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Washington Post Reporter Exposed Swift Boat Lies

by RonChusid

While the press has been criticized for their role in helping the Swift Boat Liars spread their false claims about John Kerry, I’ve been showing exceptions where some reporters did search for the truth. Another example is Michael Dobbs of the Washington Post. Dobbs exposed one of the many contradictions in the charges against Kerry. The Swift Boat Liars claimed that Kerry did ot deserve a Bronze Star by disputing that there was enemy fire. Dobbs found that an earlier report by Swift Boat Liar Larry Thurlow had actually reported there there were “enemy bullets flying about him.” This report appeared on the front page of The Washington Post on August 19, 2004:

Newly obtained military records of one of Sen. John F. Kerry’s most vocal critics, who has accused the Democratic presidential candidate of lying about his wartime record to win medals, contradict his own version of events.

In newspaper interviews and a best-selling book, Larry Thurlow, who commanded a Navy Swift boat alongside Kerry in Vietnam, has strongly disputed Kerry’s claim that the Massachusetts Democrat’s boat came under fire during a mission in Viet Cong-controlled territory on March 13, 1969. Kerry won a Bronze Star for his actions that day.

But Thurlow’s military records, portions of which were released yesterday to The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, contain several references to “enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire” directed at “all units” of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat “despite enemy bullets flying about him.”

On August 22 Dobbs wrote of tracking down yet another eye witness to verify Kerry’s account:

Until now, eyewitness evidence supporting Kerry’s version had come only from his own crewmen. But yesterday, The Post independently contacted a participant who has not spoken out so far in favor of either camp who remembers coming under enemy fire. “There was a lot of firing going on, and it came from both sides of the river,” said Wayne D. Langhofer, who manned a machine gun aboard PCF-43, the boat that was directly behind Kerry’s.

Langhofer said he distinctly remembered the “clack, clack, clack” of enemy AK-47s, as well as muzzle flashes from the riverbanks. Langhofer, who now works at a Kansas gunpowder plant, said he was approached several months ago by leaders of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth but declined their requests to speak out against Kerry.

Dobbs reviewed other areas of controversy in the same article. The Swift Boat Liars have tried to confuse the issue by claiming Kerry claimed a trivial injury to receive one of his medals, when actually it was a more serious injury which was considered:

Evidently, Kerry did not run fast enough. “He got some frags and pieces of rice in his rear end,” Rassmann said with a laugh. “It was more embarrassing than painful.” At the time, the incident did not seem significant, and Kerry did not mention it to anyone when he got back on the boat. An unsigned “personnel casualty report,” however, erroneously implies that Kerry suffered “shrapnel wounds in his left buttocks” later in the day, following the mine explosion incident, when he also received “contusions to his right forearm.”

Anti-Kerry veterans have accused Kerry of conflating the two injuries to strengthen his case for a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Kerry’s Bronze Star citation, however, refers only to his arm injury.

NPR’s All Things Considered interviewed Michael Dobbs on August 23. Following is the transcript:

All Things Considered (NPR)


Interview: Michael Dobbs discusses his investigation into the claims by some veterans that John Kerry has lied about his combat service in Vietnam

Time: 9:00-10:00 PM


Now what we know so far about two incidents in John Kerry’s Vietnam service: the one for which he was awarded a Bronze Star, and the one for which he was awarded a Silver Star. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, as the group is called, say he doesn’t deserve either of them. Kerry’s Silver Star was awarded for his actions on Dong Cung Canal on February 28th, 1969. On that day, Kerry and two other officers stormed the shore to thwart ambushers. The following month, March of 1969, John Kerry was on the Bay Hap River. A boat struck a mine, and Kerry pulled Special Forces Officer Jim Rassmann from the water. In a citation that said all this happened while under enemy fire, Kerry was awarded the Bronze Star. Now reporter Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post has investigated the claims and counterclaims concerning these two incidents, and he joins us now.

Welcome once again, Michael Dobbs.

Mr. MICHAEL DOBBS (The Washington Post): Pleased to be here.

SIEGEL: And let’s start with the Bronze Star incident. First, what about that story of John Kerry rescuing Jim Rassmann? What is not in dispute?

Mr. DOBBS: Yeah, there are a lot of things that aren’t in dispute that day. There were five boats on the river–two boats on the right-hand side of the river, led by Kerry’s boat, and there were three boats on the left-hand side of the river. One of them ran into a mine. There’s no dispute that Kerry rescued a Special Forces officer on his boat. The major point that is in dispute is whether enemy fire was taking place while this was all going on. Kerry won his Bronze Star for heroism under enemy fire, so it’s quite a significant point.

SIEGEL: Now who or how many people who were actually there say there say there was no enemy fire, and how many say there was enemy fire?

Mr. DOBBS: Well, it’s actually divided quite neatly between the right-hand side of the river supporting Kerry and the left-hand side of the river saying there was no enemy fire.

SIEGEL: One of the people who contested that had actually himself received a Bronze Star for this incident, and the citation said this had all happened under enemy fire.

Mr. DOBBS: Yes. I’ve spoken to former Lieutenant Turlow, who was one of the people who received a Bronze Star for his actions that day, and he claims that the citation must have been based on something that Kerry reported, because he continues to insist that even though he got a Bronze Star for bravery under fire, there was no enemy fire that day.

SIEGEL: It was the earlier incident, in February of 1969, that won John Kerry a Silver Star. And in that case, he and other officers decided on, I guess, very aggressive tactics, to get off their boats, go ashore and pursue people who were firing on the boats that were along this canal. What’s in dispute in this story?

Mr. DOBBS: Kerry claims that he decided, along with the other two skippers that day, that they had had enough of that, and they were going to actually beach the boat and chase whoever was firing at them. So he did that. They started chasing several people into the jungle, and shot a young man, as a result of which Kerry won his Silver Star. The other side says that Kerry and the other skippers had overwhelming force against them, so it required no particular act of heroism to pursue one retreating young man in a loincloth.

SIEGEL: This is the incident that William Rood, a journalist with the Chicago Tribune, wrote about. He was witness to the entire thing, and he wrote last week, or over the weekend, that, indeed, Kerry’s account is the account that he recalls.

Mr. DOBBS: Yes. On that occasion, there were three boats involved. There was Kerry’s boat, there was Bill Rood’s boat and there was the boat of Don Droz, the man who killed a couple of weeks later. So of the three skippers, you have Kerry sticking to his story, you have Rood who’s now come out on Kerry’s side. The third man is dead, but his family have essentially supported Kerry’s version of events.

SIEGEL: So insofar as the Bronze Star and the Silver Star incidents go, can it be said that Senator Kerry’s version remains apparently true, more true than his accusers’ version or do you split the difference? What would you say?

Mr. DOBBS: Well, it hasn’t been disproven. I don’t think that the accusers have accumulated sufficient evidence to shake one’s belief in what Kerry says. I mean, it’s a question of reasonable doubt. They have inserted a lot of doubt into exactly what took place, but they haven’t proven, I think, on those two incidents that Kerry is a liar.

SIEGEL: Thank you once again, Michael.

Mr. DOBBS: You’re welcome.

SIEGEL: Reporter Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post. He’s been investigating the political dispute over John Kerry’s Vietnam War record.

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