Nightline, 14 OCT 2004, 2nd segment, interview with John O'Neill
Ted Koppel (:00): John O'Neill served in the US Navy, from 1967 to 1971. He took over command of John Kerry's Swift boat in 1969 when Kerry left Vietnam. He is a leader of the group, Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, and the author of, Unfit for Command; a book that calls John Kerry's record in Vietnam into question.
As I mentioned to you, before the broadcast . . uh . . Mr. O'Neill, we're just going to have time to focus on the one issue that we have . . uh . . looked at, tonight, that is the Silver Star issue. And if . . if I can just . .
John O'Neill: That's . . that's . .
Koppel: Yeah, go ahead.
O'Neill (:37): May I-may I say Ted, that's-that's a read shame. It's a shame that you focused only on the one minor accomplishment of John Kerry and refuse to ever cover the sampan incident, where the small family was killed, the two times he fled that are described in the book, and the like . .
Koppel: Mr. . . Mr. O'Neill
O'Neill: . . or the time where he visited the North Vietnamese.
Koppel (:55): Mr. O'Neill . . uh . . maybe we're going to be able to do something more. This was the place that we were brought to.
O'Neill: I-I invite you to, sir.
Koppel: This is the place we found. Let me go, just for this evening, and ask you . .
O'Neill: It's the third time you've covered it.
Koppel (1:08): Let me ask you to focus on the issue at hand. And . . and the first question I have is this sort of intriguing question about who that Swift boat veteran was, who talked to that one Vietnamese . . uh . . former Viet Cong that we heard from, this evening . . uh . . who said he raised some questions about John Kerry . . said this guy was running for President . . uh . . said he had . . he had won awards that he did not deserve. Do you know who that was?
O'Neill (1:33): It was no one from our group, Ted. And if anybody implies that is was, it isn't the truth. [holds up Unfit for Command, open to plate] Ted, John Kerry is in the North Vietnamese war museum as a hero. He's honored by them as one of the heroes who caused them to win the war in Vietnam.
Koppel: Mr. O'Neill, I understand . .
O'Neill: You can find it right inside . .
Koppel (1:50): Forgive me for interrupting you. I understand . .
O'Neill: Sir, excuse me, I don't believe . .
Koppel: If you'll be good enough just to . . If we can just address . .
O'Neill: I did answer your question.
Koppel: . . the questions first. You say you don't know is it.
O'Neill (2:00): Your report is unreliable.
Koppel: Well! it . . a . .
O'Neill: You went to a country where all the elections are 100% elections. And you relied on . . uh . . people that were enemies of the United States, in a closed society, instead of getting the information that was easily available from us and from the record. And as a result, you've produced a report that is truly pathetic.
Koppel: Mr. O'Neill!
O'Neill: That's the truth, Ted, and not worthy of you.
Koppel (2:19): Mr. O'Neill . . uh . . I don't think you can complain about not having received enough coverage, over these past few months. You've received a ton of it.
O'Neill: Not on Nightline, Ted.
Koppel: My . . my . . my question has to do with what eyewitnesses to the event . . I mean, you can-you can impugn them anyway you want to. And I have-I have no way of vouching for their motives or their interest in either supporting John Kerry or doing damage to . . uh . . a group that, like your own, that I'm sure they've never heard of.
O'Neill (2:47): That's the problem, Ted.
Koppel: Uh . . but why . . why . . is it that you are so reluctant to at least address the substance of what they say? In other words, you make it clear in your . .
O'Neill: I'm thrilled to address the substance, Ted.
Koppel: Then . . then . .
O'Neill: Let's go right to the substance.
Koppel: Let's get to it.
O'Niell (3:01): This is the book, Ted, [holds up cover of Kranish, et al, book] published by the Boston Globe. This is their autobiography of John Kerry, with his assistance. [opens to page and shows it to camera] Ted, in their autobiography, they describe on page 101 a single teenager in a loincloth, Ted. They weren't trying to make it up. This is-this is . . uh . . [briefly shows cover] John Kerry's own approved biography, Tour of Duty. On page 290 . . uh . . six of that book [holds page open to camera] John Kerry says, boy, he's glad there was only a single person there and not more.
What you've done is go into a closed society instead of interviewing, direct witnesses . .
Koppel (3:38): Mr. O'Neill!
O'Neill: . . and produced a story that isn't even the story in his biography . .
Koppel: Mr. O'Neill.
O'Neill: . . or that of the Boston Globe.
