hartmann: How do you respond to John McCain, the Republican Senator who says, “I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable, as it is none of those individuals who served on the boat that Kerry commanded. Many of his crewmates have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam.”

Swett: I think I would cite Admiral Hoffmann, who was the leader of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who said that...

Hartmann: He was on the boat with John Kerry?

Swett: He actually commanded the entire effort that John Kerry was a part of...

Hartmann: But he was not on the boat with John Kerry.

Swett: No, the people that command things usually aren't on six-person boats.

Hartmann: Do you have any of the people who were on the boat with John Kerry as... in any of these ads?

Swett: Yes, certainly. Steve Gardner was the gunner for John Kerry, who served with him longer than any other crewman on his boat. He's the guy that came forward to say that Kerry's claim to have fought the Khmer Rouge while ordered illegally into Cambodia was not true...

Hartmann: ...off by a couple of weeks in his recollection.

Swett: ...but I was responding to your comment about McCain. Admiral Hoffmann said that he certainly respected McCain's service and his opinion, but that McCain wasn't there, and that the Swift Vets had a number of eyewitnesses who were.

Hartmann: T. Boone Pickens has offered a million bucks to anyone who can disprove your claims. John Kerry has taken him up on his offer. Now he's backpedaling. Why?

Swett: Well, I don't know to what extent he’s backpedaling. Kerry did say that he had new evidence that was going to confirm his version of the various events that the Swift Boat veterans disputed. I haven't seen that evidence, and I don't think anyone else has either.

Hartmann: I have his letter here; it doesn’t say anything about "new evidence." He says, "As I’ve said to you before, I'm prepared to prove the lie and marshal all the evidence. The question is whether you’re prepared to fulfill your obligation." I mean, I have his entire letter here. There's nothing... I don't see "new evidence" anywhere in it.

Swett: Well, what...

Hartmann: "Dear Mr. Pickens..." – it's nine paragraphs, I could read the whole thing to you, but I'm sure you’ve got it.

Swett: What Pickens said was that if any of the core contentions that the Swift Boat veterans made in their TV ads against Kerry could be proven untrue, he would give a million dollars to anybody that could do that. To disprove something, you normally have to provide evidence. Kerry hasn't provided any.

Hartmann: We're talking with Scott Swett, the author of a new book, "To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry." Scott, let's talk about strategy for a second here. Much of the book is historical and detailing, you know, all the terrible things about John Kerry. But the subtitle, how the Swift Boat veterans and the new media defeated John Kerry is something that intrigues me. George W. Bush arguably was a deserter, something who under law could have been executed. If you're AWOL for more than thirty days, you’re a deserter, and he went AWOL for well over thirty days...

Swett: You’re suggesting that George Bush should have been executed?

Hartmann: I'm suggesting that George Bush committed a crime that at various times in the history of this country has resulted in execution.

Swett: That seems like a rather stretched perspective on his service...

Hartmann: Well, here's my question – I'm not asking you to agree or disagree with me on it; I think it’s a matter of record that George Bush was AWOL for more than thirty days. But, if I was a Democrat, and I was running...

Swett: Hypothetically.

Hartmann: Yeah, this is entirely hypothetical – I'm asking your advice, because you guys did this very effectively. I mean, I agree with you. You guys helped bring down John Kerry. Badly. And I don’t mean you did it badly, you did it brilliantly. But it brought him down very badly and his failure to respond to it, I think, was a stupid disaster. If I was John Kerry, for example, and I was running against George Bush, or if I was advising a presidential campaign now and we had somebody like George Bush, who had such a clear violation – I mean, a guy who was AWOL for nearly a year from the military, running against somebody who actually volunteered to serve – how would I most effectively "swift boat" George W. Bush?

Swett: Well, CBS News "60 Minutes" made a serious effort to do exactly that, and the reason it didn't work was because the documents on which the claims were based were forgeries. So I think one key element...

Hartmann: I don't think that’s been demonstrated, I think that's still an open question.

Swett: I think it’s crystal clear that they were done on a word processor. There weren't word processors in 1969.

Hartmann: Well, again, there were computers that did have some of those characters, I mean… but nonetheless...

