UPDATE: Well, that was quick. Leighton Woodhouse, communications director for Brave New Films, called us to "really, really, really strongly object" to our comparison of their new video to the Swift Boat attacks of 2004. Beyond the "superficial similarity" that both efforts dealt with the candidates' war service, Woodhouse says they differ in these ways:
—The Swift Boaters were lying, according to Woodhouse. Here's a critique of the Swift Boat ad by FactCheck.org. The vet in the McCain video, on the other hand, "can't be lying because both of the charges he's making are opinion based."
—The Swift Boaters challenged Kerry's account of what he did in Vietnam. Phillip Butler, the former POW, on the other hand, doesn't disagree with anything about McCain's record — except that it helps make him qualified for the presidency.
Says Woodhouse, "(Butler's) charges are completely within the bounds of reasonable discourse."
This is certainly the closest thing we've seen to a Swift Boat attack this election, at least in substance: A liberal film company has released an online video of a Vietnam veteran who was a prisoner of war with John McCain; vet criticizes candidate as unfit for the presidency.
Just as Democrat John Kerry stood to benefit from his record as a Vietnam War hero, McCain's campaign has vigorously promoted his service as a veteran and POW. And just as the conservative group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked Kerry's war record in 2004, this somber four-minute video by Brave New Films seeks to turn McCain's POW experience against him.
In it, McCain's Naval Academy classmate and fellow POW Phillip Butler says, "I think I can say with authority that the prisoner of war experience is not a good prerequisite for President of the United States." Butler says that former POWs die earlier and "suffer lots of residual things."
Butler goes further to critcize McCain personally, remembering him as hot-tempered and saying, "John McCain is not somebody that I would like to see with his finger near the red button."
In other ways, though, the organization that produced this video is quite unlike 2004's Swift Boat group.
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was a 527 organization, which took millions of dollars in unlimited donations from top GOP donors. The POW video, in contrast, is a production of Brave New Films' political action committee, which is funded by small donors and is tightly regulated by the Federal Election Commission.
The Swift Boat ad was blasted on TV, while Brave New Films' strategy is to produce viral online videos through email, Facebook and YouTube. At the end of Butler's critique of McCain, the video urges: "Pass this video on to everyone you know."
It remains to be seen how much traction it will get.