Koppel: We-we have other pieces of evidence, including the after-action report and, of course, the citation for the Silver Star, itself, which talks precisely! about a superior enemy force. You're the one who raised questions about the superior enemy force. It appears, from the recollections of the Vietnamese, who were on-hand at the time, they recall a [O'Neill holds open same page from Kranish, et al] superior enemy [sic] force. Twelve soldiers from . . eh . . forgive me, if you'll put the book down . .
O'Neill: Ted, they'll recover [?] . .
Koppel: We can't read it, anyway! So . .
O'Neill (4:11): Ted, this is the Boston Globe . .
Koppel: All you're doing is reflecting white light back . . [spoken over O'Neill]
O'Neill: . . biography.
Koppel: Yes. So?
O'Neill: Ted, this is the biography by the hometown newspaper of John Kerry. It says there was a single Viet Cong teenager in a loincloth.
Koppel: I . . I heard you . .
O'Neill: I asked the author of it, Michael Kranish.
Koppel: I heard you the first . . I heard . . I heard you the first time. [spoken over O'Neill]
O'Neill: I said, how did you get that information?
O'Neill (4:28): And he said, I got it because that's what everyone told me. It's the same information I got. [holding up Tour of Duty] In John Kerry's autobiography, the same information appears . .
Koppel: Mr. O'Neill.
O'Neill: . . except that they don't give the age.
Koppel: You're being-you're being . .
O'Neill: Now, really.
Koppel: . . repetitive. I am referring to what you wrote . .
O'Neill: Oh, c'mon.
Koppel: . . in your book and asking you . .
Koppel: . . to respond to what you have just heard from a bunch of [O'Neill holds up Unfit for Command] people who do not seem to have . . yo, no. We got the title - Unfit for Command. Uh . . you know, just do me a favor. Stop picking up books and let's see if you and I can, more or less, look at one another and just get a few questions and answers back and forth. You wrote . .
Koppel (5:04): You wrote . .
O'Neill: Ted . .
Koppel: . . that there was only . .
O'Neill: All right.
Koppel: . . one man. And, in fact, you didn't describe him as a man. You described him as a kid. You described him as a . .
O'Neill: I described him as . .
Koppel: . . kid in a loincloth.
O'Neill: That's not true, Ted.
Koppel: It turns out he was 26 or 27 years old, was sent by provincial headquarters, was a leader of a twelve man Viet Cong unit that was sent to that place, and I am simply giving to you what the folks on the scene described, in order to ambush American Swift boats. Why do you have trouble accepting it?
O'Neill (5:34): Ted . . I have a lot of trouble, Ted. Because you went to a country that is a closed society. You ignored every single report. [holds up Kranish book] You've ignored the written biography of John Kerry by the Boston Globe that concludes exactly what we did; Michael Kranish, who interviewed American after American, including Kerry's crewmen. You ignored [briefly holds up Tour of Duty] Kerry's own autobiography, Tour of Duty, in which he says there was-there was . . he was glad there was only single . . uh . . gunman. Ker . . uh . . let me suggest that when we have a choice between Kerry's creman and our crewmen, all saying there was a single person - the people you never interviewed; our guys, of course - but his people and ours saying there was a single guy popping up, and a group of Vietnamese who were opponents in the war, living in a closed society, you've made a very change . . strange choice to go all the way there and pick them. You've particularly made a strange choice because it's the same as . .
Koppel (6:23): Do me a favor. Just . . just explain to me [spoken over O'Neill] . .
Just explain-just explain to me, if you can, why do you think it is that a bunch of peasants in a truly remote part of southern Vietnam would have an interest in making up stories that would somehow benefit John Kerry and raise questions about your version of that particular incident. What motive could they possibly have?
O'Neill (6:50): The first . . uh . . thing I can tell you for sure, Ted, is that their story is totally different than Kerry's story. It's totally different than [unintelligible] story. It's even totally different . .
Koppel: Yes, you've mentioned that. But I mean, try and answer . . try and answer, my [spoken over O'Neill]
Try and answer my question.
O'Neill (7:02): Now, this marvelous new . .
Koppel: I've heard you say that three times, now. [speaking over O'Neill, and smiling]
O'Niell . . discovery . . The marvelous new discovery in Vietnam occurs in a closed society in a country that has honored John Kerry himself as a hero in their war museum who helped them win the war. You could see the government personnel directly with him. I guess, if I have a choice, Ted, between relying as a I did on the Boston Globe autobiography, on Kerry's own autobiography, on his crewman, on your prior show that you had in July which said essentially the same thing, and on the recollection of the guys that we had that were there, or a group of people coming up with a totally new story in a closed society, I choose to rely on Kerry's books, Kerry's crewmen, our crewmen, and the other sources. I don't think it was worthy of you all to go and . . and . . go and interview these people and try and impeach me without bothering to look at the Boston Globe autobiography, [or] at Kerry's own book.