Swett: The point I was going to make is that a key element of successfully – if you want to use the term – "swift boating" a political candidate, from my perspective, is you have to be able and willing to back up your claims with documented evidence, which the Swift Boat veterans did. When they put their first ad forward, they had 60 pages of documentation that they gave to the TV station managers – they knew if they had an ad pulled off the air it would be a disaster – and each of the 20 stations that they submitted the information to did run the ads.

Hartmann: Clearly you think that personal attacks like this about somebody's history 30 years before the fact is an important statement of their character in the campaign.

Swett: Well, I would go with a little wider gauge than that; what the Swift Boat veterans said was that Kerry had systematically falsified his claims about what he did in Vietnam, and obviously character is a key component of politics.

Hartmann: So why do you think the Democrats never brought up George Bush's cocaine use, his alcoholism, his alleged wife-beating, his being AWOL, for example...

Swett: "Wife beating?" No kidding.

Hartmann: Yeah, I mean there were allegations, and fairly well substantiated ones I believe... that one of the reasons he quit drinking was because Laura threatened to leave, and that he had been violent with her. He was certainly... he threatened to beat up his own father – he bragged about it.

Swett: I don't have any knowledge of these, ah, purported events. The topic...

Hartmann: But my question is, the Democrats like never go there, and you guys go there in an instant. Is what you’re doing coarsening politics...

Swett: Just a minute, now...

Hartmann: ...or is what the Democrats are doing is being stupid?

Swett: You just claimed on national radio that George Bush should have been executed...

Hartmann: No, I didn't say that. What I said is that George Bush was AWOL, and that is a crime for which at various times in the history of this country the penalty has been death. And George Washington used that...

Swett: Okay, I don't agree with your premise, which is that the Right is somehow more willing to do dastardly things than the Left...

Hartmann: I didn't say dastardly things, I'm talking about character assassination and... which may or may not be illegitimate.

Swett: The claims against Kerry were as I said well documented, and the other piece of why they were effective, which goes back to your earlier question about politics, is because there was a deep current of underlying resentment among U.S. military veterans, particularly those from the Vietnam War, at Kerry for contributing to the environment in which they were seen as baby-killers, war criminals, and people that couldn’t function in society.

Hartmann: Kerry never alleged that. In fact, the statement of his that you guys cherry-picked, or that you guys used, was only half the sentence. He said I just came back from Detroit where vets are saying, then he said...

Swett: It's not a question of cherry-picking...

Hartmann: ...that war crimes are happening, and you guys just quoted half a sentence to engage in character assassination against him.

Swett: Not at all. He was up there in front of the Senators for an hour and a half...

Hartmann: I know, but that was the particular quote that got used over and over and over again in the media...

Swett: Well, here's another quote for you. He also said that the United States was "murdering 200,000 people a year" in Vietnam, which was completely ridiculous, and a character assassination of the U.S. military and the troops that fought there.

Hartmann: You don't... I don’t have that statement in front of me, but I would submit to you that – do you think the United States is murdering anyone in Iraq?

Swett: "Murdering" anybody in Iraq?

Hartmann: Right.

Swett: Well, the United States is "murdering people" in every major city. I'm sure there are some crimes that are committed, and some of those are probably murder. Does that mean, that as Kerry stated...?

Hartmann: Do you think an illegal war that results in the death of people is murder?

Swett: "Illegal war." I...

Hartmann: Do you think that Lyndon Johnson, when he knew that the Gulf of Tonkin was not real, and he lied to the American people, that everything that followed from that was not murder?

Swett: No, I don't think that's an accurate characterization. Both Houses of Congress overwhelmingly approved the use of force in Vietnam...

Hartmann: Because they believed the information that the Johnson Administration gave them...

Swett: That was...

Hartmann: I'm giving you an opportunity to attack a Democrat here.

Swett: That was one aspect of why they voted on it. But leaving the question aside of whether the Vietnam War was a good or bad thing, what Kerry said about the U.S. military was unforgivable to many veterans.

Hartmann: Okay. Scott Swett – ToSetTheRecordStraight.com the web site, also the title of the book. Scott, thanks for being with us today.

Swett: Thanks for having me on.

(After a commercial break, Hartmann, having just accused George W. Bush of wife-beating, cocaine abuse, desertion, and suggesting that he "could have been executed," went on to decry character assassination in politics, asking "How do we clean it up?")

Last Updated Wednesday, December 19 2007 @ 05:47 PM MST|6,353 Hits