The term swiftboating (also spelled swift-boating or swift boating) is an American neologism used pejoratively to describe an unfair or untrue political attack. The term is derived from the name of the organization "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" (SBVT, later the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth) because of their widely publicized then discredited campaign against 2004 US Presidential candidate John Kerry.
Since the political smear campaign conducted by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry, the term "swiftboating" has come into common use to refer to a harsh attack by a political opponent that is dishonest, personal and unfair. The Swift Boat Veterans and media pundits objected to this use of the term to define a smear campaign.
The term "Swift Boat" itself refers to a class of US Navy vessel used during the Vietnam War. During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry's heroism under fire as a Swift Boat commander in Vietnam was a centerpiece of his campaign. A number of Vietnam veterans who had served on Swift Boats formed a 527 organization called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (later renamed Swift Vets and POWs for Truth or SVPT) with the intent of discrediting his military record and attacking his subsequent antiwar activities as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The group produced a series of television ads and a bestselling book, Unfit for Command.  The unsubstantiated charges against Kerry by the SVPT gave rise to the term "swiftboating" as a synonym for "the nastiest of campaign smears", "a slimy political attack", and, for many, "ugly, unprincipled slander." As the purpose of a tax exempt 527 group is "to focus on the issues" rather than to "attack or defend a specific candidate", the SBVT was fined by the Federal Election Commission in 2004 for specifically attacking Kerry instead of focusing on political issues.
Objections and usage 
Conservative commentator Emmett Tyrrell has denounced its repeated negative usage, and says it "is about to join such terms as McCarthyism and McCarthyite" as a "hate term." A group formed for the purpose of opposing John Murtha's reelection to Congress, Vets for the Truth, posts at its website a definition of "swiftboating" as "exposing the lies, deceit and fraud of self-glorifying public officials or candidates for office who exaggerate their military service by lying about their feats of heroism and combat wounds."
Other conservatives have used the term in its common pejorative context, including Republican strategist Greg Mueller, who is quoted in Politico saying "The New York Times is trying to swift-boat McCain ... Certainly, the Times cannot complain about a negative general election campaign, since they fired the first shot. It was a poor and revealing attempt by The New York Times to try and smear McCain..." Republican Newt Gingrich, putting his own twist on the neologism at a presidential campaign stop on January 1, 2012, said he felt he was being "Romney-boated" by the barrage of negative ads run against him. "I probably should have responded faster and more aggressively. If somebody spent $3.5 million lying about you, you have some obligation to come back and set the record straight. Fox News Radio host John Gibson has written a book titled How the Left Swiftboated America, in which he says Swiftboating is defined as "the political trick of claiming to expose truth while in fact lying", and "used as a verb, came to mean just that: undermining character and credibility, no matter whether the charges are accurate." Gibson attributes the origin and definition of the word to "the left".
In a 2006 interview, John O'Neill, spokesman for Swift Vets and POWs for Truth commented on the term's usage by "parts of the mainstream media" as a "baseless smear against somebody's personal character": "I don't feel as bad about that as you do. That's a word people will use for however they want to. I have always thought that having left wingers go to bed at night, and put their little children to bed and say "be good little children or the Swiftboats will get you" - (laughs) and so that has never particularly worried me. And I'm not so sure that I'm that sad. Maybe what it really means is tell the truth, don't demean our troops, or you can be sure somebody like the Swift Boats are gonna be right out after you. And maybe that's how the Democratic party has cleaned up its act in the last year or so. And I don't mean cleaned up its act on everything, I mean at least not insulted our soldiers directly. Except for Kerry and Murtha."
Many Swift Boat veterans, "especially those who had nothing to do with the group that attacked Senator John Kerry’s military record in the 2004 election — want their good name back, and the good names of the men not lucky enough to come home alive", expressed regret and dismay that the term "Swift boat" has come to represent a political attack and "political chicanery" against a member of a different party.
Charges of "swiftboating" were made by supporters of both major candidates in the 2012 presidential election. Republican Party strategists compared attacks on Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital to swiftboating, saying that, "It's very clear they are trying to re-create and take a page out for the 2004 Bush campaign". The term was also used by a representative of Barack Obama's re-election campaign to describe the documentary film Dishonorable Disclosures and an associated ad campaign released by the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund on the topic of the death of Osama bin Laden.
