Scott Swett interview by Andrea Shea-King on WDBO in Orlando, January 6, 2008

ASK: We've got our guest hanging on the line with us, and his name is Scott Swett. What a nice guy – I've interviewed him already. This is a fellow who is a Swift boat vet, and he has written a book called "To Set The Record Straight, How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry." He joins us tonight, and it's just a delight to have him. Scott, welcome to the program.

Swett: Thank you very much, Andrea.

ASK: Nice to have you on board.

Swett: I need to correct one thing, though, right off the top. I'm not actually a Swift boat veteran; I'm a civilian.

ASK: You kind of are, through empathy.

Swett: (laughs) I would be honored to think that.

ASK: Well, all right, we'll say that the record then is corrected. This book, To Set The Record Straight, you have – this is an amazing book, and it focuses on the old media presenting false or misleading information to the public during the 2004 campaign. What techniques did the old media use to marginalize the Swift Boat Vets for Truth, and maybe any other anti-Kerry veterans?

Swett: I think the first and most obvious tactic or technique that they used was simply to pretend the charges that the Swift boat veterans were making against John Kerry didn't qualify as news. I mean, here you had Kerry’s entire chain of command from Vietnam, and a number of other guys who had served closely with him, and in an unprecedented event in American politics, these guys set up a press conference at the National Press Club to say that they think Kerry is unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief. You'd think that this would be national news, but the Associated Press felt otherwise, and although they had a reporter there, they declined to file any story whatsoever. So that's the first and simplest way, is simply to use the "black hole of non-information."

ASK: Then, later on, they were just parroting Kerry lies, weren't they? Carrying water for him?

Swett: Well, once... the Kerry campaign relied on the old media to silence the story, and once the blogs and discussion forums and talk radio and these other – and the web site, which I ran for them – and these other avenues of information started really becoming effective in August of 2004, at some point Kerry and his minions decided that the right way to stop the bleeding would be to go public and denounce the Swift Vets. And lo and behold, the same day they did that, huge articles appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post, which had hitherto offered no information whatsoever on the topic. All of a sudden they're saying exactly the same thing Kerry is... they're saying these people are Republican shills, which in fact they were not.

ASK: So this was an obvious concerted effort on behalf of the big media to discredit what the Swift boat vets were bringing forward.

Swett: It seems to stretch the bounds of coincidence to think that they just happened to do exactly the same thing at the same time. Another good example of that is when the 60 Minutes piece about George Bush's National Guard service came out in September. The DNC, by an amazing coincidence, had millions of dollars of ads hammering away at the same theme ready to go for the next morning. So I think to call it a coordinated effort is exactly accurate.

ASK: Ultimately, though, the media’s efforts to protect Kerry failed.

Swett: Well, they did, but I don’t think you could argue that it was through a lack of effort on their part.

ASK: No? What happened?

Swett: What happened is they weren't able to keep the veterans from getting their story to the public. And once that occurred, what the veterans had to say was widely believed. Now the Left and the media today are trying to use the term "swiftboating" as a pejorative, with a kind of implicit assumption that to "swiftboat" somebody is to do something wrong or say something dishonest.

ASK: Mm-hmm.

Swett: But the reason the Swift boat veterans were effective is because they were credible. And polls show that they were extremely effective in swaying the opinions of independents and of veterans, which of course were two key groups in 2004.

ASK: Well, and the other part of this too that I think is the critical component in this, is that you had the Swift boat vets fanning out across the country, making themselves available to talk radio programs like mine, and also to television shows, television news shows... and they also did some very effective TV advertising.

Swett: That's true. Once the original press conference didn't have the desired effect, they decided that they were going to try and contract with some fairly heavy hitters who design political ads in DC, and they got them to start setting up their first TV ad. And once that got seen, that had a huge impact.

ASK: That was just amazing. All those men standing there, all of them saying what they remembered about John Kerry.

Swett: Well, Edwards of course had set them up perfectly, because when he was announced as Kerry's running mate, he stood up – in fact, I think it was in Florida – and said, "If you have any doubt about what John Kerry is made of, spend just three minutes with the men who served with him." They saw this thing, and just leapt upon it.

ASK: Oh man...

Swett: So they had 13 guys, one after another, saying, "I served with John Kerry and John Kerry can't be trusted. Here’s why." But behind the 60-second ad was a 65-page document that they sent to each of the 20 TV station managers to whom they submitted the ad. Because they knew perfectly well that if they got an ad taken off the air because they couldn't back up what they said, that that would be the greatest mistake they could make. So they documented everything in tremendous detail, and the ads were run, despite tremendous pressure from the Kerry campaign not to.

ASK: Was that the genesis then for the book "Unfit for Command" which was co-authored by John O'Neill and Dr. Jerry Corsi?

Swett: "Unfit for Command" was a parallel effort that was written primarily in June, in fact, it was written in about three weeks. I was involved in that, I was – Jerry Corsi was throwing chapters at me and I was rewriting them and throwing them back – and to this day, I'm not sure exactly how much of it I wound up doing.

ASK: But you did contribute significantly to that book, though?

