THE BLOG

The Swiftboating of John Murtha

07/10/2006 04:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This piece originally appeared on The Patriot Project

Everything was okay until November 17, 2005.

But then all hell broke loose. Scott McClellan kicked it off.

"Congressman Murtha is a respected veteran and politician who has a record of supporting a strong America. So it is baffling that he is endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party. .." - Press Secretary Scott McClellan (November 17, 2005)

Never mind that on November 15, 2005, the Senate voted 79-19 that 2006 "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty."

Free Republic ran with GOP Lawmakers Float Ethics Probe of Murtha on November 18, 2005, not wasting a moment's time, which was taken from Roll Call, both of which ran the day after Murtha announced his Iraq withdrawal plan. The ethics probe dealt with matters going back to 2004 and 2005. Why now?

If Rep. Murtha didn't have real military clout, being the first Vietnam veteran elected to the House, the Republican Party wouldn't have bothered with him. But he does, so they did. It has now escalated into a conservative campaign to swiftboat a decorated Marine veteran.

Once called one of the most hawkish members of Congress, Rep. John Murtha is now being presented as some anti war coward. His remarks about Haditha have unleashed just the latest salvo in the swiftboating strategy invented by conservatives, which they are now being forced to defend and explain.

Prior to 2005, The Cybercast News Service (CNS), purveyor of all things conservative and run by L. Brent Bozell III, had only one article about Rep. John Murtha. The headline was laudatory: Congressional Bill Would Establish Memorial for Victims of 9/11 (March 8, 2002). But on November 18, 2005, Bozell's team shot into action and hasn't stopped attacking Rep. Murtha since.

What happened to release the cascade of conservative vitriol now directed at Democratic Congressman and respected war veteran Jack Murtha?

''You can't fire the president unless you're in California,'' Mr. Murtha said. ''But somebody recommended this policy to him, and he took the recommendation. Somebody has to be held responsible, and he's got to make the decision who it was.'' ... Mr. Murtha is regarded by both parties as a respected voice on military matters. Citing poor supplies and support for the troops, he said he favored quick approval of the $87 billion Mr. Bush requested for Iraq but said the leaders needed to be replaced. He did not specify which. ...

THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ: CONGRESS; Democratic Hawk Urges Firing of Bush Aides (Times Select, September 17, 2003)

In September 2003, Iraq Toll Hits a Nerve With Murtha obviously resounded across red and blue states, as well as north and south boundaries. However, with John Murtha considered a hawk by anyone's standards, the conservatives had to change his legendary biography, but how?

Even before the president's press secretary, Republican majority leader of the House, Rep. Tom Delay, aka the Hammer, took a preemptive shot. The Hammer tried to assail Murtha's hawk status through the Democratic Party. Delay made Democrats the target, by accusing Murtha and others of saying "that American troops aren't up to the job." That was back in May, 2004. A few months later it simply wouldn't be enough. With Iraq unraveling and no way out, Murtha had begun to dismantle the conservative playbook on national security. This was serious.

Two years later, Arianna Huffington would call it the "Murtha Effect," which showed the conservative newspaper chain backed by Clinton hater Richard Melon Scaiffe, who is known as the "Funding Father of the Right," endorsing Murtha's Iraq withdrawal plan in January 2006.

As the old Missouri saying goes, them's fightin' words.

That fight began on November 17, 2005, the day Murtha presented his plan for redeployment from Iraq, which called for a "change in direction." After trying for years to get President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and the administration to change course, through letters and public pleas, the 37-year Marine veteran realized it wasn't going to happen. To say Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, didn't take Murtha's challenge lightly is an understatement.

Murtha's resolution included language the Republicans wanted to avoid, such as "the American people have not been shown clear, measurable progress" toward stability in Iraq. It also said troops should be withdrawn "at the earliest practicable date," although Murtha said in statements and interviews Thursday that the drawdown should begin now.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) drafted a simpler resolution calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops, saying it was a fair interpretation of Murtha's intent. Members were heatedly debating a procedural rule concerning the Hunter resolution when Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) was recognized at 5:20 p.m. Schmidt won a special election in August, defeating Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, and is so new to Congress that some colleagues do not know her name.

