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TIMES AWOL! The Times insisted that Bush really served. It’s time that they laid out the evidence:


COLIN POWELL’S THE WIND BENEATH HIS WINGS: Warble along with us, Bette Midler-lovers! Did William Raspberry ever tell us that Colin Powell is his personal hero? In this morning’s Post, Raspberry reviews Powell’s highly suspect presentation about Iraq—his presentation to the UN on February 5, 2002. At the time, Raspberry fell all over himself to say how brilliant the general had been. This morning, he explains why he did that. Gaze on the state of your “press corps:”

RASPBERRY: The question—to give Powell the benefit of the doubt [David] Kay gives the president—is: Did the intelligence agencies serve the secretary of state a batch of cooked evidence?

Or was Colin, my personal hero, in the kitchen?

Even today, as he notes the problems with Powell’s report, Raspberry simply can’t stop pandering to his “personal hero.” Are journalists supposed to have “personal heroes?” The Post should be embarrassed to put this in print. But this passage explains why a string of Post pundits raced to praise Powell’s presentation, and it explains why the press will never challenge Condi Rice’s bald-faced misstatements. Your “press corps” warbles songs to its heroes—and in the process, makes a joke of your interests. But congratulations, Pander Bear Raspberry! And don’t worry! Your “personal hero” will still say nice things the next time he sees you around town. After all, “you were content there in [his] shadow.” And, of course, to warble the obvious, “you always walked a step behind.”

TIMES AWOL: Here’s how it works at the New York Times: If you don’t like the facts, just wait a few days! George Bush’s record in the National Guard was back in the national news last week. And presto change-o! Dueling accounts of the basic facts quickly turned up in the Times:
“KIT” SEELYE, Monday, 1/26/04: General Clark has spent much of his time here explaining controversial statements. Perhaps most damaging has been his failure to repudiate comments by Mr. Moore, who called Mr. Bush a deserter for his unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973.

DAVID HALBFINGER, Saturday, 1/31/04: Mr. Bush was in the Air National Guard in Texas from 1972 to 1973, but did not appear for duty from May to November 1972 when he was working as the campaign manager for Winton M. Blount, a Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. A National Guard official and Mr. Bush’s spokesmen have said he made up the dates, as Guard regulations allow.

Which is it? According to Seelye, Bush is being criticized for his “unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973”—a period of about eighteen months. But five days later, her colleague Halbfinger described a much less serious problem. According to Halbfinger, Bush “did not appear for duty from May to November 1972,” a period of about six months. Not only that, Bush seems to have made up the missed dates.

How can we sort out these dueling accounts? We’ll say this for Halbfinger’s account; at least his work reflects the official state of Times reporting. As we have noted, Jo Thomas covered this topic for the Times on November 3, 2000—four days before voters went to the polls in Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/28/04). On that date, Thomas challenged earlier reports in the Boston Globe—reports which said that Bush may have missed as much as eighteen months of service. On October 31, 3000, the Globe’s Walter Robinson had reaffirmed his earlier reporting on this matter. Four days later, Thomas jumped into action, contradicting what Robinson said.

What had Robinson claimed in the Globe? Quick summary: According to Robinson, Bush almost surely failed to serve while living in Alabama from May 1972 through November 1972. After that, Bush returned to Houston, and it seemed fairly clear that he hadn’t reported for duty as of May 1973. Indeed, Robinson questioned whether Bush ever served after May 1972. “[A]s the Globe reported in May,” he wrote, “two documents and the recollections of officers…raise questions about whether Bush performed any duty between April 1972 and September 1973, the month Bush entered Harvard Business School.” This is the basic outline of the facts reflected in Seelye’s report.

But alas! Seelye’s own paper, the New York Times, responded with a vastly different set of facts. Indeed, on November 3, 2000, the Times directly challenged Robinson. Thomas penned the Times report. Here’s part of what she wrote:
THOMAS (11/3/00): The [Globe] article, citing military records for Mr. Bush, raised questions about whether Mr. Bush performed any duty from April 1972 until September 1973, when he entered Harvard Business School.

