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THE WAY THEY WEREN’T! They were MIA about Bush’s missing year. Four years later, their memory fails: // link // print //
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2004

SMEAR BOAT HIATUS: Whatever you do, don’t miss Part 4 of our ongoing “Smear Boat” series (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/17/04). Our series will resume next week. But don’t miss—do not miss—this report about Kerry-the-Commie. O’Neill and Corsi are very kooky—and your press corps seems unwilling to tell you. Next week, we’ll examine a difficult, ongoing question: How should a mainstream press corps deal with accusers like this? In the meantime, don’t miss Friday’s report. More kooky claims all next week.

THE WAY THEY WEREN’T: Fascinating! Newsday columnist Marie Cocco was guesting on Thursday evening’s Hardball. She couldn’t see why the DNC was pushing the National Guard affair:

COCCO (9/17/04): For the life of me, I don't understand why the DNC has been jumping on this Guard story again. Because as far as I can tell, the voters had most of this information in 2000. There was a question raised about Bush's service then. The missing records became apparent then. The missed medical exam became apparent then. And the voters discounted it the first time. Why would they care about it now?
Cocco is an excellent columnist, but on this matter, she’s simply delusional. (Remember—big scribes never tell you the truth about the way their cohort functions.) Did voters really get the facts about this topic during Campaign 2000? We decided to check out Cocco’s claim. More specifically, we checked the way the story was covered by Cocco’s own newspaper, Newsday.

And perhaps you can guess what we found. In fact, Newsday barely mentioned this story during Campaign 2000. For example, Newsday readers were never told about that missing medical exam. And Newsday readers were never told that Bush was suspended from flight duty. In fact, if they blinked, Newsday readers didn’t hear about this matter at all. Newsday ran and hid from this topic. But then, many news orgs behaved the same way as they helped Mr. Bush reach the White House (links below).

The story broke on May 23, 2000, on the front page of the Boston Globe. Here’s how Walter Robinson began his now-famous report:

ROBINSON (5/23/00): After George W. Bush became governor in 1995, the Houston Air National Guard unit he had served with during the Vietnam War years honored him for his work, noting that he flew an F-102 fighter-interceptor until his discharge in October 1973.

And Bush himself, in his 1999 autobiography, “A Charge to Keep,” recounts the thrills of his pilot training, which he completed in June 1970. “I continued flying with my unit for the next several years,” the governor wrote. But both accounts are contradicted by copies of Bush's military records, obtained by the Globe. In his final 18 months of military service in 1972 and 1973, Bush did not fly at all. And for much of that time, Bush was all but unaccounted for: For a full year, there is no record that he showed up for the periodic drills required of part-time guardsmen.

Robinson’s front-page report broke the story. But Newsday was one of the slumbering orgs which largely avoided the topic. How much were its readers told about Bush’s apparent “missing year?” Very little. On Hardball, Cocco’s reflections completely misstated the way Newsday dealt with this story.

What were the paper’s readers told? According to the Nexis record, Newsday first mentioned this story on May 31, 2000. Well—Newsday sort of mentioned the story. An AP story reported that Bush had “accused the Clinton-Gore administration of letting the U.S. military decay.” And the Gore campaign had responded:

THE AP (NEWSDAY, 5/31/00): Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown responded in this case by raising the issue of Bush being allowed to adjust his commitment to the Texas Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973 while working in Alabama on a Senate campaign and in order to attend Harvard Business School. “I think this is an issue that he must explain to the American people,” said Brown.
There was no mention of missing service in the daintily worded report. Bush had somehow been “allowed to adjust his commitment,” puzzled Newsday readers were told.

In fact, readers had to wait another month to get their first real info. On June 25, Newsday printed a 298-word AP report about Bush and the Guard. Here’s how the story began:

THE AP (NEWSDAY, 6/25/00): Gov. George W. Bush's campaign workers have concluded that no documents exist showing he reported for duty as ordered in Alabama with the Texas Air National Guard in 1972. They are looking for people who served with him to verify that he did.