(snip)

It was past 10 p.m. when Murtha addressed a relatively subdued House. Hunter's resolution "is not what I envisioned" because it avoids a broader debate of the war, which "is not going as advertised," Murtha said. "The American people are way ahead of us" in wanting a strategy to bring the troops home, he added. "It's easy to sit in your air-conditioned offices and send them into battle."

(snip)

Top Democrats attacked the GOP tactic. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the Republicans "engaged in an act of deception that undermines any shred of dignity that might be left in this Republican Congress." She called Hunter's resolution "a political stunt" and "a disservice to our country and to our men and women in uniform."

Democrats Enraged By Personal Attack

This was the day Rep. Jean Schmidt basically called Murtha a coward, and then was made to apologize for her remarks because she didn't have the evidence to back it up.

One of the oddest headlines of November 18th, however, was when NPR ran Long-time War Hawk, Murtha Is An Angry Dove. After decades of being a military hawk, because Murtha couldn't get a response from President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, after years of trying, Rep. John Murtha was now not just angry, but an "Angry Dove."

Murtha's "dark night of the soul" had reached a moment where he had to speak out. George W. Bush pitted against the 37-year Marine veteran was no contest and the Republicans knew it. Murtha had become a "one man tipping point" for President Bush. The "war room" was back.

But White House aides concede that they, too, were at fault for having assumed that Bush was personally unassailable and that events--and explanations of them--would take care of themselves. A war-room defense was "something we did well during the campaign," said Nicolle Wallace, Bush's communications director. "Maybe incorrectly, we had hoped or presumed that wouldn't be necessary after the election."

It is. The war room now is back, staffed with many of the same people who ran it in 2004, led by the Boy Genius himself, Karl Rove.

Bush at the Tipping Point, by Howard Fineman (Nov. 28, 2005 issue)

Murtha's call for redeployment on Iraq was called a "Cronkite moment," harkening back to when Walter Cronkite inspired LBJ to say, "That's it. If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America." With Murtha asserting the Iraq policies of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld had "failed," the entire conservative foreign policy platform was in the kill zone.

L. Brent Bozell III's first serious attack on Murtha since CNS praised Murtha for the 9/11 memorial legislation back in 2002, was coverage of Ken Mehlman claiming the Democrats were calling for "surrender." The next big story came on January 13, 2006, when Murtha's war hero status was called into question.

"[Murtha] is putting himself forward as some combat veteran with serious wounds and he's using that and it's dishonest and it's wrong," Bailey told Cybercast News Service on Jan. 9. Murtha served in the Marines on active duty and in the reserves from 1952 until his retirement as a colonel in 1990. He volunteered for service in Vietnam and was a First Marine Regiment intelligence officer in 1966 and 1967.

Murtha and Bailey, once allies, were forced to run against each other in a Democratic congressional primary in 1982 following redistricting. Murtha won the election.

Murtha has, in the past, publicly dismissed any questions about whether he deserved his two Purple Hearts, noting during his 1994 congressional campaign that "I am proud of my service in Vietnam."

In his Friday, Jan. 13, response to the Cybercast News Service investigation, Murtha again defended his military record.

"Questions about my record are clearly an attempt to distract attention from the real issue, which is that our brave men and women in uniform are dying and being injured every day in the middle of a civil war that can be resolved only by the Iraqis themselves," Murtha wrote in an email response.

"I volunteered for a year's duty in Vietnam. I was out in the field almost every single day. We took heavy casualties in my regiment the year that I was there. In my fitness reports, I was rated No. 1. My record is clear," Murtha added.

That CNS article appeared right before a "60 Minutes" interview, where Murtha would say the "'vast majority' of U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by year's end."