A review by The Times showed that after a seven-month gap, he appeared for duty in late November 1972 at least through July 1973…

[Bush aide Dan] Bartlett pointed to a document in Mr. Bush’s military records that showed credit for four days of duty ending Nov. 29 and for eight days ending Dec. 14, 1972, and, after he moved back to Houston, on dates in January, April and May…

Another document showed that Mr. Bush served at various times from May 29, 1973, through July 30, 1973, a period of time questioned by The Globe.

Robinson and the Globe were all wet, Thomas said. Indeed, Thomas said she had seen an important pair of documents—documents showing that Bush had served. According to Thomas, one document showed that Bush did twelve days of duty even before leaving Alabama! And this same document showed that Bush had served in January, April and May 1973. Meanwhile, a second document showed that Bush “served at various times from May 29, 1973, through July 30, 1973.” In short, Thomas flatly contradicted Robinson’s account. Halbfinger reflected this account in last Saturday’s story.

Amazing, isn’t it? As of November 2000, Robinson was still insisting that Bush hadn’t served from May 1972 through May 1973 (and perhaps beyond). Meanwhile, Thomas said she had seen two documents showing extensive service. And let’s not miss the mystery here: Robinson had worked with Dan Bartlett all year, the same Bush aide whom Thomas was citing. Presumably, Robinson and Thomas had been shown the same documents. For some reason—a reason which has never been explained—the scribes drew vastly different conclusions about Bush’s service in the Guard.

What are the documents Thomas was shown? Why did she say that Bush did serve? Unless we have a Potemkin press corps, the public deserves to be told. But from November 2000 right up to this day, no news org has made any attempt to sort out this puzzling disagreement. Thomas and Robinson saw the same documents—but they drew vastly different conclusions. Four years later, no one has ever tried to sort out this puzzling, fundamental dispute.

Let’s lay out a few more points as we wait for this mystery to be solved.

First, let’s look to the Washington Post. Although most news orgs hid beneath their desks, avoiding the question of Bush’s record, the Post reported this story in November 2000 along with the Globe and the Times. On November 3, 2000, George Lardner did a story in the Post about the re-emerging flap. Like Robinson and Thomas, Lardner cited Bartlett as a principal source, and referred to documents Bartlett had shown him. But Lardner’s report differed vastly from Thomas’. Lardner said nothing about Bush performing any duty before leaving Alabama. More specifically, Lardner didn’t mention the pair of documents Thomas described—the documents showing that Bush had served. Or did he? Midway through his Post report, Lardner described an odd document:
LARDNER (11/3/00): The Bush campaign points to a torn piece of paper in his Guard records, a statement of points Bush apparently earned in 1972-73, although most of the dates and Bush’s name except for the “W” have been torn off.

According to the torn Air Reserve Forces sheet, Bush continued to compile service credits after returning to Houston, winding up his fifth year with 56 points, six above the minimum needed for retention. However, Bush’s annual effectiveness report, signed by two superiors, says “Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report,” May 1, 1972, to April 30, 1973.

Almost surely, this “torn piece of paper” is one of the documents cited by Thomas. But just how strange was this seminal document? According to Lardner, Bush’s name wasn’t present—except for the W!—and most dates of service had been torn off as well. But in her 11/3/00 report, Thomas failed to mention the document’s irregularities. Nor did she mention that “annual effectiveness report,” the report in which Bush’s superiors said he’d been absent through April 30, 1973. Incredibly, Thomas simply buried this damning evidence—and simply declared Bush had served.

Do citizens have a right to the facts? As of Election Day 2000, the facts of this case were completely unclear. The Boston Globe was saying one thing; the Times’ account was vastly different. And now, four years later, within just one week, Seelye and Halbfinger dueling reports in which these dueling accounts re-emerge. Seelye reflects Walter Robinson’s work; Halbfinger gives Thomas’ account of the facts. And what are readers supposed to believe? Four years later, there’s no way to know which of these accounts is more accurate.

Plainly, this story turns on the pair of documents Thomas cited. What do those documents actually look like? How much credence should they be given? Four years later, the American people have no way to know. Even if it takes a whole lot of effort, the New York Times—AWOL for years—should finally lay out all the facts.

