Unfit for bookstores

The Kerry campaign calls on a conservative publisher to withdraw book after the Washington Post torpedoes the veracity of a Swift boat veteran.

Published August 19, 2004 7:10PM (EDT)

The Kerry campaign has told Salon that the publisher of "Unfit for Command," the book that is at the center of the attack on Kerry's military record by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is retailing a hoax and should consider withdrawing it from bookstores. "No publisher should want to be selling books with proven falsehoods in them, especially falsehoods that are meant to smear the military service of an American veteran," said Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton. "If I were them, I'd be ducking under my desk wondering what to do. This is a serious problem."

Even some uncomfortable Republicans might breathe a sigh a relief if "Unfit for Command" were to vanish from bookstores: "I don't think the Swift Boat Veterans are helping the Republican cause," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., remarked on CNN Thursday.

Yanking the title may seem unlikely given the fact that Regnery Publishing, the conservative shop that is home to fire-breathing right-wing partisans like Ann Coulter and David Limbaugh, is behind the book. Thanks to the big-spending campaign of the Republican veterans group, which is bankrolled by major Bush contributors, the book has already hit bestseller lists and is sure to turn a big profit.

But there is a long-standing tradition by reputable publishers of withdrawing titles that prove to be hoaxes or frauds. Just last month Random House's Australian unit was forced to pull an international bestseller after it was determined to be a fabrication. The book, "Forbidden Love," allegedly detailed the death of a Jordanian woman, murdered by her Muslim father after he discovered she was seeing a Christian man. After questions were raised, an internal investigation by Random House concluded the book was a fraud.

"Unfit for Command" and the veterans group behind it are facing similar questions Thursday after the Washington Post torpedoed the veracity of one of its key members. Larry Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry in Vietnam, has insisted Kerry lied about the circumstances surrounding his Bronze Star award, claiming Kerry's boat never came under enemy fire on March 13, 1969, the day an injured Kerry leaned overboard to scoop wounded Green Beret Larry Rassmann out of the river. But contrary to Thurlow's claim, the Washington Post has reported today that according to his own military files, which recorded the events of March 13, 1969, "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire" were directed at "all units" of the five-boat flotilla, including Kerry's.

Earlier, Retired Adm. Roy Hoffmann, chairman and co-founder of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, flip-flopped on a key element of his Kerry story. In May, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, "Hoffmann acknowledged he had no first-hand knowledge to discredit Kerry's claims to valor and said that although Kerry was under his command, he really didn't know Kerry much personally." But with the pending publication of "Unfit for Command," Hoffmann changed his story, insisting he "knew [Kerry] well."

Hoffmann wasn't alone in reversing his story on the Kerry attack. In 1968, Grant Hibbard, a lieutenant commander in Vietnam during Kerry's tour, described Kerry favorably: "One of the top few in his willingness to seek and accept responsibility." But now he claims Kerry lied about his service. Another vocal Kerry critic, Capt. George Elliot, who served in Vietnam at the same time Kerry did, praised Kerry both in a 1968 evaluation ("In a combat environment often requiring independent, decisive action, Lieutenant Junior Grade Kerry was unsurpassed") and as recently as 1996 when Elliot publicly praised Kerry for charging after the enemy.

A Regnery Publishing spokesperson did not return a call seeking comment about the factual cloud over "Unfit for Command." But if Regnery doesn't withdraw the book, perhaps bookstore retailers will at least consider moving the title over to the fiction section.

By Eric Boehlert

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

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