As Media Matters chronicled, CNS was the first to trumpet the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, with this little headline on May 3, 2004: Kerry 'Unfit to be Commander-in-Chief,' Say Former Military Colleagues.

The conservative Heritage Foundation is always on the case of anyone who is anti-war: Almost all oppose capitalism and believe in socialism; many are Communists. But they didn't get busy attacking Rep. Murtha until after November 17, 2005: Iraqis Look to Future, Dispelling the Myths About Iraq, Fighting the Good Fight, but who could resist their compilation of Facts and Analysis on the "progress in Iraq"? At least that piece made the effort to go back to when Murtha's complaints and pleas began.

Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard started weighing in with Abandoning Iraq (November 28, 2005). Nobody was more pro Iraq war than Kristol's Standard. Murtha was big game to them.

But it was in December 2005, when conservative darling Ann Coulter gave one of her first swiftboat style attacks against Murtha, when she questioned Murtha's medals in her syndicated column on Townhall.com (which has just relaunched).

Newsbusters raised the rhetoric in early 2006 by also going after Murtha's medals: More On Murtha: CNSNews.com Suggests He Has Kerry-Like Purple Heart Stories (January 14, 2006).

CNS joined in with Murtha's War Hero Status Called Into Question, followed by this beauty: Murtha's Anti-War Stance Overshadows Abscam Past. Bozell's CNS "investigation" had begun. Fast-forwarding to June, we got Murtha's Path to Dem Leadership Role: GOP and Hoyer.

But what would an attack on a veteran be without Fox News, Sean Hannity and John O'Neill in the mix? Compliments of Media Matters we have the tape (May 23, 2006).

However, who could expect the Heritage Foundation to actually admit the Republican Party's modus operandi?

A draft resolution by the House International Relations Committee declares that "the United States will complete the mission in Iraq and prevail in the Global War on Terror and the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary." This resolution has been in the works since last November when the debate over Iraq turned into a debate over Rep. John Murtha and his motives for advocating an immediate withdrawal of American troops.

Destiny awaits (June 15, 2006)

A debate? What it became was an all out smear campaign targeting one of the most hawkish Democratic Party members in Congress, a decorated veteran, who dared to ask for accountability from a president, secretary of defense and an administration who doesn't know the meaning of the word.

L. Brent Bozell III also had his "Media Research Center" join the campaign on January 17, 2006: Murtha's Mangled Medal Stories. Free Republic was on the job, picking the story up so more could get in on the action.

But it never stuck. After all, it's hard to argue with the Marine Corps. But they kept on trying.

Murky Jack Murtha from the American Spectator came on February 2, 2006, making sure that Abscam, Bozell's CNS and everything conservative were thrown into the mix. The American Spectator led the fight against President Bill Clinton. The attacks on Murtha continue on their blog.

Newsbusters led with this one on February 24, 2006: CBS Uniquely Showcases Murtha's Slam of Bush, Insistence Iraq Already in Civil War.

Skipping to recent days, on June 19, 2006, Pajamas Media trumpeted the "public meltdown" of Murtha.

The Real Jack Murtha, by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich's press secretary, Tony Blankley (June 21, 2006) was next, with many others picking up the attacks in between.

A story that had died almost a year earlier was now being resuscitated with all the Republicans blowing at once. From Power Line we got Jack Murtha and the culture of corruption (June 21, 2006), while simultaneously touting his congressional opponent, Diane Irey, whom I'll get to in a moment. Instapundit had Irey, complete with video.

Robert Novak joined the Republican pack with his syndicated column Murtha's Second Act, which was covered everywhere, including Bozell's CNS (June 22, 2006).

Rush Limbaugh touted both CNS and Novak's column on the same day (June 22, 2006), putting an emphasis on a case in which the FBI had no interest, where Murtha was concerned. Limbaugh links to the FBI site archives related to Abscam, but a search reveals nothing on Murtha. Out of ten Abmscam FBI FOIA files available online, ranging between 50 and 76 pages each, not one search yielded Murtha's name, but Rush links to the sites and the public's questions anyway. The links themselves are meant to prove Murtha's involvement in Abscam. Get the message? If not, John Fund helped out a few days later, reminding everyone that even though Murtha was cleared, he was still guilty.

