Bush Praises Kerry's War Record, Condemns All Ads Funded By Soft Money
The controversy surrounding the Swift Veterans for Truth ad campaign questioning Sen. Kerry's war record continues to dominate the presidential campaign. As political commentator Ron Brownstein said on CNN's Inside Politics, the Swift Boat controversy "is consuming the campaign." With the Kerry camp endeavoring to link the anti-Kerry ads to the President and his supporters, Bush yesterday praised the Democratic nominee's war record and called for "all" soft-money ads to be pulled off the air. The story received widespread coverage on electronic and print media, most of it noting that the President failed to specifically condemn the content of the Swift Veterans' ads. CBS News Radio, for example, this morning reports that Bush "for the first time has raised his voice against the Vietnam veterans group that has accused John Kerry of lying about his war record. He spoke out against how the ad was paid for, not the message." Bush "again said John Kerry served admirably in the military and ought to be proud of his record." ABC News Radio, meanwhile, notes the President "did not denounce the actual contents of the ad."
All three network newscasts covered the story. CBS Evening News said Bush spoke "in hopes of distancing himself from these attacks ads bashing" Kerry. NBC Nightly News reported Bush "again stopped short of condemning the anti-Kerry Vietnam ads," while ABC World News Tonight noted he "only condemned the way such ads are financed, paid for by independent groups. He avoids condemning the specific content of the ads, and that infuriates Democrats."
On local TV, several reports used direct footage of the President calling the 527s "bad for the system," and many showed them saying, "I wish, I hope my opponent joins me in saying, condemning these activities of the 527s." For example, Detroit's WDIV-TV reported "Bush spoke against political attack ads including one that accuses John Kerry of lying about his combat record in Vietnam. . . . Outside his Texas ranch, President Bush condemned the process but stopped short of saying the group funding the ads should pull the plugs." WFOR-TV of Miami said Bush "is coming to the defense of his opponent John Kerry, denouncing ads that question Kerry's Vietnam war record." WKRC-TV of Cincinnati noted Bush "also says Kerry quote: 'ought to be proud of his war record.'"
Democrats were quick to criticize Bush's remarks. CBS Evening News reported "Kerry's running mate said the President did not go far enough," and showed Sen. Edwards saying: "Today, George Bush faced his moment of truth and failed. He failed to condemn the specific attacks on John Kerry's military record." According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe also replied to the President saying his "response was 'too little, too late.'"
As the AP reported, Democrats are still working "to limit the political damage from the ad" and, in Ron Brownstein's words on CNN's Inside Politics, they "are worried," "concerned. . .it is having at least some impact on them." Particularly because, as the Wall Street Journal notes, "the attacks by the swift-boat group have come at an opportune time for Mr. Bush, blunting the momentum Mr. Kerry built at the Democratic convention a few weeks ago and eroding the senator's advantage in opinion polls." According to CBS Evening News, a worried "Democratic strategist called this controversy over Kerry's war record a defining moment in the campaign. Defining for whom, we still don't know."
An aspect of Bush's appearance that got less attention from the media was his offer to Kerry to call for an end to all soft-money advertising by outside groups. The Washington Times reports "Kerry has not taken up Mr. Bush on his offer," adding that the President "noted that the bulk of all 527 money, about $63 million, has been spent on anti-Bush ads, despite his signing the McCain-Feingold bill on campaign-finance reform in 2002." Knight Ridder notes a ban "on independent ads would benefit the president more than Kerry because most 527s are against Bush, and apart from them his campaign and the Republican Party have a large fund-raising advantage over Kerry and the Democrats."