By Thomas Oliphant, Globe Staff | August 22, 2004
As The New York Times reported last week, O'Neill had been selected by Richard Nixon's White House to counter the profound impact that Vietnam Veterans Against the War were having on public opinion in the spring of 1971. Full Article
The more complete truth is that O'Neill was recruited to front for something the Nixon White House was experienced in creating out of thin air -- "citizens" groups that supported various embattled administration policies.What gets short-shrift these days is that Nixon also wanted to bend heaven and earth to find some aspect of Kerry's Vietnam service -- anything -- that could be used to discredit him. In fact, much of what we call today the politics of personal destruction was pioneered by Nixon's White House. He had a firm control of a fearful government in those pre-Watergate days -- and he used it.
The big difference between what did and did not happen in 1971 and what is happening today involves the press. With no evidence that could withstand a laugh test, there was no point 33 years ago in spreading a smear. Today, thanks to the emergence of cable TV and a decline in standards, it is much easier to put muck in play, which is what has happened with Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace's 2004 counterpart, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
But there's another way in now. Raise some Bush buddy Texas money, create a TV ad, hire a right-wing loony to put together a smear book, and cable TV producers desperate for shouting matches are happy to oblige. The result then gets recycled into the serious press because "questions" have been raised about Kerry's record that couldn't survive a minute under traditional standards
As happened to O'Neill in 1971, the best counter to him today is the serious press attention that his group fears most.
By John Amato — August 21, 2004