It's hard to forget the recent correction the Florida Sun-Sentinel had to issue after the story (June 25, 2006) that screamed: Murtha says U.S. poses top threat to world peace. Drudge, of course, was on the job, but so was Keith Olbermann, because Murtha never said anything of the sort.

A South Florida Sun-Sentinel article on Sunday misinterpreted a comment from U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., at a town-hall meeting in North Miami.

In his speech, Murtha cited a recent poll, by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, that indicates a greater percentage of people in 10 of 14 foreign countries consider the U.S. presence in Iraq a greater danger to world peace than any threats posed by Iran or North Korea. Murtha said U.S. credibility was suffering because of continued U.S. military presence in Iraq and the perception that the United States is an occupying force.

Before the retraction, conservatives Bill O'Reilly (who claims he's an "independent"), Tucker Carlson and Newt Gingrich parroted the line, with Brit Hume not far behind. Hume and O'Reilly offered corrections, though with caveats.

It would have been much easier just to read the Christian Science Monitor headline (June 15, 2006), which came from a Pew Research Poll: US in Iraq greatest danger to global peace? Much of world says yes, in survey that also shows declining support for war on terror. But that would not have made their case.

You'd think this would have ended it.

But even after the correction, conservative bloggers went after Murtha yet again (July 6, 2006), with Wizbang! challenging people to "watch the whole video and come to the conclusion that Murtha doesn't agree with world opinion." Other conservative bloggers dutifully picked up the post, asking things like What did Murtha really say in Miami, with Outside the Beltway analyzing "the tone of the video," while one conservative blogger blared "Tokyo Murtha," complete with graphics no veteran deserves. BlackFive, winner of a 2005 Milbog award, mimicked Drudge, screaming "Wizbang! Exclusive - Murtha's Comments Exposed".

On June 27, 2006, conservative Newt Gingrich and right-wing talk radio host Mike Gallagher, sitting in for Sean Hannity, teamed up to not only suggest Murtha is "just plain crazy," but to trumpet their Americanism, when the only one between any of them who actually served in the military was Rep. John Murtha. Gingrich said Murtha is just playing politics: "bashing America, and bashing the military, and repudiating everything I've stood for my whole life."

Yet conservatives are aghast when Rep. Murtha tells the truth about House members, prominent conservatives and Vice President Dick Cheney: Nets Lead With Murtha, Highlight His Ridicule of Cheney's Lack of Military Service.

And there's only one reason why: "On military matters, no Democrat in Congress is more influential," CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer asserted in bucking up Murtha's credentials at the top of his newscast, insisting therefore "all of Washington listened" to him.

By the end of June, 2006, Media Matters had chronicled a long list proving the Republican Party had begun their full out assault on the Democratic Party, with a lot of help from others: Media coverage of Iraq debate steeped in GOP talking points.

But what about the conservative blogs? Michelle Malkin never, ever stops, unless, of course, she gets caught in her anti veteran spin. BlackFive chimes in, calling Murtha the Congressional Cowardice Caucus Chairman. Power Line on "mad Jack Murtha." Expose the Left has lots of links, but it all gets down to Murtha. Captains Quarters does double duty, trying to tie Murtha with Kerry's 1971 testimony before the Senate. Get it? Republicans and Conservatives asks: Who is the real John Murtha? AnkleBitingPundits offers If He Ran For President, Would Murtha's VP Be Kim Jong Il? Even the usually restrained Right-Wing Nuthouse couldn't resist: OLD SOLDIERS SHOULD JUST FADE AWAY, with his usual all caps (exclamation mark required)! Jeff Goldstein calls Murtha "Chickenlittlehawk," then adds his extra touch: The war in Iraq is right because it is right. Who can argue with that logic?

