Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Media obsesses over CBS documents, ignores uncontested evidence that Bush didn't meet his Guard obligations

Media Matters for America

Media obsesses over CBS documents, ignores uncontested evidence that Bush didn't meet his Guard obligations

The September 14 edition of CNN's Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics began with a lengthy segment that was ostensibly about the controversy surrounding President George W. Bush's National Guard service. But the segment made only passing mention of the allegations against Bush -- and it made no mention at all of the substantial and uncontested evidence that Bush didn't show up for duty when he was supposed to, that he skipped a required physical for as-yet-unexplained reasons, that he was grounded from flying, and that he mysteriously received an honorable discharge anyway.

Show host Judy Woodruff and CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash focused almost exclusively on the Bush team's defense and on controversial documents released by CBS that are not the primary evidence against him; the specific criticisms of -- and evidence against -- Bush have been ignored. CNN aired a clip of Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Terry McAuliffe speaking about the topic, but the clip CNN chose to air showed McAuliffe defending the DNC's decision to criticize Bush, rather than showing him actually criticizing Bush. Woodruff then followed the McAuliffe clip by reading a baseless Republican National Committee allegation -- that Democrats gave the memos to CBS -- without indicating that there is no evidence for the charge.

The Inside Politics report was just one of many recent media reports about Bush's Guard record that have focused on the authenticity of four relatively trivial memos or on the Bush campaign's defenses, while ignoring the facts and evidence against Bush.

Among the facts left out of the CNN report, none of which have been seriously contested:

• Bush didn't fulfill the "military service obligation" he signed: An article in the September 20 edition of U.S. News & World Report reported: "Because Bush signed a six-year 'military service obligation,' he was required to attend at least 44 inactive-duty training drills each fiscal year beginning July 1. But Bush's own records show that he fell short of that requirement, attending only 36 drills in the 1972-73 period, and only 12 in the 1973-74 period. The White House has said that Bush's service should be calculated using 12-month periods beginning on his induction date in May 1968. Using this time frame, however, Bush still fails the Air Force obligation standard."

• Even White House methodology shows Bush didn't attend enough drills to meet requirements: The U.S. News article continued: "Moreover, White House officials say, Bush should be judged on whether he attended enough drills to count toward retirement. They say he accumulated sufficient points under this grading system. Yet, even using their method, which some military experts say is incorrect, U.S. News's analysis shows that Bush once again fell short. His military records reveal that he failed to attend enough active-duty training and weekend drills to gain the 50 points necessary to count his final year toward retirement."

• Bush didn't comply with time limits on making up missed drills: The U.S. News article reported: "[D]uring the final two years of his obligation, Bush did not comply with Air Force regulations that impose a time limit on making up missed drills."

• Bush never made up five months of missed drills: According to the U.S. News article, Bush "apparently never made up five months of drills he missed in 1972, contrary to assertions by the administration. White House officials did not respond to the analysis last week but emphasized that Bush had 'served honorably.'"

• Bush twice signed documents pledging to meet requirements; twice violated that oath: According to a September 8 article in The Boston Globe: "Bush fell well short of meeting his military obligation, a Globe reexamination of the records shows: Twice during his Guard service -- first when he joined in May 1968, and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School -- Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty. He didn't meet the commitments, or face the punishment, the records show. The 1973 document has been overlooked in news media accounts. The 1968 document has received scant notice."

• Bush skipped a required physical, and was grounded from flying: The Globe article continued: "While Bush was in Alabama, he was removed from flight status for failing to take his annual flight physical in July 1972. On May 1, 1973, Bush's superior officers wrote that they could not complete his annual performance review because he had not been observed at the Houston base during the prior 12 months."

• U.S. representative's son George W. Bush mysteriously escaped punishment: The Globe article reported: "The reexamination of Bush's records by the Globe, along with interviews with military specialists who have reviewed regulations from that era, show that Bush's attendance at required training drills was so irregular that his superiors could have disciplined him or ordered him to active duty in 1972, 1973, or 1974. But they did neither. In fact, Bush's unit certified in late 1973 that his service had been 'satisfactory' -- just four months after Bush's commanding officer wrote that Bush had not been seen at his unit for the previous 12 months."

• Former Texas speaker of the House swore under oath that he helped Bush get into the Guard: According to The Globe: "Ben Barnes, who was speaker of the Texas House of Representatives in 1968, said in a deposition in 2000 that he placed a call to get young Bush a coveted slot in the Guard at the request of a Bush family friend."

• Bush's business school professor said Bush admitted his father's friends got him into the Guard: A September 13 article reported that Bush's Harvard Business School professor Yoshi Tsurumi said that Bush told him that family friends had pulled strings to get him into the Texas Air National Guard: "Bush confided in him [Tsurumi] during an after-class hallway conversation during the 1973-74 school year. 'He admitted to me that to avoid the Vietnam draft, he had his dad -- he said 'Dad's friends' -- skip him through the long waiting list to get him into the Texas National Guard,' Tsurumi said. 'He thought that was a smart thing to do.'" But the videotaped interview has been largely absent from CNN's cable broadcasts, as Media Matters for America has noted.

CNN isn't alone in ignoring these significant -- and uncontested -- facts about Bush's failure to fulfill his military commitments. Nor is CNN alone in presenting the CBS documents as though they are the key to the story.

On September 14, a New York Times article about Bush's speech to a conference of the National Guard Association quoted Democratic criticism of Bush, but that criticism was followed directly by five paragraphs about the CBS documents. The article fails to note that there is considerable uncontested evidence about Bush's failure to perform his duty. The Times thus creates the false impression that the question of Bush's failure to meet his requirement hinges on the validity of the CBS documents.

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has noted that the CBS documents were dominating media coverage: "But the only topic of conversation in the media world remains whether CBS's National Guard documents are real or fake. ... The controversy over the 60 Minutes documents has now overshadowed the questions they purport to raise about George W. Bush's military service."

Kurtz then went on to write 1,500 words about the CBS documents, ignoring the voluminous evidence about the things that really matter about the National Guard story: the uncontested -- but not fully explained -- facts that Bush didn't show up for duty when he was supposed to, that he skipped a mandatory physical, and that he was grounded from flying.