Playing "Telephone" with Swift Boat Veterans

By Tim Grieve
Published August 31, 2004 1:24PM (EDT)

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are out with a new ad Tuesday morning, this one attacking John Kerry as untrustworthy because, in 1971, he "renounced" the medals and ribbons he received for his service in Vietnam. In the ad, the group goes for innuendo rather than allegation -- it's harder to be proven wrong that way -- and it stops short of actually claiming that Kerry threw away his medals or ribbons in protest.

The ad is already in heavy free rotation on the cable channels, even as their pundits begin to acknowledge that the group's earlier spot didn't exactly withstand scrutiny. When CNN aired the new ad for the first time Tuesday, political analyst Bill Schneider opined that the Swifties would have been more successful running the new ad first, before their first effort was so thoroughly debunked and discredited.

The thing is, the first ad hasn't been debunked and discredited, at least not in the eyes of the Republican faithful and party elders who seem eager to keep the story going. The president's father sat down for an interview with CNN's Paula Zahn Monday, and in the process he said that there must be something to the SBVT allegations because he trusts Bob Dole, and Dole said there was something to them. It was a reference, apparently, to Dole's CNN interview on Aug. 22, the one in which he said he thought there must be something to the SBVT -- not because he knew anything about what happened in Vietnam but because not all the people making the allegations could be "Republican liars." It's like the children's game Telephone -- with each round, the story gets just a little farther from the facts.

Meanwhile, the story continues to get ever closer to the Bush administration. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that retired Rear Adm. William Schachte Jr. -- who came forward last week to challenge the legitimacy of one of Kerry's Purple Hearts -- is a Republican donor and colleague of David Norcross, the chairman of the Republican Convention.

You won't hear much about the SBVT from the stage of the convention this week -- the Bush campaign can't let itself appear to be that close to the allegations -- but that doesn't mean the issue isn't alive and well inside Madison Square Garden. Delegates wore bandages Monday night in a symbol of their contempt for Kerry, a suggestion, apparently, that his war wounds weren't sufficiently serious. Outside in the halls, delegates could have availed themselves of a symbol of their president's military service: Madison Square Garden vendors sold souvenir shot glasses emblazoned with a W.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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