It’s a tried and true tactic, and Dana Milbank gets into the act here.
The topic this time? The Benghazi killings and coverup. The method? Emphasize the fringe arguments that are more easily mocked and/or repudiated, and ignore or gloss over the more basic and common questions and concerns. Then tar those offering the latter with the same brush as the former, and dismiss them all as silly, mendacious, and/or demented.
The technique reminds me of the way the Swift Vets’ concerns about John Kerry in 2004 were not only swept under the rug, but how the Vets themselves were attacked and reviled. So I thought it might be a good idea to revisit a post I wrote in 2008 on the subject of how the term “swiftboating” itself was a case of swiftboating—against the original Swift Vets—that was simply Orwellian.
It’s particularly ironic to read John Kerry’s words as quoted in that post, and think about what the Obama administration hath wrought since. Here’s the post (slightly shortened):
It isn’t often you get to watch a lie become entrenched truth.
Or maybe it is often, if you pay enough attention. Once it’s repeated enough, and by the right people, it becomes the revealed truth, and there’s almost no way to counter it effectively, as Winston Churchill knew.
Goebbels’ “truth” about the number of casualties at Dresden has been believed for so long it’s hard to shake no matter what new evidence comes to light. Jenin was a massacre perpetrated by the Israelis on the Palestinians, and Mohammed al Dura was killed by Israeli soldiers. Vietnam veterans are disproportionately depressed, poor, psychotic, drug-taking messes. All of these are untrue “truths” that have passed into the public domain.
Similarly, the term “swiftboating” quickly entered into mainstream usage as meaning “to unfairly attack in order to serve political ends.” John Kerry, the recipient of the original Swift Vets’ attack, uses the term this way, but he is certainly not the only one to invoke the word in righteous indignation…
As the Washington Post notes, “swiftboating” has become a synonym for “a political low blow.” And of course, in the eyes of the MSM, it tends to be the province of those nefarious Republicans.
Forget about whether the charges are actually true or not; that’s a minor quibble, hardly worthy of consideration. After all, “facts are the enemy of truth,” don’t you know?
So that means that the NY Times can attack likely Republican Presidential nominee John McCain with “facts” that barely rise to the level of good gossip, and Dan Rather can use forged documents to smear George Bush on the eve of the 2004 election, and the rest of the MSM and the Democrats somehow can’t find it in their hearts to use the term “swiftboating” for their fellow Dems, especially when it’s Republicans being attacked.
This is the case even if—as happened recently with the Times—the actions of these MSM icons are condemned even by their own side (if you can find an example of someone on the left/liberal end of things using the term “swiftboating” to describe the Times or Rather, please send me a link; I haven’t been able to find one). It seems to be reserved for anyone who might attack a Democrat.
I closely followed the Swift Vets’ story in 2004. I read their book, and found it compelling. I waited for the evidence in it—presented in very lawyerly fashion, since some of them are lawyers—to be countered.
But I never saw any of it effectively debunked other than a few unimportant details, although I looked and looked (I actually wanted the charges to be untrue, because at the time I thought John Kerry was going to be our next President, and the prospect would have been far less sobering if the book could have been invalidated).
And so I read almost everything that was written to counter it, and the counter-evidence was so flimsy I became convinced that it wasn’t countered because it couldn’t be countered. And early on in the controversy one of the main tools of the counterattack to the Swift Vets’ accusations was to smear the accusatory Vets themselves.
This, of course, was not considered “swiftboating;” the term hadn’t quite jelled yet. I watched as the legends about the Swift Vets grew: they were Republican operatives all; they were liars, despite being decorated heroes themselves. Kerry lost because he was just too nice a guy to fight back (Kerry himself is a big one for promulgating this particular theme).
John Kerry is now an Obama supporter. Here’s an email he wrote in January of 2008 on the subject; it’s full of Kerry’s characteristic “poor pitiful principled me who lost the election because of lies and because I wasn’t mean enough” routine. It deserves to be read in full, but here are some excerpts [emphases mine]:
I support Barack Obama because he doesn’t seek to perfect the politics of Swiftboating — he seeks to end it.
…As a veteran, it disgusts me that the Swift Boats we loved while we were in uniform on the Mekong Delta have been rendered, in Karl Rove’s twisted politics, an ugly verb meaning to lie [sic] about someone’s character just to win an election….we must stop the Swiftboating, stop the push-polling, stop the front groups, and stop the email chain smears….We must be determined never again to lose any election to a lie [sic].
Some of you may have heard about the disgusting lies about Barack Obama that are being circulated by email. These attacks smear Barack’s Christian faith and deep patriotism, and they distort his record of more than two decades of public service. They are nothing short of “Swiftboat” style anonymous [sic: the Swift Vets were anything but anonymous] attacks.
These are the same tactics the right [sic] has used again and again, and as we’ve learned, these attacks, no matter how bogus [sic], can spread and take root if they go unchecked.
I’m relieved to hear that there’s a new book dedicated to undoing the “swiftboating” of the Swift Vets—that is, the “swiftboating” directed, in Orwellian fashion, against them. The book is titled To Set the Record Straight, writeen by Scott Swett and Tim Ziegler. Here’s a review:
Time and again the book shows how major media either misrepresented the group’s claims, coordinated with the Kerry campaign, or went to extraordinary lengths (unsuccessfully) to discredit the group.
Back in 2004, I tried to get some of my Kerry-supporting friends to read Unfit for Command, just to see for themselves what all the fuss was about. To their credit, three of them did. Two of those people subsequently refused to vote for Kerry; and one voted for him anyway despite believing the charges in the book. But the vast majority of my friends simply refused to read it at all—they didn’t want to know what was actually in it; the MSM told them all they needed to know.
I’m glad someone has done this work to try to rehabilitate the Swift Vets themselves. But I’m not overly optimistic about its chances of reaching the very people who should be reading it. After all, “a mind is a difficult thing to change“—especially when it refuses to expose itself to information that might counter its entrenched beliefs.