See also 
- "University of Pennsylvania National Annenberg Election Survey". PollingReport.com. conducted August 9–16, 2004. Retrieved 2007-03-30.
- Cogan, Brian; Kelso, Tony (2009). Encyclopedia of Politics, the Media, and Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. pp. 155, 187, 335. ISBN 0-313-34379-9.
- Casey, Leo (Spring 2009). "No redemption song: The Case of Bill Ayers". Dissent (University of Pennsylvania Press) 56 (2): 107–111. doi:10.1353/dss.0.0041. ISSN 0012-3846. "In recent elections, the patriotism and good names of Democratic war hero candidates, from John Kerry to Max Cleland, had been impugned so successfully that a neologism for such smears—to 'swift boat'—was coined out of the assault on Kerry."
- Thomas, Evan (14 Nov 2004). "THE VETS ATTACK". Newsweek. Retrieved 6 Feb 2013.
- Allen, Michael Joe (2009). Until the last man comes home: POWs, MIAs, and the unending Vietnam War. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 294–299. ISBN 0-8078-3261-8.
- Zernike, Kate (2008-06-30). "Veterans Long to Reclaim the Name 'Swift Boat'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-27.
- Donaldson, Gary (2009). The making of modern America: the nation from 1945 to the present. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 333. ISBN 0-7425-4820-1.
- Boehlert, Eric (2006). Lapdogs: How the Press Lay Down for the Bush White House. Simon & Schuster. p. 198. ISBN 0-7432-9916-7.
- Bond, Jon; Smith, Kevin (2011). The Promise and Performance of American Democracy. Cengage Learning. p. 206. ISBN 0-495-91374-X.
- To Swift-Boat or Not; TIME; Michael Kinsley; June 12, 2008
- Smith, Melissa M.; Williams, Glenda C.; Powell, Larry; Copeland, Gary A. (2010). Campaign Finance Reform: The Political Shell Game. Lexington Books. p. 105. ISBN 0-7391-4566-5. Retrieved February 17, 2012.
- Rosen, Mike (2006-10-26). "Story is none too 'swift'". Rocky Mountain News. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
- Michael Dobbs (August 22, 2004). "Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete". The Washington Post.
- O'Neill, John; Corsi. Unfit for Command. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-017-4.
- Meckler, Laura (2008-06-30). "McCain Supporter Defends Swift Boat Attacks". Wall Stree Journal. Retrieved 2012-02-24.
- Kulik, Gary (2009). "War stories": false atrocity tales, swift boaters, and winter soldiers--what really happened in Vietnam. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 105. ISBN 1-59797-304-1.
- The 2004 Campaign: VIETNAM RECORD; Lawyer for Bush Quits Over Links to Kerry's Foes. New York Times
- Manjoo, Farhad. True Enough: learning to live in a post-fact society. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-470-05010-1.
- PBS Ombudsman; PBS; July 13, 2007
- BBC News, US & Canada. "Glossary: US elections". BBC News. Retrieved 29 Nov 2011. "Swift-boating The name given by Democrats..."
- Wickham, Henry P., Jr. (April 20, 2008). "Redefining 'Swiftboating' and Rewriting History". American Thinker. "The term deserves the positive connotation of 'whistle-blowing.'"
- Tyrrell, R. Emmett Jr. (June 4, 2006). "Swiftboating has become a hate term". CNN. Retrieved 2007-03-30.
- McMichael, William H. (2006-08-14). "Former SEAL wages campaign to defeat Murtha". Army Times. Retrieved 2007-03-30.
- Rush, right rally to McCain; Politico; February 21, 2008
- Gingrich Says He’s Been ‘Romney-Boated’; New York Times; January 1, 2012
- Gibson, John (2009). How the left swiftboated America: the liberal media conspiracy to make you think George Bush was the worst president in history. HarperCollins. p. vii-viii. ISBN 0-06-179289-6.
- Moore, John (2006-11-16). "Behind the Scenes: Swift Boat Veterans vs. John Kerry". Useful Fools. Retrieved 2007-11-14.
- "GOP strategists: Bain attack ads are this year's Swift Boat campaign". CNN. July 25, 2012. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
- Shane, Scott (August 15, 2012). "Ex-Officers Attack Obama Over Leaks on Bin Laden Raid". The New York Times. Retrieved August 15, 2012.