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MUST-READ ERIC B! Walter Robinson says the Times got “spun.” Does he think the torn doc is a phony?


MUST-SEE MTP: Sunday morning, Bush does the full hour on Meet the Press. But which Tim Russert is going to appear? An incomparable preview tomorrow.

MUST-READ ERIC B: Maybe now you see what we mean about that tricky “torn document!” In yesterday’s Salon, Eric Boehlert moved the story forward about the crucial doc. The famous document is the only real evidence suggesting that Bush didn’t miss a full year. So why did Jo Thomas judge it valid when she covered this story for the New York Times? Boehlert interviewed Walter Robinson, who reported the story for the Boston Globe:

BOEHLERT: “The Times got spun by [Bush aide] Dan Bartlett,” Robinson at the Globe told Salon. He and others note that if the documents provided by the Bush campaign proved he did Guard duty upon returning to Houston in January and April of 1973, then why, on Bush’s annual effectiveness report signed by two superiors, did it say, “Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report,” which covered the dates between May 1, 1972, and April 30, 1973?
“I had a lot of arguments with Dan Bartlett and never got spun by him,” says Thomas, now an assistant chancellor for public affairs at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. “But if he gave me some documents that proved his point, I’m not going to ignore them.”

Does Robinson’s quote means what it seems? If it does, then Robinson seems to think the famous “torn document” may have been somehow illegitimate. This raises the possibility that the Bush campaign deliberately presented a fake military document as part of its defense of Bush. But did you hear a single word about this during Campaign 2000? Or during the “four more years” that have passed? Does Robinson think the “torn doc” was a fake? His statement to Boehlert raises more questions than it actually answers.

Let’s put Robinson’s words into context. During Campaign 2000, the press corps worked itself into a frenzy, trying to prove how dishonest Gore was. And no one played the game better than Robinson. On September 19, 2000, he presented his ludicrous “doggy pill” story—a story developed through the auspices of none other than Bush aide Dan Bartlett! (See below) In his report, Robinson said that Gore had made a disturbing false statement about the cost of doggy pills—and he pretended to think that this troubling matter showed Gore’s disturbing character problems. It now seems that Robinson thought, at the very same time, that the Bush camp might have been peddling a phony military document. But until yesterday, we had never heard Boo about this concern, from Robinson or anyone else in the major press.

Let’s sound a note of caution. From reading Boehlert, it isn’t clear what Robinson thinks about the “torn document.” What does he mean when he says that Thomas “got spun by Bartlett?” It’s always possible that the “torn document” was bogus, but the Bush campaign didn’t know. But what does Robinson currently think? And why so little exploration?

Walter Robinson was deeply troubled by Gore’s remark about doggy pills. But neither he nor his colleagues said Boo about that mysterious “torn document.” Is the “torn document” legit? At the HOWLER, we don’t know. But if it isn’t, serious questions arise. For four years, your “press corps” avoided them.

DEEP DOO-DOO: We’ve never told the full story of the “doggy pill” claptrap. To help put this current flap in perspective, we’ll present some HOWLER HISTORY next week. Prepare to see how far the Robinsons would go to come up with troubling “lies” by Al Gore. And yes, as Evan Thomas later noted in Newsweek, Dan Bartlett—he of the famous “torn document”—was Robinson’s helpmeet on the doggy-pill tale. For Thomas’ text, see below.

SWISS CHEESE FAMILY ROBINSON: Why didn’t scribes pursue “Bush AWOL” during Campaign 2000? In a new posting, Robinson is quoted on the subject by Editor & Publisher. His explanation has more holes than a crisp, ten-ton vat of Swiss cheese:

EDITOR & PUBLISHER: Robinson said the timing and atmosphere in the 2000 campaign was different from today and may have played a part in the lack of follow-up to his story at the time. “Bush was running to replace a president who had taken steps to actively avoid—and some would say evade—military service,” he pointed out. “Whatever Bush’s sin was, he wasn’t the first president to shirk his military duty, Clinton was.”

The Globe writer, himself a Vietnam War veteran, also said the fact that his story ran in May of that year, at a time when Bush had the nomination pretty well sewn up and the political conventions just months away, might have made it easier to avoid. “I don’t know if the editors (at other papers) even saw the story in 2000, or if they understood it,” Robinson said. “Bush’s people fogged it over a bit and they are very good at that.”

The press always covers up for the press. But have you ever read such absolute nonsense? “I don’t know if editors (at other papers) even saw the story in 2000,” Robinson says. Amazing, isn’t it? After all, Robinson’s lengthy, detailed report first appeared in May 2000! And it appeared on the front page of the Boston Globe, one of the nation’s best-known papers! And somehow, when Robinson published his doggy-pill doo-doo, the nation’s editors heard in a flash! It was only when Robinson went after Bush that the eds seemed to be on vacation.

And how about Robinson’s second point? Did the eds avoid the “Bush AWOL” story because it appeared after Bush had the nomination sewed up? Is that the silliest explanation yet? The corps flogged endless stories attacking Gore’s character after his nomination was settled. Have you ever heard this improbable rule? Once we know who’s actually running, all reporting on the hopefuls must stop?

