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HOUSTON, YOU DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM! At Slate, a scribe knew what to do. He disappeared George Bush’s problem:


THERE HE WENT AGAIN: Empty, all the way to the floor! After last night’s Dem debate from the Palmetto State, Aaron Brown and Jeff Greenfield were lamenting the lack of blood-letting. “My, that was a tame little affair,” Brown complained. Greenfield explained why that was:

GREENFIELD: Well, at the break, according to Tom Brokaw, Howard Dean said, “We’re all so mellow.” I mean one explanation may be simple exhaustion but I think there’s another one.

I think that the candidates are all still in the shadow of Iowa when at least as perceived wisdom has it that Dick Gephardt—remember him?—and Howard Dean went at each other and as the former campaign manager of Dean, Joe Trippi, said, it was a murder/suicide.

Greenfield continued dumping his wisdom. “In past Democratic debates over the years, you know, they have really laid some heavy lumber on each other,” he explained. Soon the scribe was giving examples—and yes, there he went once again:
GREENFIELD: Negative can mean smearing a guy with, you know, vicious personal stuff as happened to John McCain from sources unknown in South Carolina. Or it can mean saying here’s why I think I’m better at this job than you and here’s why I think your record bears criticism.

In 1972, when Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern were debating, Humphrey basically said to McGovern you want to cut the muscle out of the defense budget. And, in 1988, it was Al Gore in his first presidential run who first raised the Willie Horton issue against Michael Dukakis.
Now maybe that’s why they don’t want to do it this time. In both those cases the Democrats lost…

You’ll recall what we said just a few weeks ago (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/04). With robotic regularity, pundits say that Gore raised the Willie Horton “issue” when he ran against Dukakis. They say it because they’re cheap and slimy—and because they’re devoted to peddling preferred tales. Gore, of course, never mentioned Willie Horton in 1988; never mentioned Horton’s crimes; and never did anything else to inject race into his (one-time) criticism of the Massachusetts furlough program. But slime-balls like Greenfield have found a way to keep smearing Gore with the name “Willie Horton.” (This trick began with the RNC during Campaign 92.) Because they want their remarks to be technically accurate, pundits avoid saying that Gore mentioned Horton himself. Instead, they say that he raised the “Horton issue” (i.e., the furlough program). In this way, they get to slime Gore with a pleasing tale, but, if pushed, can defend their statement. You didn’t believe us when we told you a few weeks ago. But there Greenfield went once again!

Amazing, isn’t it? It’s amazing to watch the empty men who make such a joke of your national discourse. Greenfield, of course, parades as a “good guy.” But here again, it was just as we told you. No, Gore never mentioned Horton; that slimy campaign came from Bush and affiliates. But using one of the pundit corps’ slickest constructions, Greenfield peddled a spin-point his gang simply loves. Two questions came to mind as he did so: First, do you think that Greenfield used this odd construction by chance? (The very construction we explained two weeks back?) And second: How long will the American people tolerate men like Jeff Greenfield?

GEORGE BUSH, YOU DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM: We’re intrigued by Bush-and-the-National Guard because it’s such a brilliant story about the press—a brilliant example of the way the press took a dive for Bush during Campaign 2000. As of May 23, 2000, it was clear that major questions surrounded Bush’s service in the Air National Guard. And the Bush camp soon gave several explanations for Bush’s conduct which turned out to be flatly inaccurate. But most major news orgs knew what to do; they ignored the story completely. And now they keep busy another way—reinventing the basic facts of the case. Within the past two weeks, the AP wrote an account of this matter that was flatly, baldly inaccurate. And David Broder’s review of the facts in the Post was technically accurate, but baldly misleading (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/20/04)

But no one has bungled the facts of this case quite like those bought-and-sold fellows at Slate. The on-line mag is the west coast voice of the D.C. press elite. So you can guess what happened when the “Bush deserter” story reappeared last week. Last Tuesday, Slate country squire Jake Weisberg—in from a smashing day of glissading—invited Brendan Koerner to review Bush’s record. Incredibly, Koerner typed this:

KOERNER: The president’s allies and critics both seem to agree that Bush’s service was beyond reproach until May of 1972, when he left Houston, where he was stationed, for Alabama, to work on a Republican senatorial campaign. The sticking point is whether Bush ever reported for duty with the 187th Tactical Recon Group, based in Montgomery, Ala., as he was supposed to. Bush claims that he did indeed show up for duty, though he did not fly. (A Boston Globe investigation from 2000 quotes a campaign spokesman who said Bush performed odds and ends in Montgomery.) Though Bush admits to missing a few required weekends while in Alabama, he says he made up that time when he returned to Texas the following year. He received his honorable discharge in October of 1973, eight months before his scheduled discharge, so he could attend Harvard Business School.

There are conflicting accounts as to whether Bush ever really served in Alabama. The commander of the 187th Tactical Recon Group told the Globe that he has no recollection of Bush’s presence. Several Bush friends, however, have insisted that they distinctly remember the president attending drills in Montgomery. The issue has become a partisan lightning rod, with organizations on both right and left offering differing takes on the commander in chief’s time with the Air National Guard.

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.

