WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2004
HAIL TO THEE, O MANCHESTER: Hail to thee, O Manchester, New Hampshire, frozen Queen City by the Merrimack! We enjoyed our barroom chats with Mickey Kaus, in which the Angelino took back every word hes ever written. Well, we think thats what we heard Mickey say. You know how it can be in those bars! There was the usual ambient noise, so were not really sure what our pal really said...
And hail to Riley Yates, of the Manchester Union-Leader, quoting our own incomparable critique of the press corps attacks on Howard Dean. (Yates reviewed Sundays comedy concert.) When Chris Matthews is complaining about red-faced rants, hasnt justice been turned on its head? we had asked. Continuing: Message to Chrisyou may not be the person to decide who is manic. And yes, we did the thing with our fingers, showing which words came in quotes.
Final note from Sunday night: Which well-known Fox Democrat approached the comedians table and boasted about how much money Fox pays her? (Brought it up twice!) Thats exactly what weve been saying, one mordant wag later said.
TOMORROW: More notes from the frozen banks of the Merrimack! Incomparable thoughts regarding Jon Stewarts critique of the major press.
KIT CONTRADICTS: Kit Seelye got off to her standard weird start. In Mondays Times, the imaginative scribe was reviewing the Clark campaign. As she opened, she offered a strange account of a speech by the jive-talkin general:
SEELYE (pgh 1): It was Gen. Wesley K. Clarks turn to make his pitch to the hundreds of members of the New Hampshire Democratic Party jammed into a hotel room on Saturday night. General Clark, who declared his party affiliation only four months ago, knew that some in the audience of lifelong Democrats might be skeptical of his credentials, so he began:Could this possibly have happened in the way its described? Was Clark really heckled in this semi-surreal way, right at the start of his speech? We dont know, but we will say this: Although 500 media types attended this major event, no one else seems to have noted the heckling. For example, the Union-Leader published a full report on this Nashua dinner, but didnt mention any heckling of Clark. (Six of the seven Dem candidates spoke.) But you know Seelye! Displaying her matchless listening skills, she somehow made out the following:
But Seelye really grabbed our eye with something she said a bit later. The scribe was discussing Michael Moores 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 Bushs unexplained absence from the Air National Guard between April 1972 and September 1973.
Why were we struck by Seelyes construction? Because on November 3, 2000, Seelyes own New York Times insisted that Bush had not been absent. Four days earlier, the Boston Globes 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, heres what the documents said:
THOMAS (11/3/00): [Bush aide Dan] Bartlett pointed to a document in Mr. Bushs 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...Would it kill the Times to get straight on this story? In November 2000with the election on the linethe paper said that Bush had served. Four years later, Seelye says something different.
This contradiction draws attention to the press corps slipshod approach to this story. As of Election Day 2000, the facts of the case were clear as mud; we had the Boston Globe saying that Bush hadnt served, and the Timesdescribing at least two documentsinsisting that he actually had. And from that day to this, the press hasnt made the slightest attempt to sort out the contradiction. After Election 2000, the corps dropped this topic like a hot rock. No one ever tried to explain what documents Thomas was citing.
Result? Last week, Peter Jennings lectured Clark about the facts of this muddled case (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/23/04). And four days later, there was Seelye, asserting an absence the Times had once claimed to debunk. There are obvious reasons why the press corps may have wanted to avoid this story. But Seelyes contradiction of Thomas report shows the puzzling state of the evidence. The facts of this case are still clear as mud, right up to this very day.
Aint it time for the press corps to screw up its courage and follow this story wherever it leads? They took a dive in Campaign 2000. Before Jennings offers more scolding lectures, shouldnt they clarify now?
CREDULOUS THOMAS: 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 recordsone a torn page without Bushs name or any discernible datesas 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 Bushs name except for the W have been torn off.How weird! Bushs superiors had said that he didnt 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, andwithout telling her readers how strange the doc wasshe said it proved that the Globe was all wet. But then, the Times pandered to Bush all through Campaign 2000. This late report by credulous Thomas was the papers one last, parting gift.
Pitiful, isnt it? That the press corps left the facts of this story in this absurd state? There are other mysteries about this torn document which well note another day. But lets face itit wasnt just Bush who refused to report. Your press corps avoided its duty during Campaign 2000, and weve seen the results of their dereliction this past week. Weve seen Seelye contradict her own papers report. Weve seen Jennings imperiously lecture Clark on the facts. In truth, the facts of this case are still grossly unclearas unclear as the origins of that strangely torn document. But who exactly are the deserters? In our view, its time that the press corps returned to its post and worked its way through this strange story.