Service to Country
Joined: 07 May 2004
|Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2004 1:22 pm Post subject: What the Swifties Wrought
An article by John Miller in the The National Review Online
What the Swifties Wrought
The power of an ad campaign
JOHN J. MILLER
November 23, 2004
National Review Online November 29, 2004 Edition
For Republican ad-man Rick Reed, the inaugural press conference of
the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was less a professional opportunity than
a chance to catch up with kin. His uncle, Adrian Lonsdale, had been one of
John Kerry's superior officers in Vietnam. The retired Coast Guard captain
and more than a dozen other veterans were gathering in public for the
first time to challenge various claims Kerry had made about his
four-month tour of duty.
"I thought those guys had a great story that needed to get out," says
Reed. He returned to his office that afternoon, sent out a few e-mails
describing what the Swifties had charged, and then waited for the barrage
of media interest.
It never came.
"We had a pretty good success, except it became apparent that we were
going to get no attention from the major media," says retired Admiral Roy
Hoffmann, one of the ringleaders of Swift Boat Vets. "I think it was
Well, it wasn't exactly zero. The media did show up — and promptly
dismissed the vets as ax-grinding Republican operatives. A short New
York Times article, for instance, was buried on page A22. It included
references to "Nixonian dirty tricks" and Joe McCarthy.
That May 4 press conference was perhaps the most overlooked major
news event of the campaign — and the media's failure to give the Swifties
their due led to an ad campaign that will go down in history for its
stunning effectiveness. By Election Day, the Swift Boat Vets had spent
more than $19 million on TV advertising, mostly in battleground states
such as Ohio ($5.1 million) and Florida ($3.6 million). One post-election
survey of actual voters found that 75 percent of them were familiar with
the Swifties and their allegations about Kerry's qualifications for the
presidency. When voters were asked which of the ads financed by the
so-called 527 groups made the biggest impact, the Vietnam vets were
cited almost as much as all the other 527 groups combined.
The Swifties had hoped to tell their war stories on May 4, give a few
interviews, and then return to their normal lives as the press and the
voters sorted things out. But the failure — or, perhaps more accurately,
the refusal — of the media to investigate their claims in the wake of the
press conference troubled them. "We learned from some former POWs
that when they were held captive in Vietnam, they developed a 'tap code'
to communicate with each other without the guards' knowing," says John
O'Neill, a Swift-boat commander and one of the group's organizers. "We
realized we needed our own tap code to talk to the public."
By the first week of June, a few of the Swifties were meeting with GOP
political hand Chris LaCivita, a combat veteran who bonded with O'Neill
and the others. As a Marine fighting in Kuwait in 1991, LaCivita received a
Purple Heart for taking shrapnel from an Iraqi T-72 tank. O'Neill e-mailed
him a draft manuscript of what would become his best-selling book, Unfit
for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.
"My first thought was that we had to run ads to force the issue," says
LaCivita. "The mainstream media can ignore a press conference, but they
can't ignore an ad."
LaCivita jotted down an idea for a script and got in touch with Reed, a
friend who had produced ads for Republican candidates. There was not
much copy to write because most of the ads would simply rely on the
veterans' speaking directly to the camera. "Our main intention was to
preserve the authenticity of these veterans," says LaCivita. "We didn't
want our ads to look like something out of D.C. or Hollywood." Rather
than planning for one or two commercials, they mapped out an entire
campaign that would run up to the election. Yet they weren't sure how
they would secure the financing. They hoped for a budget of perhaps $3
by Roman Genn
Their first task was to assemble the veterans. On July 9, about 30 of them
gathered at the Key Bridge Marriott in Arlington, Va. That evening,
LaCivita went through their stories and tried to figure out who had the
closest connections to Kerry. Everybody signed affidavits. The next day, a
Saturday, the entire group got on a bus and headed for Atlantic Studios in
downtown Washington, where old soldiers and sailors sat in front of green
screens for 13 hours as the cameras recorded their stories.
Over the next few days, Reed turned this mountain of footage into a pair
of 60-second commercials featuring veterans contradicting Kerry's claims
of combat bravado and criticizing his antiwar protesting. The green
screens were replaced with black-and-white photos of Swift boats and
Kerry. The second ad included Kerry's own voice from his 1971 Senate
testimony damning American soldiers for war crimes. Both were set to
original music composed by Todd Hahn; the aural effect was at once
solemn and chilling.
Simultaneously, the Swifties started raising money. They managed to
cobble together about $500,000 for advertising — a pittance compared
with the tens of millions that George Soros, MoveOn.org, and others were
spending to aid the Democrats. When the first ad aired in early August, it
was limited to a few small markets in Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
The Swifties couldn't afford to pay for stations in Cleveland or Milwaukee,
so they settled for the likes of Youngstown and Wausau instead.
Their timing couldn't have been better. The previous week had seen the
release of O'Neill's book as well as Kerry's convention speech with its
"reporting for duty" line and heavy emphasis on service in Vietnam. "We
had discussed airing the ad during the convention, but we just didn't have
the money for it," says Greg Mueller, a conservative publicist who
promoted O'Neill's book and arranged media appearances for other
veterans. "It was really helpful to have Kerry raise the issue of Vietnam
on his own and so prominently."
Even though the first ad appeared in just a handful of venues, it quickly
became the subject of intense national debate. LaCivita had been correct:
The media could ignore the Swifties when they gathered at the National
Press Club, but they had a much more difficult time when the veterans
made their accusations in commercials airing in battleground states. As
Internet sites, talk radio, and cable-TV shows turned their gaze toward the
Swifties, a news story was born.