Dan Bartlett, a spokesman for Bush's Republican presidential campaign, said he reviewed another 200-page packet of documents last week from the National Guard's records repository in Denver.

The campaign was looking for payroll records that would show Bush reported for duty with the Guard in Montgomery, Ala., while working on the unsuccessful Senate campaign of former Postmaster General Winton Blount.

A full month after the story broke, Newsday readers were finally allowed to hear the basics. “The campaign was surprised in late May when retired Gen. William Turnipseed said Bush did not report to him, although the young airman was required to do so,” the short report naughtily said.

But don’t worry! Again according to Nexis records, another month passed before Newsday mentioned the topic again. This time, Cocco was the writer, commenting on Bush’s VP nominee:

COCCO (7/27/00): He’ll make a fine chaperone.

When George W. Bush was missing in action, failing to show up for the National Guard duty that had, in turn, gotten him out of Vietnam duty, Dick Cheney was fighting inflation for Richard Nixon's administration.

That was her full discussion of the topic. And oh yes—one more thing. As near as we can tell from the Nexis records, that was the last time Newsday would mention the topic until the weekend before the election! Newsday readers heard no more about Bush-and-the-Guard until Sunday, November 5. And prepare yourselves for a bit of high irony. On that day, Neal Rubinton, the paper’s “Viewpoints” editor, mentioned the story as a prime example of the way the press had shirked its duty! “Once again, the media are taking the easy way out,” the editor complained at the start of his piece. He cited the last-minute Bush drunk-driving story—which led him back to the National Guard:
RUBINTON (11/5/00): [The disclosure] came at the tail end of a week when a more complicated and arguably more important story about Bush broke [sic] in the Boston Globe. The Globe, in a Tuesday story headlined “Questions Remain on Bush's Service as Guard Pilot,” raised doubts about whether Bush had fulfilled his service obligations in the Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973. Now there's a story that would seem to have legs: It's got that long-ago sense of mystery to it; it's about the possible abuse of family power to get special privilege, and it's about how Bush may have shirked service to his country's military.

So what kind of pickup did the Globe story get nationally? Not much. Newsday didn't carry any reference to it, although the paper has written previously about questions on Bush's military record.

The Globe had written a follow-up story on October 31 and, as with the paper’s original story, the nation’s big news orgs had largely ignored it. Indeed, as Rubinton noted, Newsday ignored the story completely, just as it had done back in May. For the record, Rubinton’s column didn’t mention that original, ignored Globe report. (Indeed, a Newsday reader might have thought the Globe had just “broken” the story that week.) “Newsday “has written previously about questions on Bush's military record,” the editor wrote, gilding the lily.

On Hardball, we heard a pleasing tale. Thanks to the work of our brilliant press corps, voters learned all about Bush-and-the-Guard during Campaign 2000. But Newsday readers learned very little about this story four years ago. Like so many major news orgs, Newsday persistently sat in its hands, taking a pass on the troubling topic as it exacted revenge on Bill Clinton and helped George W. Bush reach the White House.

No, that probably isn’t the way Newsday should have handled the story. So on Thursday, Cocco’s memory played tricks, and no one spoke up to challenge her claim about the press corps’ brilliant past conduct. But then, sic semper American journalists, as John Wilkes Booth might have declared.

PRAVDA ON THE ISLAND: One day before the 2000 election, Ken Fireman discussed Bush-and-the Guard in Newsday—and readers again encountered the type of dainty language that must have puzzled them back in May. By now, Gore surrogates were attacking Bush hard on this score. Bob Kerrey had even used the naughty term “AWOL.” But here’s how Fireman described the attacks. Newsday readers had little way to know what was being discussed:

