Transcription – Chris LaCivita Interview

Q: The first thing, you didn’t have that much money at this point.

LACIVITA: No, I had next to nothing.

Q: And the first ad was — well, talk about the first ad. Because I think most people when they remember Swift Boat, that they remember the first ad.

LACIVITA: Yeah. Well, that was the one that, you know, clearly — the most effective one was the second one, but effective — or I should say the most damning was the second one, just Kerry’s own voice. But the first ad started it all, because the first ad had the Corpsman — no, the doctor who treated Kerry, it had all of these — “I served with John Kerry,” “I served with John Kerry,” and it was funny because the — you want to talk about the stars lining up, things happened during the course of this event that [00:49:00] just don’t happen all the time. I mean the stars don’t always align, and they did in everything that we did in this particular campaign. From
John Kerry standing up saying, “I’m John Kerry, I’m reporting for duty” —

Q: At the convention?

LACIVITA: At the convention in Boston, to the morning that we’re filming, the morning that we are filming the veterans and the Swifties, Rick comes up to me and says, “Have you seen this video of John Edwards?” And I’m like, “No.” And I remember he comes and he sits down next to me, he pulls out his laptop. In 2004, there wasn’t wireless everywhere like, right? I mean, you know, you think about the things that have changed just from 2004 to today, and it was John Edwards saying, “If you have any question about what John Kerry’s [00:50:00] made of, just ask the men who served with him in Vietnam.” And I still get goose bumps, because I remember seeing that, and I went, holy crap. And I just, I was just — and then I remember John and Bill were like, what? I’m like, “You guys have got to see this.” (laughter) I have all the guys there that day, that morning, sitting right there. And this video had just popped up of John Edwards saying this. And of course, John Edwards being the VP pick. And I remember showing it to John and Bill, and Bill goes, “Well, guys, let’s ask them.” (laughter) So, we had all the guys there, and I think that was one of the few lines that Rick and I actually wrote, which was, “I served with John Kerry.” “I served with John Kerry.” [00:51:00] And we just happened to have them all there. I mean, because we could have easily not seen this video, shot everybody, and may not have said, “I served with John Kerry” in the fashion in which we wanted to do it. Because we showed every one of the guys the video.

Q: The second ad was, I think probably the attack the Kerry people were expecting, right?

LACIVITA: It was. It was exactly what they were — and that was — and thank you for raising that point, because we — when we were going through the ad progression, because we — what we like to do is we war game these things out. OK, you have ad one that we want to say this. And ad two, you want to say this. And then somewhere in there, you’ve got to be prepared to respond, because we think they’re going to do X, Y, and Z. And we had a conversation, and Rick and I had a conversation, and trust me, I reminded the Swifties, who were all sailors, every day, that they put their political hands in the hands of a former Marine sergeant. (laughter) I — you would love to give Admiral Hoffmann a hard time about that. But we — so we war gamed several scenarios. And the decision to go with the John Kerry didn’t earn his medals, if you will, we made that decision because we knew that’s not what they expected. Because we knew ad two — ad two was not even — we talked — we knew that there would be something about what he said, but the concept of it hadn’t — Rick hadn’t done it yet, hadn’t produced it yet. We just knew it would incorporate it in some fashion.

Q: Ad two was basically Kerry the antiwar witness before the Senate Foreign Relations.

LACIVITA: Correct. And he’s speaking in this, you know, very Bostonian accent, and his (inaudible) and it was sort of like a, you know, such a gratuitous manner in which he was speaking down [00:53:00] to everybody. So yeah, that and — that ad just stirs more emotion in more people, but our ad where “I served with John Kerry,” “I served with John Kerry,” and then the doctor says, “You know, I served with John Kerry, and he didn’t deserve his first Purple Heart, because I was there and I treated him for that injury.” And so when we incorporated those aspects, it was something that they never anticipated, and every one of those guys wrote an affidavit, signed an affidavit, attesting to the — to what they saw and that’s what we submitted as our backup to the TV stations to keep the ad on the air.

