Politics & Policy

What The Swifties Wrought

The power of an ad campaign.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the November 29, 2004, issue of National Review.

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 practically zero.”

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.

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John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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