The Wall Street Journal and John Fund get their licks in too, making sure to offer a "clarification" over the Sun-Sentinel mistaken Murtha quote. Big of them, isn't it? AOL Journal gets in on it too, with "The Murtha Brothers."

Coincidentally, an article no longer available has been kept alive by conservatives. Murtha's brother a defense department lobbyist? Did Murtha influence contracts his way? Seems fair game, but they deny it. But if that's fair, then what about Rep. Duncan Hunter's money shenanigans as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, which are more varied and a lot deeper?

One of the big unknowns in the campaign against Rep. John Murtha remains Rep. Duncan Hunter. Newsweek reported that the FBI is investigating Brent "boom shaka laka" Wilkes's ties to Duncan Hunter. It was Duncan Hunter's association that got me interested a couple of weeks ago, because where there are conservatives, money and defense contracts, corruption has been proven to follow. Just ask conservative Republican Duke Cunningham and the cast of characters around him that includes Duncan Hunter. The list is long, which a search on TPM Muckraker will reveal.

However, one member, Amanda Doss, who started Murthalied.com, has folded one tent and joined forces with BootMurtha. Evidently, she couldn't stand the heat. BootMurtha is run by Larry "proud to be swiftboating" Bailey. Doss's original site came out of KerryLied.com, which was helped along by WorldNetDaily. (Oh, there's also MurthaMustGo.)

That brings us to Tony Snesko, a prominent Swiftboat Veterans for Truth guy who "inspired Operation Street Corner," which is Doss's baby. A fitting name, if you ask me. But that's not the only thing interesting about Mr. Snesko. His wife, Valerie Snesko, works as the personal appointment secretary for Rep. Duncan Hunter. So it looks like we've come full circle. When I broke out with the Hunter - Murtha angle recently, I got a hold of an email that was reminiscent of the bad old days of the non denial denial.

In light of other E-mails I have received today, I am assuming that you are connecting me with Murtha, who I have said nothing against and I am not associated with the Murthalied. Tony

If Tony is getting emails he has only himself to blame, because he's listed as the contact number for an engagement featuring Rep. Duncan Hunter that appears on the National Republican Congressional Committee website.

It doesn't explain why conservative Rep. Duncan Hunter is selling out a fellow brother in arms.

Is Hunter's personal secretary being married to a former Swiftboat Veteran for Truth just a coincidence? Is it just a coincidence that the attacks on Murtha started immediately after Rep. Murtha dared to suggest redeployment of American troops from Iraq? Are all these people connected to each other and conservative causes, organizations, the Republican Party and their bloggers and writers, and the swiftboating acts against John Murtha all just one big coincidence?

It can't be to get Ms. Diane Irey elected instead of Murtha, because if you investigate her it turns out her husband went to Iraq to make money, only to have his partner end up murdered. You then find out the only claim to fame of Ms. Irey is the swiftboating of Rep. John Murtha. Irey has Vets4Irey, which is connected to Vets4Bush and was created by the same guy who allowed Senator John Kerry to be called a "traitor" on the site as part of the swiftboating of the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. Maybe we should just call what's happening to Murtha a congressional fragging.

Oh, and speaking of fragging, what would the swiftboating of a Democratic veteran be without conservative Ann Coulter's latest comment about Rep. John Murtha: "The reason soldiers invented 'fragging.'" Hey, but not to worry, Ann, NewsMax has your back.

Now called "swiftboating," going after fellow combat veterans is a new phenomenon, invented by conservatives to go after veterans who buck the powers that be. It started with the swiftboating of Senator John McCain during the 2000 primaries and originated with George W. Bush's first presidential campaign. It has spread out to include former decorated veteran, former Senator Max Cleland, as well as retired generals who have criticized the Iraq war policies of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld.

Hang on, because it's not over yet. After all, November elections are coming up and as Iraq goes, so goes the conservatives, the Republican Party and the national security image they are trying so desperately to salvage.