The-the story is ridiculous, first of all. Kerry didn't go in-in the first assault. Everyone says that the initial two boats went in. Kerry milled around. And then a rocket was fired at Kerry. Kerry's boats turned in towards the shore. And we have said that Kerry's action involves some courage, and that he deserves some medal. But the fact of the matter is when he turned in, Ted, only a single Viet Cong popped out of that hole. He was wounded in the legs by machine gun. That's what Kerry says. And Kerry chased him.
Koppel (8:25): Mr. O'Neil. I've been . . I've been . . I've been. [speaking over O'Neill at "machine gun"]
I've been very patient listening to you give the same rendition of the same story three or four times, now. The one thing you have not . .
O'Neill: It's in everybody's book, Ted.
Koppel: I understand which books it's in [agitated tone]. It's also in his citation for bravery for which he won the Silver Star. It is also . .
O'Neill: Actually, it was his . .
Koppel: It is also in the after-action report, Mr. O'Neill.
O'Neill (8:51): It only his third citation.
Koppel: So it's not as though . . it's not [speaking over O'Neill]
The only thing that I find really fascinating about this is that you seem so reluctant to admit that it is possible for a bunch of peasants in-in South Vietnam, who've never heard of this man before, to independently, in somewhat varying forms, to confirm the essence of what John Kerry claimed about the incidents that led to his Silver Star.
O'Neill (9:15): That's not true, John . . uh . . Ted. We accepted John Kerry's version of the Silver Star. We just pointed out that his version, which is a single guy popping up out of a hole being shot in the legs, is not a numerically superior force. It cannot be. And that's what happened.
Koppel: Nor is that what-nor is that what [speaking over O'Neill, after "force"] we suggested, tonight. We're saying that the single guy popping up out of the hole who was wounded, who may or may not have been killed by John Kerry, was not the end of that battle; that there were twenty other Viet Cong on the scene, according to the eyewitnesses . . who kept up . . who kept up . .
O'Neill: Well, what John Kerry says is, Ted . . [speaking over Koppel, after "eyewitnesses"]
Koppel: . . heavy fire. You've-you've already mentioned the books.
O'Neill (9:50): Ted, John Kerry says, "I could not help wondering what would have happened if, instead of one Viet Cong with the B-40, what if there had been three, or five, or ten? He knew the answer, of course." So John Kerry's story is that there was one, Ted. And that was the same story that the Boston Globe reporters had. You've been had, Ted. You've been had in a Communist country.
Koppel: Mr. O'Neill. [speaking after, "had, Ted."]
O'Neill: You should have stuck, honestly, to the Kerry people, to our people, and the like. That's all there was. It was one guy!
Koppel: We're starting to . . uh . . we're starting to meet ourselves [speaking over O'Neill, after "the like"] coming around again, Mr. O'Neill. So I thank you for your patience.
O'Neill: I'm sorry, Ted. All-all I can do is read the documents.
Koppel: I thank you for your courtesy in [speaking over O'Neill] coming here, this evening. Thank you, sir.
O'Neill: Uh . . I thank you, Ted, for your courtesy. And I hope you'll cover the sampan and the other incidents and let our guys go on the show.
Koppel: Very good, sir. I'll be back with a closing thought.
Koppel: One of our own producers, this morning, raised a question that I suspect a number of you may have on your mind. Why, just when the Presidential candidates are starting to focus on real, substantive issues devote yet another program to what John Kerry did or didn't do in Vietnam?
Here's why. Questions have been raised about John Kerry's character and honesty. We were offered the chance to set the record straight on one, discreet chapter in Mr. Kerry's war record. We didn't know what we were going to find when our crew went into Vietnam. You have the right to expect that we would have reported it, either way. And we would. Because not reporting something you know can be just as much of a political statement as reporting it. Imagine how outraged supporters of Mr. Kerry would have been if we had concealed what we found!
Our interviews don't prove that John Kerry deserved his Silver Star. But they are consistent with the after-action report and his citation for bravery. Finally, once we've checked things as thoroughly as we can, we're in the business of reporting what we learned, not concealing it.
That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel, in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News . . . good night.
Last Updated Friday, October 15 2004 @ 08:22 AM PDT