TUESDAY, MAY 6, 2003
BURYING TURNIPSEED: Ironically, everyone knows who wrote the key piece about Bush and the National Guard. The Boston Globe did a major, major, exhaustive study, George Stephanopoulos said on last Fridays Washington Journaland Stephanopoulos noted that Walter Robinson had been the reporter in question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/5/03). On last Thursdays Countdown, Chris Matthews knew who had done the piece too. I think Robbie Robinson dug that story up, he said, referring to the piece as great reporting. Meanwhile, in the question that led to Matthews comment, host Keith Olbermann had IDed the Globe as the rag where the seminal piece first appeared. Weird, aint it? Everyone knew where the story appearedbut no one seemed able to say what was in it! In this way, pundits continued a three-year tradition, hiding that Bush missing year.
Here at THE HOWLER, we arent real big on the Bush-skipped-his-National-Guard-duty story; we prefer to judge our Big Public Figures on the things that theyve done as adults. But Robinson did pen a major report, and its still right there for all to seeavailable through the Nexis archives, or at the Globes own dotcom. It takes fifteen seconds to find the report, then a few minutes more to peruse it. But, though everyone knows where the story is found, no one seems able to say tell us whats in it! Stephanopoulos spun the story down, saying that Bush may have had Guard problems for a couple of months. Matthews quickly changed the subject, suggesting that Robinson was biased (more on that ludicrous notion tomorrow). Olbermann asked a foggy question, then backed off when Matthews clammed up. And Ann Coulter, of course, took the thing a step further. As usual, the pundit deftly dissembled, telling hero tales about Bush.
Readers, do you begin to see why that C-SPAN caller asked his question: Why we cant get the straight facts about Bush? Heres the specific query he posed to Stephanopoulos:
CALLER: We searched back on Bill Clinton 35 and 40 years Why is it we cannot find out about George Bushs military record? Every timethousands of people keep asking it, day after day after day, and we get a blank stare as if someone is saying, behind their eyes you see, Well, I havent got enough courage to tackle that. Why is it we knew everything about Bill Clinton, for 35 years?The caller was asking a very good question. But when he asked it, Brian Lamb posed a leading question, suggesting the press corps had done all it could. And Stephanopoulos quickly agreed. I think the trail is dead and theyve exhausted the study, he said.
That may be Georges best understanding, but his statement was grossly misleading. In fact, the media have always avoided this story, just as pundits did last week. That caller to C-SPAN was right on the markthe facts in this story are quite hard to come by. Last week, varied pundits side-stepped the story, although they all knew where the story appeared. But then, this report was also dodged at the time it appeared. Almost all news orgs took a dive at the timethe same dive they were taking last week.
What did Robinsons great report show? The Globesman had reviewed 160 pages of [Bushs] records, assembled by the Globe from a variety of sources and supplemented by interviews with former Guard officials, he wrote on May 23, 2000. Most specifically, Robinson found that Bush was all but unaccounted for for most of the last year and a half of his National Guard stint. For a full year, there is no record that he showed up for the periodic drills required of part-time guardsmen, he wrote. Officially, the period between May 1972 and May 1973 remains unaccounted for. Those were the findings which various scribes were unable to recall just last week.
But readers, what happened when Robinson released his report? In fact, almost all major news orgs went AWOL. To Matthews, its great reporting now. But lets recall what actually occurred when the great report turned up in the Globe. In particular, lets recall a man who was quickly disappeared. Lets recall a good generalWilliam Turnipseed.
According to Robinsons great reporting, Bushs missing year began in May 1972. Before that, Bush had been stationed at a unit in Houston. Heres how the missing year started:
ROBINSON: From May to November 1972, Bush was in Alabama working in a US Senate campaign, and was required to attend drills at an Air National Guard unit in Montgomery. But there is no evidence in his record that he did so. And William Turnipseed, the retired general who commanded the Alabama unit back then, said in an interview last week that Bush never appeared for duty there.Never saw him, the good general said. Robinson offered more detail:
ROBINSON: [O]n Sept. 5, 1972, Bush requested permission to do duty for September, October, and November at the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery. Permission was granted, and Bush was directed to report to Turnipseed, the units commander.OmigodLott hadnt seen Bush either! Robinson then discussed the rest of that missing Bush year:
ROBINSON: After the [Alabama senate] election, Bush returned to Houston. But seven months later, in May 1973, his two superior officers at Ellington Air Force Base could not perform his annual evaluation covering the year from May 1, 1972 to April 30, 1973 because, they wrote, Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report.That was some of the basic information in Walter Robinsons great [Globe] report.
