Controversy Surrounds Anti-Kerry Swift Boat Ad

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," August 6, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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TONY SNOW, GUEST-HOST: In the "Personal Story" segment tonight, as we told you at the top of the program, controversy still swirling around the anti-Kerry swift boat ad put out yesterday by some veterans who served in Vietnam. A Boston Globe report today suggests that one of the veterans involved may be flip flopping, a report the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) denies.

With all the confusion about which veterans love Kerry and which veterans hate Kerry, and which veterans can't make up their minds, is attacking Kerry's record in Vietnam a huge political mistake?

Joining us from Washington, Ken Baer, a former speech writer for Al Gore and author of the book, "Reinventing Democrats". And here in studio, Fox News political analyst Monica Crowley, a former aide to Richard Nixon.

Mr. Baer, let me ask you generally. Your former boss, Al Gore, also has gone out saying that the president betrayed America. And it probably hasn't made him look very good. Are the politics of attack A, a necessary thing for anybody engaged in politics these days? Or B, a form of committing suicide in an age when people are getting sick of it?

KEN BAER, FORMER GORE SPEECHWRITER: I think these personal attacks are just the act of desperation. They're really the only strategy left for an incumbent who really has nothing to run on. And so, if your record isn't good, what you have to do is convince the American people that the person who wants to take your job isn't fit to serve that job.

And that's why these cronies of George Bush (search) and Karl Rove (search) are running this ad, because they're trying to make up these lies about John Kerry.

SNOW: Mr. Baer, you're spinning us here.

BAER: Sure.

SNOW: Can I ask you a question about -- because your boss was one of the first out of the blocks.

BAER: Yes.

SNOW: There's no evidence, as far as I know, that these guys are all Bush cronies. Now the fact is they served in Vietnam.

BAER: Well, depending. They gained the money for the same people.

SNOW: Well , you're getting yourself in the tall grass here. Let's talk about the strategy here. Do you think, whether it's a Democrat or Republican.


SNOW: I was trying to be fair and balanced here and give you a jump on the strategy. People are getting sick of this stuff. Do you think it backfires?

BAER: Right.

SNOW: That rather than telling me whether it's an act of desperation because Monica will tell me the same thing.

BAER: You know, I agree with you. I think the age of spin is over. And we see that the candidates who are straight talkers do really well. Howard Dean, his whole candidacy was based on that when he did so well in 2003. John McCain's appeal is based on that.

And so, if you're just going to actually just go out and try to destroy people, I think it does backfire. And you know, this is a very high risk gambit for people who are trying to oppose John Kerry.

SNOW: OK, Monica Crowley. A lot of -- there's a lot of controversy about Vietnam. It remains an emotional topic...


SNOW: ...many, many years after the United States got out. But there's also a sense among a lot of people of oh my gosh, do we have to revisit this? What is, if any, the political merit? Or is this, as Ken just said, something that's going to blow up in people's faces because it's going to look like hey, if he had this evidence, why didn't we hear it 15 years ago?

CROWLEY: On the Vietnam issue?

SNOW: Yes.

CROWLEY: You're talking about particularly? Well, look, John Kerry keeps resurrecting the Vietnam issue. He is running on it. I think somebody's military service, whether they served or not, is tangentially important to a presidential candidate, because you're looking at somebody. I don't care if it's Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or John Kerry, I think it is tangentially important in looking at somebody's past record and their fitness to be commander in chief.

SNOW: But you also take a look at somebody when in their 20's. And they're hardly fully formed as an adult.

CROWLEY: That's absolutely right. Now we are talking about a war that ended 30 years ago. John Kerry, instead of putting it sort of off to the side, as sort of part of his resume, he has made it a centerpiece of his campaign.

So because, Tony, he keeps bringing it up, then other people on the other side are saying well, let's take a look at what he's talking about. There are two versions of the story here. There's John Kerry's version. And then these veterans are saying well, hold on, that's not our experience in Vietnam in what John Kerry...

SNOW: OK, Mr. Baer, I'll get to you in a second. Let me ask you first...

BAER: Sure.

SNOW: you think the president released all his files should it be incumbent on John Kerry to do the same in terms of war records?

CROWLEY: Oh, sure. Oh, absolutely. And John Kerry has made this the centerpiece of his campaign, Tony. So he should be doing that.

SNOW: OK, Mr. Baer, full disclosure.

BAER: Tony...

SNOW: Should he do it as the president has?

BAER: I agree, because if you read those reports, what people will find is that some of the people who are now 30 years later questioning his command actually signed those reports and said that he was one of the top few officers they had ever seen. And they signed off on all these medals that he got. And I think it would just -- all the evidence will come to light. And people will say yes...

SNOW: So you're for a ... solution to medical records, the whole bit?

BAER: Actually -- sure, why not?


BAER: Everything should come forward.

SNOW: Yes.

BAER: I welcome a debate about people's military service in Vietnam. Why not?

CROWLEY: You know, and since John Kerry has made this such a primary part of his campaign, I think it's only fair that other veterans who served with him, not necessarily in the actual swift boat with John Kerry, but some of these other guys who served in Vietnam at the same time in a boat next to him and so on, it's only fair that they have their say, too, Tony...


CROWLEY: ...because John Kerry is out there spinning this version.

BAER: It's true, but is ... if they served in the same division even?

CROWLEY: ...romanticized version? Wait, John Kerry is spinning this romanticized version of his experience in Vietnam.

SNOW: Well, that's OK...

CROWLEY: And veterans are chomping at the bit to say well, hold on, that's not the whole story.

SNOW: But Monica, none of us -- none of at least the three of us were there. Mr. Baer, I want to ask you, though.

BAER: Sure.

SNOW: Al Gore and others were retailing the charge that President Bush was a deserter. That also -- I trust you believe ought to be dropped and move on?

BAER: Right. Listen, you know, if someone served in the National Guard and you know, that's a very honorable way to serve their country, and that's what John Kerry has been saying the whole time. And he's not going to question any of that.

SNOW: All right, Ken Baer, Monica Crowley, I know you guys could go on all night.

CROWLEY: I have so much more to say, Tony.

SNOW: Well, we have bills to pay. Thank you both for joining us.

CROWLEY: Thank you, Tony.

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