Swift Boat flacks attack CBS

As the controversy over Bush's military record builds, a right-wing firm that works for the RNC pitches in.

Topics: 2004 Elections, George W. Bush,

Upset by renewed attention to President Bush’s disputed service in the Texas Air National Guard, White House communications director Dan Bartlett insists the new revelations about how strings were pulled to get Bush into the Guard, as well as to get him out, are part of “a coordinated attack by John Kerry and his surrogates on the president.” There is no evidence to support that claim. But there is clear evidence confirming that the same conservative operatives who have been busily promoting the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smears of Kerry are now engaged in pushing the story that CBS’s “60 Minutes Weeknight Edition” aired forged documents in its Wednesday night report on Bush and the National Guard.

Creative Response Concepts, the Arlington, Va., Republican public relations firm run by former Pat Buchanan communications director Greg Mueller, with help from former Pat Robertson communications director Mike Russell, sent out a media advisory Thursday to hawk a right-wing news dispatch: “60 Minutes’ Documents on Bush Might Be Fake.” Creative Response Concepts has played a crucial role in hyping the inaccurate, secondhand Swift Boat allegations, with Russell serving as the group’s official spokesman. A company spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Throughout the Swift Boat smear campaign, the veterans involved asserted they had no political agenda and were unaffiliated with any political party. But Creative Response Concepts, which was obviously paid some undisclosed amount for its Swift Boat work, has many links to the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Among its clients are the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee. Its client list also includes the Christian Coalition, National Taxpayers Union, Media Research Council and Regnery Publishing. Regnery is the firm that published “Unfit for Command,” the SBVT screed against Kerry’s military record.

Now Creative Response is working the case against CBS’s “60 Minutes” report on Bush’s questionable service in the Texas Air National Guard. The program included the first-ever interview with former Texas Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes on how he secured preferential treatment for the young George Bush in entering the Texas Air National Guard to avoid service in Vietnam. It also featured never-before-seen personal memos written by one of Bush’s immediate commanders at the time, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who expressed concern and frustration over Bush’s refusal to obey a direct order and fulfill his military commitment.



Bartlett attacked Barnes as politically motivated, but did not challenge the veracity of his account. Conservative operatives immediately alleged that Killian’s memos were forged, posting their charges on the Internet while the CBS broadcast was still in progress. They claim that the memos were faked using modern word-processing equipment, and were not produced with typewriters common from the Vietnam era.

By Thursday, the online Drudge Report and the Weekly Standard were also trumpeting the accusations. And Creative Response Concepts sent out a press release to major news organizations stating that the “documents on Bush might be fake.”

In the release, Creative Response promoted a Web site called Cybercast News Service, one of several groups directed by Brent Bozell, a longtime right-wing activist who has devoted years to attacking the “liberal bias” of the mainstream press. His Media Research Center and other similar efforts have been heavily funded by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

The CNS News.com story, echoed by other conservative outlets, helped sparked a debate over proportional spacing, fonts, electric typewriters and superscripts as independent typographical experts weighed in with their own doubts. Some experts contacted by the Washington Post, New York Times and Salon suggested that the raised, or superscripted, “th” in one of Killian’s memos was a telltale sign that the documents were created well after 1972. Yet independent researcher Marty Heldt notes that he had received an undisputed Bush military document in 2000 from the Vietnam era that clearly contains a superscripted “th.” He also notes that when Killian’s Aug. 14, 1973, memo is enlarged and the word “interference” is examined, it’s clear the two middle e’s rest higher on the page than the other two e’s; that is not something a modern-day word processor would likely do.

CBS, for its part, stands by its story, saying its “report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking … Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned.” CBS News vice president Betsy West said, “We are continuing to pursue the story and will report tonight on the “‘CBS Evening News.’”

As for the memos in which Killian complained about the pressure he was getting from his superiors to “sugarcoat” Bush’s spotty service record, Killian’s superior told CBS producers that Killian had made similar contemporaneous statements to him in the early 1970s, according to the Washington Post.

The forgery flap has created a firestorm among mainstream media, but it is merely a sideshow in the larger National Guard controversy. The disputed Killian documents represent just a fraction of what is known about Bush’s Guard duty. To date, the voluminous information about the issue comes from Bush’s own Texas Guard file, none of which has been called into question. And in fact, the veracity of the contents of the Killian memos remains undisputed. For instance, one memo dated May 4, 1972, ordered Bush to obtain a physical exam. There has been no controversy whatsoever about the fact that Bush was required to take a physical that year and failed to do so.

In April 1972, with 770 days left in his military commitment, and unwilling to have his physical, Bush was suspended from flying and walked away from his required duties. Though he says he subsequently served in the Guard in Alabama, Salon reported last week that according to an eyewitness, Linda Allison, a Bush family friend whose husband was in charge of overseeing Bush’s activities in Alabama, Bush never gave any evidence of having done any Guard duty. This week, the Boston Globe reported that after leaving the Texas Air National Guard in 1973 to attend Harvard Business School, Bush again shirked his responsibility by failing to serve the remaining nine months of his commitment with a Massachusetts Guard unit. And to this day, not one member of Bush’s Alabama unit has come forward with a credible recollection of having served with the future president. Whether or not the Killian memos turn out to be forgeries, those facts are irrefutable.

In the meantime, Creative Response has to flack a new Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear commercial.

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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