Taking Back the Swift Boat

Remember when a Swift boat was just a Swift boat — or, if you prefer, a Patrol Craft Fast — rather than a political attack? The New York Times has a piece today on the Swiftboating of “Swift boat” and how some Swift boat veterans (including one associated with the group responsible for the word’s perversion — remember Swift boat Veterans For Truth or SBVTs?) want to reclaim and restore the word, since “it’s taken on the connotation of political sport versus honoring those that sacrificed everything.”

You may recall that in 2004 “in advertisements, a best-selling book and extensive news media appearances, [The SBVTs] accused [John] Kerry of fabricating exploits to win his military decorations and a discharge just four months into a yearlong tour.” About those “extensive news media appearances” — here’s a fuller description of the media’s role in the Swift Boat Affair and how, as we said back then, it “rank[ed] as a low point” of press performance during the 2004 election.

Back then we wrote that the “SBVTs may have put themselves in the game, but it’s a flawed media that made them stars” — the “institutional susceptibilities of a campaign press corps that allowed the SBVFT’s accusations to take on a life of their own.” And for the most part, those institutional flaws (he/said-she/said-ism, not challenging a campaign’s claim unless/until the other side challenges it, and so on) persist today, ripe for exploitation by those who will smear (whatever the way or word) this year.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.