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SPINNING BUSH AT WAR (PART 2)! The general said Bush wasn’t there. The press quickly buried the story:

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 Friday’s Washington Journal—and Stephanopoulos noted that Walter Robinson had been the reporter in question (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/5/03). On last Thursday’s 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, ain’t it? Everyone knew where the story appeared—but 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 aren’t real big on the Bush-skipped-his-National-Guard-duty story; we prefer to judge our Big Public Figures on the things that they’ve done as adults. But Robinson did pen a major report, and it’s still right there for all to see—available through the Nexis archives, or at the Globe’s 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 what’s 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 can’t get the straight facts about Bush? Here’s 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 Bush’s military record? Every time—thousands 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 haven’t 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 they’ve exhausted the study,” he said.

That may be George’s 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 mark—the 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 time—the same dive they were taking last week.

What did Robinson’s “great report” show? The Globesman had reviewed “160 pages of [Bush’s] 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, it’s “great reporting” now. But let’s recall what actually occurred when the “great report” turned up in the Globe. In particular, let’s recall a man who was quickly disappeared. Let’s recall a good general—William Turnipseed.

According to Robinson’s “great reporting,” Bush’s missing year began in May 1972. Before that, Bush had been stationed at a unit in Houston. Here’s 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 unit’s commander.

In interviews last week, Turnipseed and his administrative officer at the time, Kenneth K. Lott, said they had no memory of Bush ever reporting.

“Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not,” Turnipseed said.

Omigod—Lott hadn’t 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 Robinson’s “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: Turnipseed’s statement that Bush had been missing was news when the “great report” first appeared.

But what happened to Robinson’s “great report?” News orgs avoided it, thoroughly. According to the Nexis record, only three newspapers mentioned Turnipseed’s 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 Robinson’s info get deep-sixed? If you read the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, here’s what you got to read in your paper, appearing on May 24:

Bush’s Guard service cut short for Harvard

Gov. George W. Bush got a transfer while in the Texas Air National Guard to work on a U.S. Senate campaign for six months in Alabama and later left the Guard early to attend Harvard Business School, according to his records. Traveling on his campaign plane to Columbus, Ohio, yesterday, Bush said he had fulfilled his Guard duties at irregular intervals and he defended his overall record. His early discharge was not uncommon for pilots or other crewmen who were to leave soon and had been trained on now-obsolete jets, as was Bush’s case, said Albert Lloyd Jr., who was personnel director for the Texas Air National Guard from 1969 to 1995 and who reviewed Bush’s military records at the request of his campaign.
“According to [Bush’s] records!” And yes, that was the entire item, and yes, you’ve noticed something comical. Comically, the Plain-Dealer reported Bush’s denials without explaining what Bush was “defending his overall record” against! The report was cribbed from an AP dispatch; though the AP included Turnipseed’s 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 Robinson’s story. Indeed, it’s 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 CNN’s 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 Giuliani’s campaign cash.” And Pat Neal had a hot report brewing. “The candidates for Florida’s 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 aired—but he never asked Bush about what it said. It was “great reporting,” Matthews now says. But Hardball viewers never heard a word about Robinson’s 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 November’s election. That includes broadcast and cable. Pundits praise the report today—and 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, Friday’s 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 they’ve 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 Journal—the caller who asked that punishing question. When we ask about Bush’s record, he said, “we get a blank stare as if someone is saying, ‘Well, I haven’t got enough courage to tackle that.’” That’s what a caller from Florida said. Who wants to say he’s not right?

TOMORROW: Inside Politics? It’s hard to believe how hard they worked to keep the “missing year” off the air.

The Daily update

A NEW VIRTUE: Do not miss Nicholas Kristof’s remarkable piece in this morning’s New York Times. Kristof’s detailed reporting helps describe a “campaign of wholesale deceit” from the Administration. And don’t miss Paul Krugman’s column, where he describes more Admin deception. Meanwhile, this morning’s Washington Post lead editorial describes the Admin’s endless tax flimflam. Maybe our manly Commander should wear that flight suit when he peddles his prime tax cut foofaw:

THE WASHINGTON POST: And then there’s 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, implausibly—in contrast to the assessment of his own economists—that 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. Bush’s full tax cut would add $2.7 trillion to the deficit through 2013. That’s 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 today’s piece, the Commander is said to be “misstating” basic facts, and he’s said to be making “implausible suggestions”—implausible suggestions which stand “in contrast to the assessment of his own economists.” He’s also said to be “peddling a woefully incomplete account” of a key budget matter.

So let’s see. The Post says we’re being deceived about taxes. Kristof’s 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 America’s pundits still quiver and quake, afraid to put two and two together. We’ve learned this week that gambling’s no vice. Apparently, lying—once mightily scorned—has become a Big Virtue now also.