A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Patriotism Falsely Impugned

Democratic Rep. Grayson wrongly says that his opponent 'refused' Vietnam service; claims he 'doesn't love this country.'


Summary

Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida is falsely accusing his opponent of evading the Vietnam War draft, claiming "he doesn’t love this country."

Republican candidate Daniel Webster didn’t "refuse the call to service," as claimed in a vicious TV ad featuring pictures of military graves and the sound of "Taps" being played on a bugle. In fact, the former Florida Senate majority leader was given routine student deferments until he completed his undergraduate degree. He then reported for a military physical and was disqualified for medical reasons.

Analysis

Rep. Grayson’s ad — entitled "Draft Dodger" — appeared in his Florida district on Fox News last week. It is one of the nastiest we have seen so far this year, and it’s false.

 

[TET ]

Alan Grayson TV ad: "Draft Dodger"

Grayson: I’m Congressman Alan Grayson and I approve this message.

Announcer: [Sound of "Taps" in background] Daniel Webster was called to serve our country six times during the Vietnam War. Each time Daniel Webster refused the call to service. It breaks an old soldier’s heart to think that Webster could ever be elected to Congress. He doesn’t love this country the way I do. Daniel Webster doesn’t care about us.

[/TET]

The ad opens with a shot of Daniel Webster’s face imposed over a military graveyard. As the picture changes to a photograph of a soldier next to another graveyard shot, and a mournful rendition of "Taps" plays softly in the background, the announcer — who according to the Grayson campaign is a veteran who served in the military for four years — says Webster "was called to serve our country six times during the Vietnam War" and "refused" each time. The announcer goes on to say: "It breaks an old soldier’s heart" to think that Webster could be elected, because "he doesn’t love this country the way I do."

But the ad’s charge is disproved by the very documents that the Grayson campaign provides to support their claim. A Grayson spokesman provided copies of Selective Service documents that were obtained under a public records request in June. They show that far from refusing to serve his country, Webster reported for a military examination as soon as he graduated from college, only to be disqualified on medical grounds.

The Grayson campaign provided the same documents to Mark Schlueb of the Orlando Sentinel, who reported that "Webster received college deferments, which were common during the Vietnam War, then reported for service and was disqualified for medical reasons."

Draft Dodging?

Records show that Webster was deferred from military service five times due to academic study from 1967 to 1970 (once in high school and four times while he was in college at the Georgia Institute of Technology). Once he completed his undergraduate degree, he was given the classification 1-A  (which means he was available for military service) and was asked to report for a physical examination. The documentation shows that on the date of his physical, July 26, 1971, Webster was rejected and given the classification of 1-Y, which means that he was "qualified for service only in time of war or national emergency."

But according to the documents, the 1-Y classification was abolished just months later, on December 10, 1971. Local boards were ordered to reclassify all 1-Y registrants. Webster was reclassified on May 16, 1972, as 4-F, or "not qualified for military service."

So Webster was given deferments from the military in order to complete high school and college — common during the Vietnam War — then upon graduation reported for service and was ultimately disqualified because he failed the physical examination.

Records don’t indicate what medical problems led to Webster’s rejection from service, but Webster said it was due to problems with his feet. According to Schlueb’s September 17 article, Webster said: "I remember them pulling me out of line because I’d had problems with my feet when I was a kid. They used these corrective shoes on me with steel plates in them, but it really never fixed them — they’re weird-looking. I can’t really stand a long time on my feet."

A Pollster Explains

We contacted the Grayson campaign for an explanation. Curiously, we were referred to one of the campaign’s paid pollsters, Jim Kitchens, owner of The Kitchen Group. The campaign reported paying $18,000 to Kitchens last April for "polling." (See page 247.)

Kitchens argued that Webster made a personal choice not to go into the military, and that had he intended to serve after graduation, he would have signed up for officer training and undergone a physical examination during his junior year in college. It’s true that some undergraduates did that. But we can’t accept Kitchens’ spurious reasoning.

The ad states clearly that Webster "refused the call to service," which is simply false. Webster may have made a choice not to volunteer for officer training, and not to volunteer for military service before completing his undergraduate degree. But that’s not the same as refusing to serve when called. And the fact is that Webster reported when the draft board declared him to be available for military service.

An ‘Old Soldier’

The ad attacks Webster’s patriotism directly with a particularly nasty insinuation. The announcer says, "It breaks an old soldier’s heart to think that Daniel Webster could ever be elected to Congress. He doesn’t love this country the way I do. Daniel Webster doesn’t care about us."

The announcer is never identified, so the viewer has no way of knowing if he is really an "old soldier" or not. We asked a Grayson spokesman about that. The spokesman told us that the announcer is a four-year military veteran, but would not release the announcer’s identity.

Grayson himself never served in Vietnam — born in 1958, he was only 17 when the war ended in 1975.  According to his official biography, he didn’t serve in the military at all. He worked as an economist, then a lawyer. But — following the reasoning of Grayson’s own pollster — he could have volunteered for military service had he wished to serve.

Grayson’s ad concludes with a message on screen saying, "If Daniel Webster didn’t serve America then, why should he serve now?" Viewers might ask the same question of Grayson. (He now says had the Vietnam War still been going on, he would have dropped out of college and volunteered.)

— by Lara Seligman

Sources

Selective Service. Registration Card. Provided to FactCheck.org 21 Sep 2010 by Mark Schlueb of the Orlando Sentinel and Grayson campaign spokesman Sam Drzymala.

Selective Service. Extract of Registrant Classification Record. Provided to FactCheck.org 21 Sep 2010 by Mark Schlueb of the Orlando Sentinel and Grayson campaign spokesman Sam Drzymala.

Selective Service. Classifications, 1948-1976. Provided to FactCheck.org 21 Sep 2010 by Mark Schlueb of the Orlando Sentinel and Grayson campaign spokesman Sam Drzymala. 

Schlueb, Mark. "Alan Grayson TV ad calls Dan Webster a draft dodger." Orlando Sentinel.17 Sep 2010.

The Kitchens Group Site. Accessed 21 Sep 2010.

Federal Elections Commission. Filing FEC-C00424713. Washington: GPO, 2010.

Congressman Alan Grayson. Biography. Accessed 21 Sep 2010.