Swett: On the... the book divides into two fairly equal halves: the one half on Kerry's antiwar activities and his coordination with the Vietnamese communists was the part that Jerry Corsi authored, and took the lead on. And John O'Neill gathered together the information that the Swift Vets' investigation into Kerry's military service had unearthed over the previous few months. So the book really pulled together a lot of information that was available on each side. And it was also very effective.

ASK: The web site that a lot of this information came from, or that came out of that effort was WinterSoldier.com.

Swett: Yes, that was a web site that I created on behalf of a group called the Free Republic Network, which was a grassroots conservative organization. And that was focused on the war crimes propaganda campaign that Kerry, and Jane Fonda, and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War put together during the Vietnam War. Our idea was that this would be an information resource for conservatives, and to my considerable surprise, what happened was that this veterans' network, primarily of Vietnam veterans, that existed online, latched onto it and started feeding us information. So over... in just a matter of a few weeks in early 2004, it became kind of the communications center for what became a political movement against John Kerry.

ASK: Now you said, the Free Republic Network. Are you referring to FreeRepublic.com, the website?

Swett: The Free Republic Network was a non-profit that was created to support the chapters of Free Republic, the forum. And our hope was also to put those... to create connections between those chapters and some of the older and better-established conservative groups in Washington. That didn't work out as well as we’d hoped, but it did provide a useful platform for doing some of these other activities.

ASK: We are talking with Scott Swett, who is the author of "To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry." He's co-written it with Tim Ziegler. Well actually Tim has done the editing part of it, right?

Swett: He's the co-author.

ASK: He's the co-author. All right. Now we're talking about the media... during my first segment I talked about the debates, the presidential debates that we're seeing this weekend, especially, and how they've limited, the news operations have limited the candidates that can participate in these debates. I'm just curious – I know this is kind of off-topic, but what are your thought on this, Scott?

Swett: On limiting the participants?

ASK: Mm-hmm. Well for example, excluding Duncan Hunter in last night's debate in – I think it was last night's debate – yes, Ron Paul...

Swett: Yes, well I think that obviously given Paul's results, whatever you think of his message, that it was clearly a mistake to not include him. And I feel strongly that Duncan Hunter should also be part of any such debate. But it's problematic, because you've got kind of a spectrum of people with different levels of support, and obviously you have to draw the line someplace; you can't put 65 people on stage.

ASK: But you could put seven. (laughs)

Swett: Certainly you could put seven. There’s no question about that. I thought though that one of the more interesting aspects of the debates was the way that the Internet was able to expose the use of phony planted questions – the so-called "plants." And I think that's the first time a lot of people understood just how scripted these events really are.

ASK: They sure are. Well, and look at... you had a similar situation – not a debate, but in terms of media control – the press conference at the National Press Club when the Swift boat vets were announcing their concerns about John Kerry running for President. You had media there, but there was no ensuing coverage of the event.

Swett: There was a little bit.

ASK: A little bit?

Swett: Dan Rather did a remarkable hatchet job, in which he quoted a couple of the veterans, including their founder, Admiral Hoffmann, and then all but instructed the viewing audience to disregard anything they said. They called them "experienced political operatives" and other unfortunate names. None of that was true. In fact, he went on to say, or to suggest that they'd had something to do with attacking the military record of John McCain in a previous election, which was absolutely false, and that claim has echoed around on the Left ever since. No one has ever been able to name for me one Swift boat veteran that was involved in such an activity.

ASK: Mm-hmm.

Swett: The press conference itself was very interesting. The veterans felt that they would hold this press conference, they would put out their message, and in all probability the Democrats would withdraw Kerry and put up another nominee. I think most of them really believed that going in. And as I was sitting there with them watching, you could almost see the thought bubbles over the heads of the mainstream reporters, like, "How do we make this go away?" "This is a bad thing." And afterwards, they were just kind of milling around looking at the ceiling. It could not have been more plain how appalled they were that such a thing was happening to the Democratic candidate.

ASK: So, the fellow who founded the Swift boat vets, I think it was what, a guy named Bill Frank? He ran the day-to-day operations?

Swett: Bill Franke was the operational manager.

ASK: Okay.

Swett: The founder of the Swift boat veterans was Admiral Roy Hoffmann, who had run the entire Market Time brown-water Navy operation in the Mekong Delta, which… all the Swift boats were part of that. Really, the genesis of the Swift boat veterans as a political entity came when Hoffmann read the biography of Kerry by Douglas Brinkley, which was called "Tour of Duty,"and it bore very little resemblance to his own experiences. So he actually went up in his attic and started digging through his old records, and started making phone calls, he and his wife both, to everybody they could contact who had served under him. And his message to them was, "I'd like you to read this book. I'd like you to report back to me on those events in which you were personally involved. I don't want opinions, just facts." And the information that came back to Admiral Hoffmann was the genesis for everything that happened afterwards.

ASK: Tell us about the "tap code."

