Kerry and the Swift Boat Veterans

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," Oct. 18, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST:  In “The Factor Follow-Up" segment, as we mentioned in the "Talking  Points Memo," one of John Kerry's big problems is that many Americans simply don't understand what he's all about. One way to get a clue is to  read the book "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War." It's now out  in paperback.

And joining us from New Orleans is the author Douglas Brinkley.

You know, I just -- after -- this is amazing.  Just after our segment with Ray Flynn, I got handed a statement from Stephanie Cutter, who's the  spokesperson for the Senator, and -- talking about his partial-birth abortion vote against the ban, and it's the same old story.

He wants the life or health of the woman. The life of the woman is already in that ban. He wants the health, which people could object to, because it could be a headache or anxiety or anything like that.

Is Kerry a true abortion believer in your research?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, "TOUR OF DIRTY":  No.  I mean, I think he's  somebody who's for Roe vs. Wade, and that's going to be his stance. He said  it in the last debate.

I think when he gets into abortion or gay rights or what we call the cultural wars in America, he's not on as firm a footing as he is when he's  dealing with some of the traditional Democratic issues like Social Security, health care on the domestic front, and so it's a tough issue for  everybody.

And Bush in the same way -- you saw in the debate -- tries to avoid  answering a straight yes or no about Roe vs. Wade.  Kerry did answer it on the third debate.

O'REILLY: Well, I think Bush, if I recall, said he wouldn't overturn it. He just wants to work for fewer abortions, which I think is probably  the best thing to do.  Now -- but the partial-birth is a whole deal. You  know, it passed so overwhelmingly in both the Senate and the House, and to  be out there with it, I think, hurts him.

Now, in Boston, as I told the audience before, John Kerry was known as "live shot" because he was showing up at your house to get on TV news, and now he's shy.  Does that surprise you?

BRINKLEY:  Well, you know, Kerry after -- in the '80s for a period of  time was actually a radio broadcaster in Boston and did -- he used to do  interviews like you do on your "Factor Radio" show.

I think what he's trying to do this year by [doing] less interviews than one would expect is to seem presidential. There's a feeling like -- John Edwards is out on the talk-show circuit constantly -- and there's a danger of going  on these shows if you slip up.

It's really a "I-got-you" politics now.  Every time President Bush, whether he does the Tim Russert show or your show, there's always going to  be this headline that, you know, the media grabs and throws at you, and I think Kerry's trying to be cautious.

He wants -- we have Bush as commander in chief.  I think Kerry wants  to be seen as in kind of an equal footing in being very select.

With that said, Bill, I think they have a decision to make whether  they want to do a number of more interviews these last three or four weeks  and try to control the agenda, and I think we'll have to wait and see what  they do.

O'REILLY:  Yes.  Well, they better get on it because if they say the last three or four weeks, there's only two.  So they'll -- if they book us in mid-November, it ain't going to happen.  It's not going to help them.

But I really believe that John Kerry is a mystery to many, many  Americans.  They simply do not know who he is, and unless he starts to open up a little bit -- and I know the gotcha game, I mean, and it's vicious --  he's going to lose, and that's -- you know, we've said it, and we'll leave  it there.

Now your book is interesting, because in the paperback, which is just  out, you did some further research on the swift boat vets, and I believe that these guys have hurt the Kerry campaign more than anything the Bush people have done. What do you say?

BRINKLEY:  Well, right now -- certainly in August and September, they  did. The only -- and we all know all of that story.

The -- what I have to think -- another way to look at it, Bill, is  that these -- in many ways, Kerry is known for Vietnam, and, compared to  Bush's service in Vietnam and now, when Kerry is criticizing Iraq, the fact  that he criticized the Vietnam War in many ways makes his biography  interesting.

Unlike, say, Dukakis or Mondale or other Democratic nominees, people  know who Kerry is, and so in a lot of ways, you're seeing the left and some people that didn't like Kerry unifying as backing, vouching for Kerry versus the swift boat attacks.  I think we'll only know the impact of the swift boat attacks on Kerry after the election.

