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Is FOX News Setting Stage for Swiftboating of John Murtha?

Reported by Marie Therese - June 26, 2006 -

News Hound Editorial

OMG here we go again!! It sure looks like the righties are revving up for another swiftboat-style witch hunt aimed at war veteran John Murtha, outspoken Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania. As part of the build-up, FOX News has been priming the pump with softball segments about Colorado Democratic* Congressman John Salazar's attempt to get his "Stolen Valor" bill passed. Needless to say, this law, if passed, would allow anyone to report a suspected violator and then embroil that defendant in litigation possibly for years. It could also be an effective tool in the hands of Machiavellian political advisors looking for a cheap and easy way to smear an opponent who served his or her country.

Rep. Salazar took the title of his bill from B. G. Burkett's 1998 book of the same name. According to a press release from Salazar's office dated July 22, 2005:

... the “Stolen Valor Act [is] legislation to penalize distributors of phony medals and those who fraudulently claim to be decorated veterans. Salazar’s legislation would place criminal penalties on those who falsely claim to have risked their lives for our country, restoring honor to those who have truly earned it.

“Medals recognize the best American qualities – courage, honor, and sacrifice,” said Salazar. “These honors are reserved for those who willingly risked their lives for our country. The Medal of Honor is our nation’s highest military honor. And the Purple Heart is only awarded for genuine acts of courage. It is our job to protect the honor and integrity of our veterans, to make sure the memory of their heroism is not tarnished.”

B.G. Burkett’s award winning* book “Stolen Valor” first exposed the problem of medals fraud. Current law only allows prosecution of imposters who wear an unearned Medal of Honor on their person. Salazar’s legislation will expand the law to include those who publicly claim to be decorated veterans, allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to finally prosecute several high profile cases ...

“Shame on those who claim credit for acts of courage they did not commit, their lies are criminal” said Salazar. “Medal recipients are often too humble to parade their honors. By letting the phonies continue their masquerade, we diminish the honor of our true heroes. Federal law enforcement agents are willing to go after these frauds, Congress needs to provide the tools necessary to get the job done.”

Salazar’s legislation is the direct result of the efforts of Pam and Doug Sterner of Pueblo and Medal of Honor recipient Peter Lemon of Colorado Springs. The city of Pueblo in Salazar’s congressional district was designated “America’s Home of Heroes” by Congress, because it is home to more Medal of Honor recipients than elsewhere in the country.

In a scathing 2004 column about Burkett's badly researched right-wing opus, Dave Curry of the Vietnam Veterans Against War (VVAW) had this to say:

B.G. Burkett's stated goal is to steal back the valor of the Vietnam veterans who really served in Vietnam. To do so, he seeks to destroy the "myth" perpetuated by Vietnam veteran "liars and wannabes" with the assistance of the media, the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans' advocates, and the mental health care industry. In order to accomplish his goal, Burkett and his coauthor set out to steal the legacy of being Vietnam veterans from all Vietnam veterans who opposed the Vietnam War and all Vietnam veterans who suffer or have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness, suicide, service-connected substance abuse problems, or health problems related to Agent Orange.

Whatever you do, don't BUY this book. Burkett wants to recover his stolen valor by stealing the valor of thousands of other Vietnam veterans. Burkett does have, however, one big fan. Last year President George W. Bush pinned the Army Decoration of Distinguished Civilian Service on Burkett's chest. Since Burkett's ability at researching military records is so good, I'm surprised that he hasn't been able to find his president's missing military records.

According to their website Home of Heroes, Salazar's good buddies Pam and Doug Sterner have been interviewed several times by FOX News and other media outlets, both nationally and locally. Doug Sterner's most recent appearance was June 22nd when he appeared live on the FOX & Friends morning show where he discussed the legislation and the issue of phony soldiering. (Click the link to view the FOX News video). Sterner was also interviewed on the same day as part of an ABC Good Morning America segment (video here.)

The other person mentioned by Salazar in his press release was motivational speaker Peter C. Lemon, one of the youngest surviving recipients of the Medal of Honor ever to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 2004 Lemon acted as Executive Producer of an Emmy award winning documentary, underwritten by the [Ross] Perot Foundation and aired on PBS, called "Beyond the Medal". The documentary, which grew out of a book Lemon wrote in 1997, is intended to be used in high schools as an historical teaching tool.

"Beyond the Medal" was produced by Capture It Productions, a "sister" company of Pueblo-based DD Marketing, Inc. a company that boasts that it has "negotiated beverage supply contracts for over 200 educational entities across the United States." DD marketing is owned by Dan DeRose, a prominent supporter of Colorado Republicans and the RNC.

I first learned of Capture It Productions while watching a video clip from FOX News Channel that aired in late July 2005. It featured Alicia Acuna and was about the initial presentation of the "Stolen Valor" bill. FOX News credited Capture It Productions for some of the clips used in that video. (To view it, go to HomeofHeroes.com and click on the video entitled "Grand Theft of Glory.")

102 Members of Congress have co-sponsored Rep. Salazar's bill representing both Democrats and Republicans. 25 Senators have co-sponsored the Senate version. In the event this bill passes, we can look forward to a flurry of right-wing smear campaigns aimed at bringing criminal charges against scofflaws who illegally lay claim to military heroism. And we all know that the first defendant will be Congressman John Murtha with Senator John Kerry coming in a close second.

While no one wants bunco artists using fake military honors to obtain special favors and/or benefits that by law should go to real veterans, it seems to me that Salazar's loosely worded bill goes too far and opens the door for frivolous lawsuits and political witch hunts.

As for Congressman Murtha and Senator Kerry, one sincerely hopes that neither man will be caught napping when the crest of the smear wave crashes over them later this summer.

* CORRECTION NOTICE: I originally incorrectly wrote that John Salazar was member of the Republican Party. He is, in fact, a Democrat. VoteSmart.com has published the following information:

2005 Representative Salazar supported the interests of the Eagle Forum 53 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Salazar supported the interests of the Republican Liberty Caucus - Personal Liberties on personal liberties 47 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Salazar supported the interests of the Republican Liberty Caucus 51 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Salazar supported the interests of the Republican Liberty Caucus - Economic Issues on economic issues 55 percent in 2005.

2005 Representative Salazar supported the interests of the American Conservative Union 44 percent in 2005.

In general Salazar seems to be a centrist Democrat. -

Hat tip to Doug Sterner for the catch. - MT