Saturday, January 31, 2004

Howling about AWOL

Bob Somerby continues to do a bang-up job of deconstructing the press corps' malfeasance in its handling of the George W. Bush AWOL matter.

On Wednesday, Somerby's Daily Howler ripped into the New York Times' handling of the story, observing that its semi-exculpatory 2000 piece on the case by Jo Thomas constituted an illogical and thoughtless whitewash -- which was recently contradicted by the paper's own Katherine Seelye:
The scribe was discussing Michael Moore?s reference to Bush as a "deserter." Her account of the facts stopped us short:

SEELYE: 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.

In her own voice, Seelye refers to Bush's "unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973."

Why were we struck by Seelye's construction? Because on November 3, 2000, Seelye's own New York Times insisted that Bush had not been absent. Four days earlier, the Boston Globe's Walter Robinson had again written that "as the Globe reported in May, 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." But the Globe was all wet, the Times quickly retorted. "Documents reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Bush served in at least 9 of the 17 months in question," Jo Thomas said in the November 3 piece. "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." According to the credulous Thomas, here's what the documents said:

THOMAS (11/3/00): [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[, 1972] 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.

Significantly, Somerby explores the nature of this document showing Bush put in duty in late November 1972 in Alabama even further:
What "documents" was Thomas most likely describing? In his October 31 Boston Globe story, Robinson described one shaky doc which the Bush camp was peddling around:

ROBINSON (10/31/00): Dan Bartlett, a Bush campaign spokesman, pointed to incomplete records -- one a torn page without Bush's name or any discernible dates -- as evidence that he did enough drills in Houston in the closing months of his service to satisfy military obligations.

Ah yes, the mysterious "torn document." On November 2, George Lardner described this strange document in the Washington Post:

LARDNER (11/2/00): 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.

How weird! Bush's superiors had said that he didn't appear! And yes, they said this in real time! But how convenient! The Bush camp had (belatedly) found a torn document, on which only his middle initial appeared! Apparently, Thomas accepted this absurdly strange document, and -- without telling her readers how strange the doc was -- she said it proved that the Globe was all wet.

You can see copies of this document here, via

On Friday, Somerby also lashed into Slate's Brendan Koerner for his muddled analysis of the controversy:
What an astonishing account of the facts! According to Koerner, "the sticking point is whether Bush ever reported for duty" in Alabama. Indeed: "There are conflicting accounts as to whether Bush ever really served in Alabama," Koerner writes. But Alabama is only part of the problem, as anyone who has done the basic reading would know. Like Broder and the AP before him, Koerner has scrubbed the facts of this case -- and he's made a rank joke of your discourse.

In the meantime, Jo at Democratic Veteran continues to give us helpful insights, thanks to a deep military background. Jo also attracts a healthy readership of veterans who are also weighing in on the matter, notably a former flier named Jim Fisher, who piloted jets on aircraft carriers for years. In Jo's comments, Fisher says this:
It seems to me that the point being over looked in the Bush AWOL debate is not whether he was absent for either seven or seveteen months of his obligated service. The fact is he simply didn't do what he took an oath to do and that is serve as an interceptor pilot with the Air National Guard. As a Naval Aviator who served from 1965 to 1971 on active duty incuding over a year in Viet Nam and on the carrier off the coast I view those who went into the National Guard during that period with some skepticism. Never the less service in the National Guard did play a valid place in the National Defense Policy. The unit in which Bush served was part of the Air Defense Command (ADC) whose duty was then as now to patrol the borders and intercept any hostile aircraft. The National Guard made up a significant portion of the ADC. Pilots in ADC stood alert duty and prowled the air as a barrier against airborne intrusion. That is what Bush promised to do. What he did after being admitted on the basis of political favors was to fly the T-33 a korean war vintage trainer for several months and the F-102 for about a year before he went to Alabama to campaign for Blount. Whether or not he skipped drill is to me secondary to the issue of failing to serve as the interceptor pilot the government spent so much money training him to do. When he went to Alabama it would have been no problem to return on weekends for his drill. For 3 years after leaving active duty I served as a pilot in a reserve A-4 squadron traveling over 200 miles for drill to our station in Memphis TN. Many of our pilots traveled from as far away as Boston, Minneapolis,Atlanta, Kansas City and St. Louis. It would been no problem for Bush the son of a milionaire to hop a plane for the quick trip back to Houston for his drill weekend. He chose not to do so. And when he did return whether or not he showed up for drill he clearly did not do what he promised to do and what got him out of Viet Nam service. I suppose he sat a round the airport and drank coffee while picking up a drill check but he chose not to perform the service for which he trained. And by the way, take this from one who's entitled to wear them, riding as a passenger aboard an air craft carrier dressed up like a pilot doesn't win you the right to wear the wings of gold.

That really does sum it up, doesn't it?

No comments: