Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

DAYS OF BIAS! The Times trashed Dean right on page one. It was different with Candidate Bush:


POSTPONEMENT: We’ll finish our “Days of Bernie” on Friday. So much to laugh at, and so little time! But on Friday, “Days of Bernie” must end.

WAR WITHOUT END: It was right on page one of last Saturday’s New York Times. The paper was fly-specking Howard Dean’s troubling draft record, detailing how he escaped Vietnam. We had to chuckle when we read Jan Lewis’ letter in today’s Times:

To the Editor:

I am puzzled by your claim (front page, Nov. 22) that “the choices” Howard Dean “made 33 years ago” when he took a medical deferment to avoid service in Vietnam “are providing ammunition for critics.” The only critic you name is Dr. Dean’s own mother, who admits, “Yeah, that looks bad.”

But so it goes at the vacuous Times. “I suppose that may count as news, but barely,” Lewis writes. “[T]he American people have already demonstrated that they are willing to elect to office men who all used one stratagem or another to avoid going to Vietnam.”

That may be true, but the press corps has “demonstrated” something as well. The press corps has shown that it never will tire of the “how did you get out of Vietnam” story. Except in the case of one former hopeful, of course. That lucky hopeful? George Bush.

Since we’ve spent two weeks watching Bernie Goldberg rant about the Times’ liberal bias, let’s compare the way the New York Times covered the histories of Dean and Bush. Candidate Dean was splayed out on page one. With Candidate Bush, things were different.

Howler history: By the spring of 2000, it was clear that Bush would be the GOP nominee—and it was clear that there were unanswered questions about his military service. On May 23, 2000, the Boston Globe ran a 2400-word, front-page story. “1-YEAR GAP IN BUSH’S GUARD DUTY,” said the headline. “NO RECORD OF AIRMAN AT DRILLS IN 1972-73.” According to the Globe’s Walter Robinson, Bush had missed all required Air National Guard drills for a year, starting in May 1972. “Bush’s evident disconnection from his Guard duties was underscored in August [1972],” Robinson wrote, “when he was removed from flight status for failing to take his annual flight physical.” At one point, Bush was directed to report to Gen. William Turnipseed, commander of an Alabama Guard unit. But “[i]n interviews last week, Turnipseed and his administrative officer at the time, Kenneth K. Lott, said they had no memory of Bush ever reporting,” Robinson wrote. And this: “Officially, the period between May 1972 and May 1973 remains unaccounted for.”

Did Bush skip a year of his National Guard service? Here at THE HOWLER, we aren’t really sure. But Candidate Clinton’s deeply troubling draft record was widely scrutinized in 1992—and Walter Robinson foolishly thought that the press would treat Candidate Bush the same way. “[T]he puzzling gap in Bush’s military service is likely to heighten speculation about the conspicuous underachievement that marked the period between his 1968 graduation from Yale University and his 1973 entry into Harvard Business School,” he tactfully wrote. Robinson framed his judgment in the most polite way. And he was totally wrong in that judgment.

Indeed, the Washington press paid little attention to Bush’s “puzzling” record. And no one ignored Bush’s service interruption any more than the “liberal” New York Times. Dean’s draft record would be limned on page one. But at the liberal New York Times, Bush’s “puzzling” absence from duty was almost completely ignored.

Just how odd was the New York Times’ coverage? On May 21, 2000, Nicholas Kristof began an intermittent series of biographical profiles of Bush. Most installments were roughly 3800 words long; on June 10, for example, the Times published a 3700-word Kristof piece about Bush’s days in prep school. And on July 11, the Times published the fourth installment in Kristof’s series—a look at Bush’s service in the Guard. But the story was only 1200 words long—and it didn’t even mention the flap about Bush’s missing year of service. It had been more than six weeks since Robinson’s story appeared in the Boston Globe. And New York Times readers still hadn’t been told that such a gap had been found in Bush’s record.

Indeed, the Times would mention Turnipseed only once before the week of the election. Oddly, the Times published another profile of Bush’s post-college years on July 22, just eleven days after Kristof’s piece appeared. This profile was penned by Jo Thomas, and yes, she mentioned the Air Guard flap. But she only mentioned the topic in passing, as part of a much longer, 3400-word work. She first mentioned the matter in paragraph 63 (out of 78). Here’s how she handled the flap:

THOMAS (7/22/00): When Mr. Bush went to work on the [Winton Blount Alabama Senate] campaign he was still obligated to serve in the National Guard, and accordingly he sought a transfer to Alabama. His original request, to serve with the 9921st Air Reserve Squadron in Montgomery, was rejected because the unit would not meet his military obligation. He requested another assignment in July, and the Texas Air National Guard recommended letting him serve with another Montgomery group, the 187th Tactical Recon Group, from September to November 1972.

On Sept. 15, 1972, the head of personnel for that unit wrote: “Lieutenant Bush should report to Lt. Col. William Turnipseed, DCO, to perform equivalent training.”