If Kerry wins, they will look like they were failed.  If Kerry loses, it will seem like perhaps the most -- or one of the most significant strikes against him.

O'REILLY:  Did you find anything new about the swift boat guys?

BRINKLEY:  Well, I had interviewed in my original book all of Kerry's  guys that were on the boat.  I asked myself a simple question.  Who was on  the boat with Kerry?  Everybody except one guy on the boat is for John  Kerry. Many of them are Republicans.

The one guy I've added to the paperback is Steven Gardner, who was  known as "the wild man."  He was a gunner on 94, and what I found out is when Kerry -- the animosity that Gardner has for Kerry is because he was firing his gun in non-stop fashion, Kerry screamed at him and threatened to court-martial him.  Hence, Gardner has been sore all these years on that.

There were other things that I found out, you know, in the book, mainly more about a man named Roy Hoffman who's been leading the attack against Kerry and just how many Vietnam veterans have come forward and e-mailed to me talking about the things that Hoffman did over there.

And I think if there was -- in the coming months and even after, even if Kerry loses and he's dipping out of the news, I think people will be  evaluating what Hoffman did in Vietnam very carefully.

O'REILLY:  What about the aftermath?  I think that's the genesis of  the swift boat ads.

You see, I believe the swift boat guys have a right to speak out, on both sides, supporting Kerry and also not liking him. I believe that all of these guys are patriots. They put their life on the line -- and certainly can speak out and say whatever they want. -- I have no problem with it.

But it seems to me that the anger about him is really what he did when he came home.

Now I've got some very straightforward questions.  Did he say that he himself, John Kerry, committed atrocities in Vietnam?

BRINKLEY:  On a television show, while showing footage, he talked about  -- saying that I'm guilty, too.

What he meant by that is that there's a free-fire zone in Vietnam. So, when you fired in a mangrove or were ordered to, you know, blow up  things on the side of a river bank, you didn't know what exactly you were  doing.

There is not an incident where John Kerry purposely killed a human being that was a civilian.  But, by random shootings that they were ordered  to do, you never knew who was being killed.

O'REILLY:  Yes, but, I mean, that doesn't seem like an unreasonable  order, to spray mangroves when you're going into enemy territory.

Now the second question is: Does John Kerry realize that POWs were  confronted with some of the words that he used in the press? Does he  understand that, and what does he think about that?

BRINKLEY:  I don't know the answer of what he thinks. What I can tell you is that I have just now today got to see this film they're talking  about putting on Sinclair, and the -- it's -- first off, you're right.  What's difficult is to criticize any POW. They went, they served, they  went through hell.

O'REILLY:  Right.

BRINKLEY:  What I have to do is [look at] this story and to say: Are they telling the factual -- is this a factual presentation?

And, for example, there are only three POWs in this whole film of --  with loads of them that were -- who say that Kerry's testimony somehow affected their lives, and the problem is two of them have previously said that he had not affected their lives, that they had not been tortured after  April '71.

So they've kind of contradicted themselves, and that's been the  problem with this whole swift boat thing.  One person says one thing; one, another.

O'REILLY:  Yes, it's the fog of war all over again.  But there is no question that a person like Jane Fonda (search) gave the North Vietnamese comfort by her activities and what she did, and now I think a lot of people say Kerry did the same thing.

Your assessment?  And this is the last word.  Go ahead, Douglas.

BRINKLEY:  Yes.  No.  John Kerry and Jane Fonda have no interaction. They met at one rally where they were with a lot of people. Then they were in Detroit in the same room.

She, after all, was Barbarella (search) before 1972.  She was a star.  People in the armed forces even liked her. Young people. She was a sex symbol. Kerry never -- their paths never crossed.

Kerry's testimony, April '71, was an attempt to save lives, and, even after his testimony, thousands of Americans were -- continued to be killed  in Vietnam.  he thought that he somehow wanted torture to come to POWs is just ridiculous.

O'REILLY:  OK.  Professor, as always, we -- thanks for your time.

BRINKLEY:  Thanks, Bill.

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