FIREMAN (11/6/00): Kerrey, a decorated Vietnam veteran, also was on the attack over Bush's Vietnam-era tenure in the National Guard. While acknowledging that Guard service was “honorable,” he accused Bush of benefiting from favoritism to get into the Guard and then exaggerating his record in the Guard in a campaign biography.
But how had Bush supposedly “exaggerat[ed] his record?” It was hard for a Newsday reader to say. Rightly or wrongly, the paper was extremely dainty in the way it discussed this issue. Is it true? Did Newsday readers “have most of the information” about this issue during Campaign 2000, the way Cocco said? If so, they must have spent a chunk of their time moonlighting somewhere else.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Rightly or wrongly, major news orgs made little effort to examine this matter during Campaign 2000. Indeed, some big orgs avoided it totally. For example, CNN’s Inside Politics was missing-in-action on the Bush “missing year.” From May 23 through Election Day, the show’s viewers heard the topic mentioned just once—on August 22, when guest pundit Jake Tapper mentioned the matter in passing. For a four-part report on the way this topic was covered during Campaign 2000, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/5/03. For links to all four parts of the series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/8/03.

THE WAY THEY WEREN’T, CONTINUED: Have we mentioned the fact that major pundits won’t tell you the truth about their own cohort? Clarence Page also did some reinventing on last Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show. Page was discussing a recent remark by Dick Cheney. And then, he thought back to Campaign 2000. As usual, memory failed:

PAGE (9/12/04): It’s a lot like—

MATTHEWS: So you're saying [Cheney] tried to take a bad shot at them. Yeah?

PAGE: Well, it's a lot like Al Gore inventing the Internet. He never actually said that, but the word went out through, you know, conservative talk radio, etc., saying he did. And then the late-night comedians picked up on it, and the same thing now—

MATTHEWS: OK.

PAGE: —is happening with the Cheney comment.

Page’s account is utterly ludicrous. Al Gore said he invented the Internet? The clownish claim wasn’t the work of “conservative talk radio” or “late-night comedians.” As the record makes perfectly clear, this tale was started by the RNC, and was immediately adopted by the mainstream press corps, which peddled it around for two years (links below).

No, Gore never said he “invented the Internet.” But how quickly was the pleasing phrase being used by mainstream journalists? Gore made his actual comment on March 9, 1999. The RNC lodged its first complaints two days later, on March 11. And how quickly did the mainstream press corps swing into action, embellishing wildly? USA Today used the pleasing, invented phrase on March 15 (editorial headline: “Inventing the Internet”). That same day, Al Kamen used the phrase in his Washington Post column (he quoted a joke by a GOP spokesman). On March 16, Hardball’s Chris Matthews mocked Gore for having said he “invented the Internet.” On March 17, Judy Woodruff, hosting Inside Politics, chided Gore as “inventor of the Internet.” The embellished phrase reached the Los Angeles Times on March 18; the Boston Globe on March 20; the Associated Press on March 22. With blinding speed, the corps had invented a thrilling new story: Al Gore said he invented the Internet! And no, it wasn’t “conservative talk radio” or “late-night comedians” who spread this destructive tale around. It was Page’s colleagues in the mainstream press—the very people who like to pretend that it was really Rush Limbaugh who did it.

Remember: Mainstream pundits are never truthful about the conduct of their own cohort. And Campaign 2000 is a special case. The mainstream press doesn’t want you to know what really happened in that election. And so, their memory begins to play tricks when they describe the Bush-Gore campaign. To hear them tell it, they reported doggedly about George Bush—and Rush Limbaugh told you those tales about Gore. No American professional sector is more dishonest about its own conduct. Always keep that point in mind when you hear them describe their great work.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: For a one-stop history of invented the Internet, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/3/02. Along with inspired Love Story and discovered Love Canal, this iconic, crackpot howler decided the 2000 race. And these claims were invented and spread by the mainstream press corps, not by the convenient whipping-boys Page once again has dragged out. On Monday, as part of an occasional series, we examine two more tales the press corps invented—Al Gore lied about doggy pills and Al Gore lied about the union lullaby. In late September four years ago, these kooky tales transformed the race. And no, it wasn’t Rush Limbaugh who dreamed them. One tale was dreamed up at the Boston Globe, the other at USA Today.