Kerry was criticized for not responding quickly enough. There is some
truth in this, because Kerry's team really did think that engaging the
Swifties would breathe extra life into their efforts. Without talking points,
however, the candidate's surrogates grew frustrated. Many of them wound
up defending Kerry's statements from 30 years earlier — i.e., they
affirmed that war crimes were rampant and said Kerry was right to speak
out against them. Yet this only succeeded in shining more light on the
basic problem: Kerry didn't respond to the Swifties because there was no
meaningful response he could make short of offering a full apology for his
1971 testimony. This was something he wasn't willing to do. So he clung
to the awkward hope that voters would revere his own service in a cause
that he had slandered.
More ads followed. An Internet-only ad featured Kerry crewmate Steven
Gardner challenging the senator's claim of having gone on a secret
mission to Cambodia. Next came a pair of ads about Kerry throwing away
his war medals, and his various explanations of that notorious episode.
Another commercial described Kerry meeting with North Vietnamese
leaders in Paris and unfavorably compared him to Jane Fonda, who at
least has expressed regret for her war protests. Yet another, filmed partly
in Reed's living room, had the wives of former POWs criticizing Kerry's
These additional efforts were made possible because the Swifties raised
huge amounts of money — far more than they had thought imaginable.
During the first couple of weeks of August, they were collecting $200,000
per day from Internet contributions alone. In all, they generated more
than $25 million from 150,000 donors. Most of it went for TV advertising,
and not just in the cheap markets.
The veterans assembled in Washington once more on October 9. This
time, there were many more of them — about 90. As they had planned all
along, LaCivita and Reed wanted their final ads to show that the Swifties
weren't just a few disgruntled Republicans, but a broad-based movement
of former servicemen who had not forgotten a vicious insult. As a
dolly-driven camera moved from face to face, it quickly became apparent
to any viewer that Kerry wouldn't win a majority of the votes even among
his "band of brothers." The men who could claim to know him best — or at
least to know best his qualifications for commander-in-chief — were
saying that he didn't deserve the presidency.
In one of those final commercials, the camera paused for a moment on
Bud Day. The white-haired former POW and Medal of Honor winner asked
a simple question: "How can you expect our sons and daughters to follow
you when you condemned their fathers and grandfathers?"
It turns out that Kerry couldn't. The tap code had gotten through.
Master Chief Petty Officer
Joined: 05 Sep 2004
|Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2004 2:51 pm Post subject:
|I look back over the years and see I never in over 50 years of voting ever made a political contribution mostly for my dislike of most politicians and figured they were being supported by taxpayers dollars anyway.
Then came the the Swiftvets and my first contrbutions, what a great honor it was to do just a little bit o help stop Kerry.
I thank all the great heros who took the patience to push this campaign ahead. Job well done
"Si vis pacem, para bellum"
Joined: 10 Aug 2004
Location: Minneapolis, MN
|Posted: Tue Nov 16, 2004 1:35 am Post subject: Re: What the Swifties Wrought
|rbshirley wrote: |
|. What the Swifties Wrought The power of an ad campaign |
I love this story -- now that it has a happy ending -- thanks so much for posting it. I had had a hopeless sort of feeling when I first saw kerry in the running.. Then I accidentally caught that 5/04 press conf., and seeing O'Neill again and all the men and their determination -- I was just filled with joy and hope. To me, it was one of the most important news events I had ever seen -- and then no media coverage and that sinking, lost feeling... Then bam! there they were and the rest is suddenly history!
I still would like to hear from each of the major networks, questioned point-blank after hearing a soundbyte of O'Neill introducing the SBVFT at that press conf., as to why they ignored a whole crowd of honorable Veterans stating that a presidential candidate was "unfit to be CIC." This had never happened before. How could they ignore it? Why wasn't it "news?" Just answer that question. Explain yourselves, darn it anyway.
Joined: 08 Aug 2004
|Posted: Tue Nov 16, 2004 5:51 am Post subject: Best Bang for the Buck Ever
|The Swift Boat Vets campaign was a great example of what a lot of truth and dedication can accomplish with a little money. If negated 10's of millions in attack ad's from the Left. I have no doubt it was a deciding factor in turning this election into a victory for the President and preventing that traitor from becoming CINC.
Former USAF proud to support my Navy comrades.
Joined: 29 Aug 2004
Location: Southern California
|Posted: Wed Nov 17, 2004 4:22 am Post subject: The Campaign
|I smiled when I donated to the Swifties.
And boy did they come through.
I only hope that every veteran who felt slammed by The Loser feels a little better post 11/2.
A few months ago, my neighbor acroos the street died. He's a WWII vet and I know that his generation is fading, unfortunately so.
But right behind those vets are the Vietnam guys and I hope that they all know that there are millions of good Americans who look upon their service with tremendous gratitude. Anyone who doesn't is an a**hole.
And those 19 and 20 year old grunts in Iraq will provide yet another generation of Americans whose bravery truly has made America the greatest country on earth.
Joined: 13 Aug 2004
|Posted: Sun Nov 21, 2004 8:31 pm Post subject:
|Very well crafted article.
I divided $25M by 150,000 donors and felt I pulled my weight.
I told my 88 year old pal Reggie Clark WWII Vet that I had posted his
picture on this site. He couldn't thank me enough.
I found talking about my brother a Vietnam era vet who has
passed on alot easier.
This campaign kept me sane and for that I'm forever grateful.
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