JEERS TO YOU, MR. ROBINSON: Yes, Thomas’ report was deeply flawed—indeed, it was simply inexcusable. She didn’t note the shortcomings of the “torn document,” and she omitted an obvious fact—she didn’t say that Bush’s superiors said that he hadn’t served in Houston. There is no excuse for omitting such facts, and the Times should explain why it published such work four days before the Bush-Gore election. But don’t put blind faith in Mr. Robinson, either. As we have frequently noted, his reporting on Gore during Campaign 2000 was among the campaign’s most disingenuous work. Yes, Mr. Robinson will play with the facts. Meanwhile, in his original report (5/23/00), he too had described that “torn document:”
ROBINSON (5/23/00): During his search, Lloyd said, the only other paperwork he discovered was a single torn page bearing Bush’s social security number and numbers awarding some points for Guard duty. But the partial page is undated. If it represents the year in question, it leaves unexplained why Bush’s two superior officers would have declared him absent for the full year.
Robinson refers to Albert Lloyd Jr., the Texas Air Guard’s former personnel director. In 1999, Lloyd had “helped the Bush campaign make sense of the governor’s military records,” Robinson said.

With Robinson’s description of the “torn page,” the plot does thicken a bit. After all, Robinson notes a salient fact—he says that the odd “torn document” includes Bush’s Social Security number. This would suggest that the document did concern Bush, even if most of the name is missing. Is this the same document Lardner described? There is, of course, no way to tell.

Meanwhile, a puzzle exists in Robinson’s work. As we have seen, his 10/31/00 report suggested that Bush may not have served in any way after May 1972. But his original report said something totally different. Here’s what the scribe wrote in May 2000:
ROBINSON (5/23/00): Bush’s records contain no evidence that he did any Guard duty in Alabama. In May 1973, seven months after he returned to Houston, two of Bush’s commanding officers, one of them a friend, wrote that Bush had not “been observed” at his Houston unit during the previous 12 months.

Just after that report, the records show numerous instances of Bush pulling Guard duty. In May, June, and July 1973, Bush spent 36 days on Guard duty. He was discharged soon thereafter to attend Harvard Business School.

The Texas Air Guard’s former personnel officer, retired Colonel Albert Lloyd Jr., told the Globe that the records suggested to him that Bush was summoned to do the intensive duty near the end of his service after his superiors discovered he had not been attending drills.

Say what? In May 2000, Robinson said that Bush’s records showed that he served for 36 days after May 2, 1973. By November 2000, his story had changed; he didn’t mention the 36 days, and said that Bush may not have served after May 1972 at all. Why did Robinson change his story? Citizens have no way to know. Isn’t it time that American “news orgs” sort out this four-year-old problem?

The Times, Post and Globe should stop all the clowning. Do those documents show that Bush served? And what exactly do the documents look like? Many citizens care about this—and there’s simply no way to judge the facts. Our great news orgs have hid from this story for years. It’s time they crawled out from under their desks. It’s time for the “press corps” to serve.

“KIT” MOVES ON: “Kit” Seelye discusses this topic again today. You know what to do. Just click here.

DEE DEE DOES CECI: You get mad when we shoot down your “good guy” favorites, but we couldn’t help noting a Dee Dee Myers statement in Howard Kurtz’s report this morning. Kurtz quotes Myers on MSNBC. “Now Kerry is going to get the Dean treatment—an unfair beating,” she said last week. But Dee Dee Myers is part of the gang. In a later interview with Kurtz, she offered this piece of Pure Press Corps Piffle:
KURTZ: “Everyone gets their turn in the barrel in this business if they’re successful,” says Myers, who worked for Bill Clinton when he was hammered 12 years ago over Gennifer Flowers, the draft and Whitewater. The press, she says, will be digging through Kerry’s record and the complaints “that he doesn’t connect with people, that he’s aloof, that he’s arrogant. It’s part of the phenomenon of build-em-up, tear-em-down. It’s not fair. Is what happened to Howard Dean fair? No.”
Everyone gets their turn in the barrel! All scribes are forced to recite this script if they hope to remain in the Pundit Guild. In Campaign 2000, this was plainly untrue about Candidate Bush. But Myers—your hero—won’t say it.