Q: This first ad runs right after the Democratic convention.

LACIVITA: Right after.

Q: Which featured John Kerry reporting for duty, John Kerry (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) war hero.

LACIVITA: Right, I remember when the — I remember sitting in the living room of my house with my wife, watching the op– and I didn’t watch, and I don’t really watch a whole lot of political stuff on TV, but I knew I had to watch [00:54:00] the speech. And I remember, as soon as he did that, my phone rang, it was my mother. She said, “My God, Chris,” she said, “I sure hope you have your phone number unlisted.” Because see, she had already seen the ad. The ad was done, it was in the can, it was already complete before the Democratic — about a week before, we had just finished it. Because at that point, we were shopping it to donors.

Q: How big a buy for that first ad?

LACIVITA: Half a million dollars. Bob Perry, God rest him, Boone Pickens were the guys who stepped up.

Q: You didn’t expect that the effect of this ad was going to come through, that the people who saw [inaudible], right?

LACIVITA: No.

Q: Where was the (inaudible).

LACIVITA: No, and that — so what I did was, OK, we figured where do we place this ad where we have to play a couple — we have to do [00:55:00] a couple things. One, we wanted to pick small markets where the local TV stations would appreciate the revenue. (laughter) OK? And there’s not going to be a whole lot of competition. I mean, you know, so there’s going to be a financial incentive for them to keep the ad on the air. I mean, these are all, you know, points that we have to go through and think about, you know, it’s very — I mean, it’s conniving, but it’s very thoughtful and strategic in how you place these types of things. Especially in this particular — for this launch, it was very important. It was also very important that we did it when there wasn’t any news, OK? We had to find a vacuum, you know, and politics loves a vacuum. And controversy loves a vacuum. So, I picked, you know, a couple — the Toledo market and [00:56:00] I didn’t have enough money, plus it was just cheaper. I mean, you know, it’s 38 bucks a gross rating point, as opposed to, you know, 212 in Cleveland or what have you. So we picked smaller markets, but we picked them in key battleground states where, you know, and remember we’re doing this within the confines of the law, which are you can’t call for the election or the defeat of anyone, so you can’t say, vote for George Bush, or vote against John Kerry. So you can’t say that. You can infer it, but you can’t specifically state it. And so, and matter of fact, we never conducted a survey, a poll. We didn’t focus group the ads. Because I know people would have said, “Oh, it’s negative; I don’t like it.” Well, OK, whatever. So, you know, and I didn’t need to hear that. And it was a — [00:57:00] you know, we were playing to a character flaw of Kerry’s. There was something out there about John Kerry that people didn’t like. And the Bush campaign had already picked up on it. You know, they started running that ad with him on the surfboard, on the wind board. And so, you know, the climate was there, it’s just how do you exploit it and, you know, so we picked a — you know, I think we picked Wisconsin, a couple ads in Wiscons– a couple places, two or three media markets in Wisconsin, Ohio, there may have been one more, I just can’t recall the state. But we had to pick a battleground state and it had to be a half a million dollar buy. Because we had to prove to the press that this is not just an internet ad. Because everybody tries, since we did that, it’s been let’s try and do this — every outside group tries to do that now as a way to launch, and so the — because the accusations were [00:58:00] so sensational, and they came at the heels of the convention, and just a week before the Republican convention, and that downtime between the two conventions, again, there’s another star that aligns. You know, and then we had a couple big shots in Texas who, you know, said yeah, damn it, we’ll do it, and weren’t afraid of the subsequent controversy. So they were — they put the money behind it, and then the ad went up and I mean, we knew, as soon as John Kerry did that, I mean I knew all bets were off, this was going to be huge. I never would have guessed that 75% of the American public would have said, after 10 days, they’re very familiar with the accusations made by the Swift Boat veterans. [00:59:00]