What are the actual facts of this case? You’d never know it from reading Slate. But here is the established chronology:

  1. Bush lived in Alabama from May 1972 through November 1972. His two superior officers in Alabama say that he never showed up for duty.
  2. While in Alabama, Bush failed to take his required annual physical. As a result, he was formally suspended from duty.
  3. Bush returned to Houston in November 1972. Seven months later, on May 2, 1973, his two commanding officers at Houston’s Ellingwood air base declined to perform his annual report (covering the year from 5/1/72 through 4/30/73). Why did they decline to perform his report? Because, they wrote, “Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of this report. A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Alabama. He cleared this base on 15 May 1972 and has been performing equivalent training in a non-flying status with the 187 Tac Recon Gp, Dannelly ANG Base, Alabama.” Of course, Bush was performing no such duty. But as of May 2, 1973, his superior officers in Houston still believed that he was.
How neatly scrubbed is Koerner’s account? He makes it sound like only “a few weekends” in Alabama are at question in this matter. He fails to mention Bush’s formal suspension, and he fails to mention Bush’s seven-month absence from duty after returning from Alabama. He is careful to tell you what Bush, the Bush campaign, and Bush’s friends said. But he wipes the Houston absence off the face of the earth, and mentions only one of the five superior officers who have said or reported that Bush was missing. In short, Koerner baldly deceives his readers, as the AP and Broder did before him.

Why is the press corps so determined to reinvent the facts of this case? Here at THE HOWLER, we can’t really say, and the scribes themselves will never tell you. But while Slate’s country squire editor hot-tubbed his way through New Hampshire last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/22/04), his brilliant young writer deceived his mag’s readers. But then, should anyone be surprised about that? The press corps hid from this story during Campaign 2000, and this time around, they’re reinventing the facts. Gee! Maybe some day, if he keeps this up, Brendan Koerner will be famous like Greenfield!

By the way: Did Bush perform duty after May 2, 1973? The reporting on that is contradictory. In the second of the Boston Globe articles to which Koerner so disingenuously refers, Walter Robinson says this: “The official record that chronologically lists Bush’s service includes no evidence of service between May 1972 and October 1, 1973, the official date of his discharge.” And this: “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.” At Slate, of course, this has been disappeared. Brendan Koerner knows the rules: At Slate, it’s all about what Bush said.

GO AHEAD AND ENJOY A GOOD LAUGH: Yes, it’s true. And it’s OK to laugh. Slate called Koerner’s piece an “Explainer!”

DAILY NEEDS HOWLER: Let’s lay down some obvious tracks about The Daily Show. Let’s state the obvious: Given precedents, it’s amazing to see a topical comedy show on TV that is both funny and smart. And it’s fairly clear that The Daily Show mocks the press corps more than the pols! So last Saturday night, with all that in mind, we attended a Jon Stewart spectacular in our frozen Queen City by the Merrimack. At the Manchester Holiday Inn, Stewart had assembled a heavyweight panel to discuss the work of the mainstream press. Readers, we had heard that free food might be involved. It’s our favorite cuisine. We attended.

On the panel sat four Media Types: Joe Klein, Tom Brokaw, Bill Kristol, Erik Sorenson (the MCNBC honcho). (Kristol was sharpest, as always.) Stewart tried to bat them around about the corps’ poor performance. Frankly, we were thrilled to see that a heavy tude lies behind Stewart’s surface jests. Plainly, Stewart was after more than laughs. He pushed major issues about the press, in a way that few people on his level ever attempt to do.

But let’s just say it—Daily needs HOWLER! Stewart tended to argue that the mainstream press corps fails to cover the substantive stuff. That, of course, is perfectly accurate, but it’s only a minor part of the story. We’ve endlessly shown you a larger problem—the press corps simply invents preferred tales, and all Big Pundits agree to recite them. Yesterday, for example, we watched the eds at the Washington Post as they recalled “imagined” press stories from recent campaigns (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/29/04). Today, we’ve reviewed two more Standard Press Corps Tales, stories the press corps has now pushed for years. Al Gore was the first to bring up Willie Horton! All the major scribes know to say it! And George Bush surely must have served in the Guard! They all know they must sing that song too.

Why does the press corps invent preferred stories? We don’t know, and the pundits won’t tell you. (No other group is so disingenuous. They refuse to discuss their real conduct.) But as we grazed on the Daily’s free food, we chitter-chattered with Weymouth’s Rob Corddry, and we learned a disturbing fact; Corddry had never heard of the HOWLER! Amazing! We stared at him slack-jawed, as if he had said that he bicycled straight in from Mars.

We were thrilled to see Stewart take the fight to the press. But if they plan to fight that war, Daily types must sharpen their chops! Jon Stewart! Expand your critique! As Bill Press said in Spin This! (and we know why he said it), the HOWLER is daily must-reading:

PRESS (page 48): Fortunately, for those who have the time, there’s an excellent guide to journalistic spin. It’s called the Daily Howler ( Every day, editor Bob Somerby mercilessly punctures the spin of reporters, both print and broadcast. Nobody escapes. It’s an invaluable tool. If we could all read the Daily Howler every day after we read the morning paper or watch the evening news, we’d be a hell of a lot better informed—and a hell of a lot less confused.
Actually, Bill Press “escaped” after typing those truths. Bill’s strategy was slick—and it worked!

At any rate, we pray that Stewart will continue his quest. To do so, he needs a full briefing.