Questions about Mr. Bush’s military service arose in May when The Boston Globe quoted Mr. Turnipseed, who retired as a general, as saying Mr. Bush never appeared for duty.

In a recent interview, the general took a tiny step back, saying, “I don’t think he did, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it. I think I would have remembered him. The chances are 99 percent he didn’t.”

In an interview, Mr. Bush disagreed. “I was there. I know this guy was quoted as saying I wasn’t, but I was there.”

Emily Marks, who worked in the Blount campaign and dated Mr. Bush, said she recalls that he returned to Montgomery after the election to serve with the Air National Guard.

National Guard records provided by the Guard and by the Bush campaign indicate he did serve on Nov. 29, 1972, after the election. These records also show a gap in service from that time to the previous May. Mr. Bush says he made up for the lost time in subsequent months, and guard records show he received credit for having performed all the required service.

Do records show that Bush served on November 29? We’ve spoken with researchers who have studied this matter; they’ve told us that they don’t know what document Thomas meant, and that Thomas wouldn’t respond to their questions. Do such records actually exist? Robinson didn’t seem to have seen them. On October 31, he wrote a follow-up piece for the Globe:
ROBINSON (10/31/00): In Alabama, a group of Vietnam veterans recently offered a $1,000 reward for anyone who can verify Bush’s claim that he performed service at a Montgomery air guard unit in 1972, when Bush was temporarily in Alabama working on a political campaign.

So far, no one has come forward. The reward is now $3,500.

What’s more, a Bush campaign spokesman acknowledged last week that he knows of no witnesses who can attest to Bush’s attendance at drills after he returned to Houston in late 1972 and before his early release from the Guard in September 1973.

There is strong evidence that Bush performed no military service, as was required, when he moved from Houston to Alabama to work on a US Senate campaign from May to November 1972. There are no records of any service and the commanding officer of the unit Bush was assigned to said he never saw him.

“There are no records of any service” in Alabama, Robinson said. Plainly, this contradicted what Thomas had reported.

What is the truth about Bush’s record? It’s still hard to say. Simply put, the Washington press corps struggled and strained to avoid exploring this topic. Meanwhile, Candidate Dean gets no such ride. Last Saturday, Dean’s deferment got a page-one review, with Rick Lyman assuring readers that the issue was “providing ammunition for critics.” But four years ago, the New York Times avoided Bush’s “puzzling” record. Bernie Goldberg and other screamers love to denounce the Times’ liberal bias. Remember this episode—and emit those low chuckles—when you see Bernie stage his slick act.

CREDULOUS THOMAS: On November 3, 2000, Thomas directly replied to Robinson’s October 31 story—and she claimed even greater service by Bush. How did she know that Bush had served? Bush aide Dan Bartlett had shown her some records—records no one else seemed to have seen:

THOMAS (11/3/00): Mr. 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.
Why did Thomas say one thing and Robinson another? We don’t have the slightest idea. But just how helpful was this Credulous Thomas? As Robinson noted, Bush was “removed from flight status [in August 1972] for failing to take his annual flight physical.” Thomas was happy to repeat helpful comments by Bush’s old girl friends, and she happily said that Turnipseed was only 99 percent sure. But she didn’t mention Bush’s suspension in either one of her reports. It didn’t make Kristof’s piece either.

Why did Thomas say one thing and Robinson another? Here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t know. But Robinson was wrong on that one assessment; the Washington press corps showed no interest in straightening out the facts about Bush. The facts were unclear on Election Day. After that, the press corps hid beneath its desks, and the facts are unclear to this day.

KRISTOF LOCATES A LIAR: In his own puzzling profile of Bush’s Guard service, Kristof showed mastery of one press corps rule—all reports in Campaign 2000 must reflect poorly on Gore. Remember, Kristof was reporting on Bush, not on Gore. But he managed to sound a key press corps theme. Despite the problems in Bush’s record, it turned out that Gore was the liar:

KRISTOF (7/11/00): Mr. Gore was always a serious, ambitious young man struggling with deep moral questions and, in the case of Vietnam, with deeply practical calculations about how his actions would play in his father’s re-election campaign. Some critics have also suggested that in later years he embellished his Vietnam role for his own political career.

Mr. Bush, in contrast, was a carefree, happy-go-lucky fellow who was not disposed to agonize over anything more grand than his Saturday night plans. He was not the kind of person to choose to swelter in the Vietnamese jungle.

In a sense, while Mr. Gore might have been more conscientious or responsible, Mr. Bush was far more normal.

“Bush was far more normal,” Kristof wrote! Amazing, isn’t it? Six weeks after Robinson’s article, Kristof never even mentioned the apparent problem with Bush’s service. Nor did he mention the way Bush’s campaign bio seemed to contradict the facts. But he did remember to say something else: Critics have said that Gore is a liar. It was Press Corps Law—you had to say it. And that’s just what Nick Kristof did.