Three times a hero

The April/May issue of the American Enterprise magazine has just been published. The issue is devoted to the theme of the transformation of the Middle East, and it is full of interesting pieces. But the best piece in the issue is given over to the man who transformed the presidential race of 2004 — John O’Neill. The issue features a terrific interview with O’Neill in its “‘Live’ with TAE” department. Here’s an excerpt:

TAE: At the Swift Boat veterans’ May 4 press conference you had an open letter calling Kerry unfit to be Commander in Chief. It was signed by virtually all of John Kerry’s commanders in Vietnam. Yet the story fell flat. The media ignored it. How did your group react to the media blackout?
O’NEILL: We were shocked. We couldn’t believe it. I haven’t been involved in politics or media relations, and I thought the job of the media was primarily to report the facts. It was obvious to me that many hundreds of his former comrades coming forward to say that he lied about his record in Vietnam and that he was unfit to be President would be important information for Americans. I only then became aware of the bias of the media.
TAE: How do you explain the media’s response?
O’NEILL: The establishment media was very pro-Kerry. They were opposed to any story that was critical of Kerry, and I believe that they were captured by their own bias. We met with one reporter around that time. We told a story to him relating to Kerry’s service. He acknowledged it was true and terribly important. And he told us he would not print it because it would help George Bush. That’s when we began to realize we had a real problem on our hands.
TAE: Is there anything other than pro-Kerry bias to account for the establishment media’s attitude to the story?
O’NEILL: Perhaps a second factor is that there are very few veterans in the established media. It makes it very difficult for them to understand the story or to care about it. That’s very different from the situation 40 or 50 years ago when most people had served in some fashion in the armed forces or had uncles or brothers who had.
TAE: Did your group consider giving up?
O’NEILL: We couldn’t give up because in the end our objective was to get our facts out. We had to be able to look at ourselves the day after the election and know we had done everything we could. If we were simply shouting in the desert, we would still have to shout.
Our analysis after the press conference was that the three major networks, the New York Times, and the Washington Post would under no circumstances carry a story like ours, no matter how well documented. The strategy we devised first involved use of a fifteenth-century method of communication; that is, writing a book, which may sound strange in the telecommunications age. But that book, Unfit for Command, sold over 850,000 copies. I’ve often mused how funny it is that the New York Times had to list it as No. 1 on its bestseller list. The second thing we did was run, with the small amount of money we had, our ad, which featured 15 of us.
TAE: Did your group come up with the content of the ads?
O’NEILL: Yes, the content had to come from us. There’s not an advertising firm in the world that’s ever been on a Swift Boat. And none of them were there on the day of March 14 when Kerry fled on the Bay Hop.
The same thing is true of the second ad. None of us will ever forget the day Kerry testi-fied before Congress. It was like the Kennedy assassination. And so we just couldn’t live in the United States if we didn’t make a statement about his testimony in 1971.

You will want to read the whole thing and keep the remarkable story of John O’Neill and his band of brothers in mind.
What can we do to get the White House to recognize O’Neill with a Medal of Freedom? There is no more deserving recipient, and it would drive…well, you know who, nuts.
UPDATE: At Swanblog my colleague Peter Swanson has named O’Neill his “Man of the year, 1971 and 2004.”


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