Scott Swett interview by Paul Weyrich on RighTalk Radio, December 28, 2007

Weyrich: Back with The Right Hour on the RighTalk Radio Network. I'm Paul Weyrich, and with us now is Scott Swett, who has just written a book entitled, To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry. Swett is a former chairman of the Free Republic Network, and was very much involved with the entire controversy over the Swift Boat veterans in the 2004 elections. Scott, welcome to the program.

Swett: Thank you very much, Paul. It's good to be on the show.

Weyrich: We're happy to have you here because there are many questions that need to be asked of you. For example, the book 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 Veterans for Truth and other anti-Kerry veterans?

Swett: They used a couple of different techniques. Initially, they simply refused to report on the charges made by the Swift Boat veterans against John Kerry. For example, when they held their initial press conference at the National Press Club on May 4, 2004, the Associated Press decided that the event - which consisted of John Kerry’s entire former chain of command denouncing him as being unfit to be Commander-in-Chief – the AP decided that was not "news" and failed to file any article whatsoever. So that would be... certainly the simplest method is to refuse to convey the information to the public. A second approach, which they fell back to later, was to simply parrot the Kerry campaign's lies about the veterans – their claims that they were Republican operatives, that they hadn't really served with Kerry, that somehow their charges had been discredited, and so on. CBS and Dan Rather kind of pioneered the path in that regard.

Weyrich: Why did the media efforts to protect Kerry ultimately fail?

Swett: I would say they failed because the Swift Vets were able to establish alternative paths of communication to the public... one piece of that was the online effort, which centered around their web site, SwiftVets.com, which I was running. They also had thousands of interviews on talk radio, they had an extremely effective TV ad campaign, and then of course the book, Unfit for Command, which was co-authored by John O'Neill and Dr. Jerry Corsi.

Weyrich: That really was an excellent book. And you contributed rather significantly to that book, didn't you?

Swett: I was working with Dr. Corsi before the book was written, at WinterSoldier.com. He more or less introduced himself online, and suggested that we start working together. And quite a bit of the information that wound up being in the antiwar half of Unfit for Command – which was the half that Corsi took the lead on – came out of that effort at WinterSoldier.com.

Weyrich: Explain WinterSoldier.com, because I think a lot of our listeners were not familiar with it.

Swett: Well, that started in January of 2004 when I was looking at a thread on FreeRepublic.com, and it was describing a 1971 book by John Kerry and his Vietnam Veterans Against the War, called The New Soldier. It documented what that group claimed were rampant war crimes, being committed under orders in Vietnam. I became curious about this, and started buying books on the topic and doing research and ordering old videotapes, and I eventually wound up going to the board of the Free Republic Network and saying, "I think there's a really important project here. I think this is going to be... the center of the 2004 campaign is going to be at this topic." And they authorized me to create a web site which was essentially a repository of information about what the Vietnam Veterans Against the War did during the antiwar movement.

Weyrich: Why did the efforts ultimately fail of the old media?

Swett: After their unsuccessful press conference, the Swift Vet leaders, including Admiral Hoffmann, who founded the group, Bill Franke, who ran day-to-day operations, and their lead spokesman John O'Neill others realized that the old media was not going to honestly report on their charges. And so they determined that they would build what they internally called a "tap code" to communicate with the public. The tap code was the communications system used by U.S. prisoners in the Hanoi Hilton and other North Vietnamese prison camps. They spelled out messages by tapping on the walls of their cells. That was... once the initial press conference failed to achieve the goal of getting Kerry to step down, then they built these alternate paths, which became very successful in August 2004.

Weyrich: Give our listeners some of the key media misrepresentations during the 2004 campaign. They probably have seen many of these - it will refresh their memories, and I think you ought to recount these misrepresentations.

Swett: Well I think the best-known example is Dan Rather's 60 Minutes report, which covered the National Guard service of George Bush, and was later exposed to have relied on forged documents. Most people are now aware that the story was a fraud, but I don’t think it's widely understood just how closely the attack on President Bush was coordinated with the Kerry campaign. For example, the day after the 60 Minutes segment ran, the DNC launched a multi-million dollar TV ad campaign that made essentially the same allegations that the 60 Minutes piece did. And of course, you can't put something like that together overnight.

Weyrich: No.

Swett: Another point that's often overlooked is that it wasn't just 60 Minutes that was purveying this false information. Every major news organization in the country went with the story. These are organizations that pride themselves on having thousands of editors and fact-checkers, but none of those people noticed what ordinary citizens posting online, at places like FreeRepublic.com and various blogs, saw at a glance – which was that the documents were actually forgeries created on a modern word processor rather than a National Guard typewriter. I think that's one of the key pieces of what I think will eventually be seen as a watershed in American politics in 2004, where the old media lost control, or lost their ability to control the conversation. Incidentally, the...

Weyrich: What new information were you able to uncover about Kerry's time in Vietnam and in the antiwar movement?

Swett: We were able to dig more deeply into the relationship between Kerry's Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. Few people realized at the time that the VVAW was actually taking direction from the Vietnamese communists; they were in constant contact with them – one method of contact was through the Paris peace conferences, and we were able to find internal communications in which the VVAW leaders openly admitted that for their organization, the Vietnamese, quote, "called the shots."

Weyrich: That's incredible. What are the implications of what happened in 2004 for the current campaign?

Swett: I think it's clear that whoever the Democratic nominee is, that the media is going to line up behind him or her, and attempt to hide any negative information that might come out. But I think their ability to do that successfully has now been significantly eroded. So if the Democratic Party nominates a seriously flawed candidate as they did in 2004, it seems unlikely that party leaders and their supporters in the media will succeed in preventing the public from learning those facts, as, of course, happened in 2004.

Weyrich: I think it's clear that the propaganda efforts of John Kerry, Jane Fonda and the Vietnam Veterans Against the War did a great deal to poison public opinion against the military during and after the Vietnam War. Could such a thing happen again today in your opinion?

Swett: In fact, there are efforts underway to do precisely that. The leftist group Iraq Veterans Against the War is currently working in tandem with members of the original VVAW to organize a second "Winter Soldier" hearing, which they have scheduled for March of next year. I think we can expect that they will try to publicize the same sort of vague, unverifiable claims of atrocity that Kerry repeated before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations back in '71, and that military investigators later dismissed. What I would hope is that that military bloggers, veterans and conservative activists will work to expose their lies before they can get any significant traction. And of course this has already happened in several cases. Some of the leaders of the Iraq Veterans Against the War have already been exposed as having told lies about atrocities.

Weyrich: So you think that you’ve set up a situation where what happened in 2004 [1971] would be more difficult to replicate in 2008?

Swett: We certainly have more tools than we did, or than the people did who tried to oppose John Kerry and those folks...

Weyrich: All right, we have to close out this segment, but I hope our listeners will buy the book, To Set The Record Straight.

(end of transcript)

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation. He is a founder and past director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the founding president of the Heritage Foundation, and the current National Chairman of Coalitions for America.

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