Swett: The "tap code" was a term the Swift boat veterans used to describe the problem that they faced in going around the mainstream media. And what they did was they likened it to the situation the POWs faced in the Hanoi Hilton, where they were trying to communicate, and if they were caught they'd be stopped. And they formed a... one of them knew a tap code where you could encode letters by tapping on a wall, and then teach it to somebody else fairly quickly. So that became the metaphor they used for trying to get their message out against active opposition on the part of the media.

ASK: Mm-hmm. And it was successful.

Swett: It was. One of the reasons was that – they had about 300 members of the Swift Vets, and another 40 POWs they were working with towards the end of the campaign, and so they could put somebody on the air on short notice almost anyplace. Since John Kerry's "Band of Brothers" that we saw at the Democratic National Convention had less than a dozen guys, they really couldn't match that kind of scope.

ASK: We have a question from one of our listeners in the chat room who wants to know if you see any evidence that the current generation of our military... let me get this straight here... is even cognizant of the threat that the Iraq Veterans Against the War presents.

Swett: I think they may be. There's certainly enormously more communication between troops in the field, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and people back home, due to the new technologies, than there was or could be during the Vietnam War. And of course, communication is far faster. Certainly the milbloggers, a lot of them, are aware that the Iraq Veterans Against the War are attempting to replicate the war crimes propaganda of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War from 35 years ago, and in fact are working with some of the people who were key players in that earlier effort. My own belief is that such claims, when they’re made, are going to be subject to a whole lot more scrutiny than the claims that John Kerry repeated before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in 1971.

ASK: Well tell me, what do you think are... given what happened during the last Presidential campaign and how the Swift Boat Vets for Truth were able to get the truth out about John Kerry, what do think are the implications of what happened then, especially with regard to how the media handled it, what do you think the implications are for the current presidential campaign?

Swett: I think the primary implication is that the old media can no longer control the conversation; that their ability to define what is news and what people will talk about at the water cooler has been severely eroded. And for that reason I think we may see more surprises than would have been possible, certainly two or three election cycles ago.

ASK: Do you think… given the fact that back then we had propaganda efforts – and we still do – but back then, of John Kerry, Jane Fonda, Vietnam Veterans Against the War... they did a lot to poison public opinion about the war. And we see the same kind of dynamic happening now. Do you think... what do you think can happen today? Do you think there’s enough pushback from talk radio and the blogosphere, the Internet, to override or at least to quell that kinds of thing, or do you think that it’s inevitable that – what are your thoughts on it?

Swett: I don't think it's a closed deal either way. I think we're still finding out to what extent the resistance against such propaganda reduces its effectiveness. The New York Times put on its front page every day for more than 40 consecutive days a story about the prison abuses a couple of years ago. And obviously that's not the most important thing that's going on in Iraq at that time, but it's what they chose to focus their considerable spotlight on. That sort of thing... once you see through it, it ceases to have an impact on you. So I think this is largely an educational war. The more people are trained to see what the media is actually doing, then the less effect it can have.

ASK: I think it's interesting that we have a candidate running for president now, John McCain, who said he thought that the Swift boat ad was "dishonest and dishonorable" and that "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 that John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam." What's your reaction to McCain's comment?

Swett: Well, first of all, he's wrong. The Swift boat veterans had among their number Kerry's gunner, Steve Gardner, and Gardner was very, very active in speaking against Kerry. Secondly, McCain – as Admiral Hoffmann himself pointed out – wasn’t there. He has absolutely no knowledge of whether the claims the Swift boat veterans were making were true or not. And so beyond that, while I might respect his service, his opinion in this matter doesn’t carry a lot of weight.

ASK: All right. Let's talk about the book, "To Set The Record Straight." Overall, why did you write the book? (laughs) Maybe I'm asking a redundant question – to set the record straight.

Swett: The Swift... the larger Vietnam veteran effort in 2004 was calculated to correct a number of myths in the culture about what happened in Vietnam, and about what happened in the antiwar movement. We wrote this book to try and head off what would certainly be attempts to create myths about what the veterans themselves did in 2004. And so in that sense it's hopefully an antidote or preventative measure against the sloganeering and the attacks on the veterans.

ASK: How can folks obtain a copy of "To Set The Record Straight?"

Swett: Well, we conveniently have a web site called ToSetTheRecordStraight.com, and it’s also at TSTRS.com to save a few keystrokes.

ASK: Okay, and is that the only place the book is available at this time?

Swett: It is right now. We’re going to put it on Amazon, but that takes a few weeks to get going.

ASK: All right. Okay, Scott Swett, we appreciate your being with us this evening, and again complement you on a nice piece of work. This book is the... I would say it closes the chapter, at least on the career, the military career of John Kerry. And oh, by the way, has he ever released his military records?

Swett: There still seem to be some large missing gaps. And it's not just the military records. He's never released his own personal diary from Vietnam.

ASK: Interesting, isn't it? Begs the question: why? All right, Scott Swett, thanks again for being with us tonight. I enjoyed it, and best of luck to you. We'll be in touch, I'm sure, as time goes on.

Swett: Thanks very much for having me.

ASK: You're welcome. And again, the name of the book is "To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry." It is available by going to the web site ToSetTheRecordStraight.com.

(end of transcript)

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