Without question, most of this info was brand new when the 2400-word report appeared. For instance, before the May 23 report, the Nexis archive provides no sign that Turnipseed had ever been interviewed on this subject. Repeat: Turnipseeds statement that Bush had been missing was news when the great report first appeared.
But what happened to Robinsons great report? News orgs avoided it, thoroughly. According to the Nexis record, only three newspapers mentioned Turnipseeds statement in the weeks which followed the Globe report (the Washington Times, the Houston Chronicle, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal). In fact, few papers mentioned the great report at all. How thoroughly did Robinsons info get deep-sixed? If you read the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, heres what you got to read in your paper, appearing on May 24:
AUSTIN, TEXASAccording to [Bushs] records! And yes, that was the entire item, and yes, youve noticed something comical. Comically, the Plain-Dealer reported Bushs denials without explaining what Bush was defending his overall record against! The report was cribbed from an AP dispatch; though the AP included Turnipseeds statements, most newspapers, like the Plain-Dealer, knew they should edit that out. Turnipseed and Lott found the memory hole, along with almost all of Robinsons story. Indeed, its astounding to see how little attention the great report in the Boston Globe got.
How thoroughly was the great report dissed? Consider what happened on cable. Incredibly, the Globe report was never mentioned on CNNs hour-long daily show, Inside Politics. The show killed time with the usual piffle. Still to come, Judy Woodruff announced on May 25, what to do with Rudy Giulianis campaign cash. And Pat Neal had a hot report brewing. The candidates for Floridas open Senate seat are revved up and ready to go, she declared. But Inside Politics never mentioned any part of what Robinson wrote. They never mentioned the Turnipseed comments; they never mentioned those documents either. And need we say it? The great report was never mentioned on the brilliant cable show, Hardball. With comic timing, Matthews did an hour-long Hardball session with Bush just eight days after the Globe report airedbut he never asked Bush about what it said. It was great reporting, Matthews now says. But Hardball viewers never heard a word about Robinsons report at the time it appeared. Neither, of course, did Countdown viewers as Matthews clammed up Thursday night.
How deeply was Turnipseed placed in the ground? According to Nexis, Turnipseed was never mentioned on any TV show right through Novembers election. That includes broadcast and cable. Pundits praise the report todayand pretend they hashed it out in real time. But they completely avoided the great report then, just as they avoided it again late last week.
Given this background information, Fridays Washington Journal session was, in fact, quite instructive. According to Lamb and Stephanopoulos, news orgs have dropped this tired old tale because they beat it to death in real time. Has the media given up on it because they think theyve exhausted the study? Lamb finally asked. Stephanopoulos quickly said that they had. But in real time, during Campaign 2000, the insider press corps avoided this thoroughly. Insider pundits exhausted themselves, running away from the information.
That leaves one fellow on Washington Journalthe caller who asked that punishing question. When we ask about Bushs record, he said, we get a blank stare as if someone is saying, Well, I havent got enough courage to tackle that. Thats what a caller from Florida said. Who wants to say hes not right?
TOMORROW: Inside Politics? Its hard to believe how hard they worked to keep the missing year off the air.
THE WASHINGTON POST: And then theres Mr. Bush, peddling a woefully incomplete account of how the deficit got so large and dangerously misstating the impact of his tax cut on future deficits Most worrisome, Mr. Bush continues to suggest, implausiblyin contrast to the assessment of his own economiststhat his tax cut would more than pay for itself. In Silicon Valley last week, Mr. Bush said, The way to deal with the deficit is not to be timid on the growth package; the way to deal with the deficit is to have a robust enough growth package so we get more revenues coming into the federal Treasury. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that Mr. Bushs full tax cut would add $2.7 trillion to the deficit through 2013. Thats too robust for our tastes.This editorial is headlined, Tax Cut Trickery: Part II. Last Friday, the Post board penned a prior editorial about the feints and charades in current tax plans. In todays piece, the Commander is said to be misstating basic facts, and hes said to be making implausible suggestionsimplausible suggestions which stand in contrast to the assessment of his own economists. Hes also said to be peddling a woefully incomplete account of a key budget matter.
So lets see. The Post says were being deceived about taxes. Kristofs reporting says that we were grossly deceived about Iraq. Krugman shows the White House lying about why Bush had to rocket out to that ship. But Americas pundits still quiver and quake, afraid to put two and two together. Weve learned this week that gamblings no vice. Apparently, lyingonce mightily scornedhas become a Big Virtue now also.