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PETER JENNINGS’ MISSING YEARS! Peter Jennings begged Wesley Clark. Please, general—just fake the facts:


PLEASE COME TO MANCHESTER: When the “Old Man of the Mountain” literally falls off the hill, does that suggest a bad year for incumbents? The jests and the jibes start to fly Sunday night. Incomparably, we return Tuesday morning.

THE FACTS, GENERAL—JUST FAKE THE FACTS: What a performance by Peter Jennings! At last night’s Democratic debate, the handsome anchor jumped on a high horse and he just rode, baby, rode. Jennings was peeved because Michael Moore called Bush a “deserter” at a rally for Clark. And so he asked Clark to denounce him:

JENNINGS: At one point, Mr. Moore said, in front of you, that President Bush—he’s saying he’d like to see you, the general, and President Bush, who he called a “deserter.” Now, that’s a reckless charge not supported by the facts. And I was curious to know why you didn’t contradict him, and whether or not you think it would’ve been a better example of ethical behavior to have done so.
Wow! Jennings felt he knew “the facts.” Clark said he wasn’t so sure:
CLARK: Well, I think Michael Moore has the right to say whatever he feels about this. I don’t know whether this is supported by the facts or not. I’ve never looked at it. I’ve seen this charge bandied about a lot. But to me it wasn’t material. This election is going to be about the future, Peter. And what we have to do is pull this country together…
But Clark’s high-minded host wasn’t buying such smack. Once again, he referred to “the facts:”
JENNINGS: Let me ask you something you mentioned, then, because since this question and answer in which you and Mr. Moore was involved in, you’ve had a chance to look at the facts. Do you still feel comfortable with the fact that someone should be standing up in your presence and calling the president of the United States a deserter?

CLARK: To be honest with you, I did not look at the facts, Peter. You know, that’s Michael Moore’s opinion. He’s entitled to say that. I’ve seen—he’s not the only person who’s said that. I’ve not followed up on those facts. And frankly, it’s not relevant to me and why I’m in this campaign.

Here at THE HOWLER, we’d love to know what Jennings is talking about. “Deserter,” of course, is a term of art. But is it true, what Jennings said? Is it true that “the facts” don’t support Michael Moore’s “reckless” charge? And has Clark had a chance to review “the facts?” Indeed, what exactly are these “facts?” At THE HOWLER, we aren’t really sure.

But Jennings doesn’t seem to know “the facts” either. As near as we can tell from a Nexis search, Jennings has never reported on the charge that the young George Bush skipped a large chunk of his National Guard service. The Boston Globe reported the charge in a detailed report on May 23, 2000. And from that day to this, ABC’s World News Tonight doesn’t seem to have mentioned the allegation, let alone laid out “the facts.” That’s right—according to Nexis, Peter Jennings has never discussed Bush’s “missing year” on World News Tonight. In September 2000, Jennings did narrate a pair of biographical programs looking at Candidates Bush and Gore. And in the course of the programs’ four hours, here is the total time devoted to Bush and the Guard:

JENNINGS (9/14/00): George W. had a plan. He arranged to join the Air National Guard in Texas, which meant he would not be sent to Vietnam. The Vietnam War posed the first big crisis in Al Gore’s adult life. His draft board was in Tennessee.

STEVE ARMISTEAD (Gore hometown friend): In Smith County, there was probably nobody left from here. This was a population—10, 12,000 people. Percentage-wise, everybody that could walk and half-blind, they would draft during that period of time.

MIKE KAPETAN (Gore college friend): You know, he would just kind of sigh and say, about the draft, “If you’re from the Volunteer State, you can’t really wait for the draft.” And it also entered into his mind the consequences that any decision he made might have on his father’s campaign in 1970.

ALBERT GORE SR.: (from file footage) Twenty-five thousand American men have died. What harvest do we reap from their gallant sacrifice?

JENNINGS: Senator Albert Gore Sr. was one of the first outspoken critics of the Vietnam War. In 1970, facing re-election, his position that the US should get out of Vietnam alienated many Tennessee voters.

TIPPER GORE: I think that Al knew that if he went, it would strengthen his father’s hand as an anti-war senator. And that wasn’t the reason, but it helped ease the decision that he had already made, I think. He decided to volunteer for the Army, and he enlisted when he graduated from Harvard.

JENNINGS: Al Gore and George W. Bush had their lives interrupted by Vietnam. Their fathers’ political lives would never be the same.

End of discussion! In the course of his four-hour broadcast, Jennings never mentioned the questions about Bush’s Guard service. Indeed, the program completely skipped the part of Bush’s life where he was enrolled in the Guard. Our question: Where exactly could Wesley Clark go to “look at the facts” of this matter?

For ourselves, we don’t much care about this part of Bush’s life. But many other people do care, and Jennings’ performance in last night’s debate perfectly captured the corps’ endless avoidance of this topic. Our news orgs have avoided this topic like a plague; as a result, “the facts” are completely unclear. By the end of Campaign 2000, the Boston Globe was still insisting that Bush almost surely failed to serve. But after November 2000, the press corps dropped this topic like a rock. In reality, there is virtually nowhere Clark could have gone to “look at the facts” about Bush and the Guard. Sadly, Jennings was willing to go on TV and scold him as if this were possible.

