Henry Mark Holzer: The Anti-Kerry TV Ad Is Based on Solid Evidence

Roundup: Media's Take

Henry Mark Holzer and Erika Holzer, at frontpagemag.com (Aug. 10, 2004):

[Henry Mark Holzer [www.henrymarkholzer.com; hank@henrymarkholzer.com], Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, specializes in federal appeals. Erika Holzer [www.erikaholzer.com] is a lawyer and novelist.]

Presidential nominee John Kerry is working overtime to blunt growing criticism of his Vietnam service and simultaneously reassure uncommitted voters that his acts of alleged heroism as a Swift boat officer—over 30 years ago—far outweigh his antiwar history. He has made his medals—a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts—a central focus of his candidacy. He has made a colossal mistake.

No surprise, then, that Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, an organization unaffiliated with any political party—whose members were no strangers to Lieutenant Kerry 30 years ago—last week began airing a dramatic, highly effective TV spot that flatly disputes Kerry’s claims, and, worse for Kerry, his integrity.

Predictably, Kerry’s lawyers responded with a venomous and distorted account of the TV spot and the veterans who had organized it. Marc Elias, Esq., General Counsel for the Kerry-Edwards campaign, joined by Joseph Sandler, General Counsel for the Democratic National Committee, faxed to TV station managers the kind of intimidating message that gives lawyers a bad name.

The three-page letter is a not-so-thinly veiled threat with only one possible goal: to scare the stations into dropping the ad. How? By misstating provable facts that back up the ad’s claims, and by shamelessly misrepresenting the law. How, specifically? On the legal side of the ledger, by trotting out the standard bogeymen for TV stations: false and misleading advertising, frowned on by the FTC; the specter of libel suits; dark hints of serious damages unless, “in the public interest,” station managers refuse to run the ad.

On the factual side, one assertion by Kerry’s lawyers is that Swift Boat Veterans For Truth is a “sham” organization. Why? Because its hard-hitting controversial ad was “spearheaded” by a “Texas corporate media consultant” and “financed largely” by a Houston homebuilder. Since when does the support of a businessman who believes the claims of a large number of Navy Vietnam veterans make the entire organization, ipso facto, a “sham”—i.e., a fake? Only the naïve would regard this contentless assertion as having any substance and not recognize it for what it is: an ad hominem attack.

As to Navy physician Louis Letson (whom Elias and Sandler attempt to demean by putting Dr. Letson’s title in quotation marks), Kerry’s lawyers descend to a level that is truly shocking. They assert that Dr. Letson was “pretending to be the doctor who treated Kerry for one of his injuries,” and “not the doctor who actually signed Senator Kerry’s sick call sheet.” They assert that it was someone else who “actually signed” the sheet. They assert that “Letson is not listed on any document” as having treated Kerry after December 2, 1968.

Fact (based on a notarized statement of Louis Letson): The injury Dr. Letson treated Kerry for occurred when Kerry and two others (a fellow lieutenant and a crewman), seeing movement from an unknown source, opened fire. Kerry’s rifle jammed, and in the absence of return fire, he resumed firing with a grenade launcher, spraying his own boat and causing a tiny piece of shrapnel to be embedded in his arm. The lieutenant and crewman, parties to the incident, accompanied Kerry to sick call, where they disputed Kerry’s claim that he’d been wounded by hostile fire and provided an account of the actual episode to Dr. Letson—after which Letson removed the tiny fragment with tweezers and covered Kerry’s scratch with a band aid. The lieutenant-witness is alive and available to testify, in detail, as to what happened. As for the maligned Dr. Louis Letson, he is entitled to say, as he did in the Swift Boat TV ad: “I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury.”

Fact (based on a sworn affidavit by Grant Hibbard): Next morning Kerry showed up at Division Commander Grant Hibbard’s office. Hibbard had already investigated the incident and spoken to the lieutenant-witness. Characterizing Kerry’s purported injury as a “rose thorn” scratch insufficient to justify a Purple Heart—awarded for hostile-fire wounds requiring medical attention, and excluding wounds that are accidental and self-inflicted [except non-negligent ones sustained in battle]—Commander Hibbard summarily turned down Kerry’s request for a Purple Heart and dismissed him. Commander Hibbard, who participated in the Swift Boat TV ad, is willing to testify, in detail, as to what happened.

Fact (based on rotation records and Kerry’s website): Some three months after everyone who was personally familiar with Kerry’s bogus claim to a Purple Heart had left Vietnam, Kerry persisted in the claim for his “rose-thorn” injury, managing to convince an officer that he had earned the Purple Heart. Yet that officer had no personal information about the incident, no connection to Kerry’s small naval unit, and no knowledge that Hibbard had rejected Kerry’s earlier request for the medal. Whenever Kerry has been pressed to produce evidence justifying this first Purple Heart, he cites Dr. Letson’s tweezers treatment—on the basis of which Commander Hibbard denied the medal. As to the Purple Heart that was awarded, there is not a shred of documentary evidence to justify it....

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Marianne Briggs - 8/12/2004

The Holzers assert that the so called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an organization that is unaffiliated with any political party.

Yet, according to the Annenberg web site Fact Check which describes itself as a "nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics", the ample funding for this group comes from major Republican contributors:

"Although the word "Republican" does not appear in the ad, the group's financing is highly partisan. The source of the Swift Boat group's money wasn't known when it first surfaced, but a report filed July 15 with the Internal Revenue Services now shows its initial funding came mainly from a Houston home builder, Bob R. Perry, who has also given millions to the Republican party and Republican candidates, mostly in Texas, including President Bush and Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, whose district is near Houston
Perry gave $100,000 of the $158,750 received by the Swift Boat group through the end of June, according to its disclosure report .
Perry and his wife Doylene also gave more than $3 million to Texas Republicans during the 2002 elections, according to a database maintained by the Institute on Money in State Politics . The Perrys also were among the largest Republican donors in neighboring Louisiana, where they gave $200,000, and New Mexico, where they gave $183,000, according to the database 
At the federal level the Perrys have given $359,825 since 1999, including $6,000 to Bush's campaigns and $27,325 to DeLay and his political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority, according the a database maintained by the Center for Responsive Politics ."

Perhaps the Holzers regard these funders as "unaffiliated". I'll bet any political party in the country would leap at the chance to attract such a level of disenegagement as demonstrated with an open wallet and ready checkbook.