Indeed, we emitted low chuckles at Jennings’ performance. Last weekend, the Associated Press butchered “the facts” of this case, and so did the Dean of all pundits, David Broder (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/20/04). Is there any chance that ABC’s handsome anchor skimmed his way through those bogus reports, gaining the misguided impression that he knew the real “facts” of this case? The AP and Broder both bungled “the facts.” Any chance that Peter Jennings doesn’t know that?

How should Clark have handled Moore’s comment? Here at the HOWLER, we aren’t really sure. But during his exchange with Jennings, Clark was faithful to the record. Because of scribes like Peter Jennings, “the facts” on this matter are wholly unclear. Jennings and the rest of the corps have made a point of avoiding this topic. Now, Jennings wants Clark to fake “the facts” too. Look on his work and despair.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Links to previous work on this topic are available in Tuesday’s HOWLER, linked above. And no, there’s no news org that can give you “the facts.” Peter Jennings’ own “missing year” has now been extended to four.

SPANNING THE GLOBE: Finally! Finally, someone was going to settle the question about the Boston Globe and John Kerry. It’s true, the Globe has sometimes battered Kerry, Tim Noah was saying in his “Chatterbox” column for Slate. He gave famous examples of the Globe ripping John. But mostly, it was Kerry’s own fault:

NOAH: As these examples demonstrate, the Globe’s swipes at Kerry are sometimes cheap shots or outright wrong, and sometimes dead-on. By Chatterbox’s rough estimate, at least three-quarters of Kerry’s Globe problem is attributable to his own behavior.
Finally! Three-fourths of the problem comes from Kerry! Noah continued, making the case: “He’s a stiff and a phony, Globe columnist Alex Beam told Chatterbox. Stuff sticks to him because it’s true.” And according to Noah, “Beam isn’t wrong. The rap against Kerry ‘that he’s a snob, that he’s an opportunist, that he approaches facts with a Clintonesque slipperiness’ is grounded in persuasive evidence.”

Finally! Finally, someone was going to sort out this war! And we’d finally get “persuasive evidence”—evidence proving the problem was Kerry’s! Our analysts leaned forward, alert and expectant. And then, dear readers, it happened again. Noah provided an inside look at the soul of the insider press corps:

NOAH: The Globe is hardly the only Boston media outlet to harp on these themes; the Boston Herald, a conservative tabloid, is less influential but much meaner. But it was the Globe that introduced Boston readers to what Chatterbox considers the most damning anecdote about Kerry.
Finally! Finally, we would hear the true tale! And what is the most damning tale about Kerry? Here’s what’s so bad about John:
NOAH (continuing directly): As a sitting senator, Kerry once tried to recruit Jacob Weisberg “then a teenage Yalie intern for the New Republic, now editor of Slate” for Skull & Bones. (Weisberg declined the offer and razzed Kerry about Bones’ refusal at the time to admit women.) Not even Dubya, Chatterbox will wager, maintained this much loyalty to Bones’ elitist and infantile mumbo-jumbo after assuming elective office.
Say what? This is the most damning anecdote about John Kerry? This is supposed to explain a history of coverage in which (among other episodes cited by Noah) the Globe falsely accused Kerry of committing war crimes? Did so on the verge of his closely-contested 1996 re-election? Yes, that seemed to be what was said. The Globe had falsely accused a solon of crimes. But it turned out to be the senator’s fault—because he recruited Weisberg, when Jake was at Yale!

We always assume that they can’t top themselves, but this one really does take a blue ribbon. Noah never quite explains what was so hideous about Kerry’s come-on—although the recitation gives Noah a chance to convey his editor’s great social importance. Indeed, Weisberg seems to have ridden this pointless incident for all it could possibly be worth. For example, when Alexandra Robbins wrote her recent history of Skull and Bones, she quoted Weisberg about this encounter. And she even provided the tale’s happy ending. The good news? Weeks after his troubling encounter with Kerry, Weisberg was recruited by another big star to join another big club at Yale:

ROBBINS (page 112): Weisberg called Kerry back—his call went straight through—and told him he was rejecting his offer. Kerry, Weisberg recalled, said he was disappointed. Soon afterward, the Washington Post’s Robert Kaiser took Weisberg out to lunch and persuaded him to accept membership in Elihu instead. Weisberg lasted about two weeks before quitting, after “someone suggested we all stand in a circle and hold hands,” he told me.
Can you see the thread in Weisberg’s stories? In Weisberg’s stories, important people keep pursuing Jake Weisberg. But Jake Weisberg is better by far.

This week, Weisberg glissades down trails and lounges in tubs, considering the length of Wesley Clark’s troubling lashes (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/22/04). Naomi Wolf still troubles his sleep; he frets about Lieberman’s food and pastels. How inane is your insider press corps? If you’ve read Slate this week and still feel you don’t know, give it up: Revelation has escaped down a trail.