In fact, everyone knows why this story was avoided—but Robinson has no plan to tell you. As we’ve told you for the last four years: This story was avoided because the press was savaging Gore to pay back Clinton. They spent twenty months inventing stories designed to “prove” their favorite theme: Al Gore is a liar, just like Bill Clinton. And their treasured script just wouldn’t fly if Bush was out there telling whoppers and “spinning” the press with phony docs. No one with an ounce of sense doesn’t know this part of our history. But the press has no plan to tell it—not yet. Nor does Mr. Probity, Walter Robinson.

IT ALL MAKES SENSE TO BARON TOO: Marty Baron is playing dumb too. Here’s what he told Ed & Publisher:

EDITOR & PUBLISHER: Globe Editor Martin Baron, who was not at the paper in 2000, said he was not surprised that other papers did not follow the Globe story then, but added: “It is not our job to worry about that. We did our job.” That original story “holds up great. I don’t believe it has ever been challenged.”
Nothin’ to look at! Just move along! For unstated reasons, Baron doesn’t find it strange that other papers ducked the story. But then, “It’s not our job to worry about that.” Truer words have never been spoken.

KEEPING THE RUBES DUMB AND HAPPY: Meanwhile, over at Fox’s Special Report, they’re keeping the rubes dumb and happy. Did Bush miss a full year? Did he miss eighteen months? Last night, the “all-stars” finally had their shot at the topic. But Fred Barnes hid beneath his chair. Fred said that Bush missed “some meetings:”

BARNES: I’ll have to say Kerry’s heroic Vietnam duty does take a little bit of the edge off the ideas that he is weak on national security. But what is going to be the issue is his record on national security, his votes against all these weapons systems that are being used now in Iraq.

HUME: You don’t think there is inoculation by the Vietnam—

BARNES: I don’t think there is inoculation that. But on Bush’s—let me add one thing on Bush’s. Obviously, he missed some meetings. That’s why—which was quite common among Guard and Reserve people back in that era, and all eras, because he did 36 days of active duty just before he was discharged honorably to make up for missed meetings. But they were quite common.

Everyone did it, Fred said. He then took oodles of time off the clock with a rambling discussion of his own army service. Of course, when Morton finally got his turn, he knew how to frame this thing too:
KONDRACKE: Well, he was absent, I won’t say without leave, but he certainly was absent for some meetings. And Fred is exactly right. I mean the most definitive account was in the Boston Globe by Walter Robinson in 2000, it is exhaustive and it sort of goes through month by month. And indeed, he did do this hurry-up service at the end, 36—and I think that sort of absolves him of all this.
Finally, Mara got her go. Mara’s supposed to throw in a few facts. But she turned the whole thing back on Kerry:
LIASSON: 9/11, not Vietnam, is going to be the national security issue this year. Now, do I think Kerry’s war record helps him? Yes. Does it inoculate him against the charges that he is weak on national security, which have already started? No! I mean look at Max Cleland. He gave a hell—he sacrificed a lot more of himself than John Kerry did in Vietnam and it didn’t inoculate him. So I don’t think that is going to be some kind of a perfect shield for Kerry. But I think the fact that this is coming up so early in the campaign gives you a little idea of what is coming up later.
One thing that won’t be coming up later? Facts about Bush from this store-bought crew! For the record, Special Report reported the facts of this matter one time this week. Carl Cameron did the honors on Monday:
CAMERON: [Wesley] Clark began to slip in the polls when he refused to repudiate remarks by filmmaker Michael Moore, who accused President Bush of being a deserter when Mr. Bush was in the National Guard decades ago. Mr. Bush missed a couple of months of service and made it up as Guardsmen are allowed to do. Now, Senator Kerry is refusing to repudiate similar remarks by some of his surrogates, including former Georgia Senator Max Cleland and the chairman of the Democratic Party. Asked just a short moment ago, whether he would make the war and George Bush’s service in the National Guard an issue, Kerry said he hadn’t made up his mind yet. Brit.

HUME: Thank you, Carl.

Thank you, Carl—for saying that Guardsmen are “allowed to do” what Bush did. At any rate, if you’re a Fox watcher, you now know the facts. Bush “missed some meetings”—“a couple of months”—just as his commanders expected.

BARTLETT’S EXAGGERATIONS: Who got spun by Bush aide Dan Bartlett? Shortly after the 2000 election, Evan Thomas wrote an instant history of the campaign in Newsweek. Here was his intriguing account of the source of the doggy-pill doofistry:

EVAN THOMAS (11/20/00): In one of his routine attacks on the drug companies for overcharging seniors, Gore claimed that the arthritis medication used by his mother-in-law, a drug called Lodine, had cost three times as much as the same medication used to treat Gore’s dog, Shiloh. Sniffing a story that was too good to be true, Walter Robinson, a veteran reporter for The Boston Globe, called a Bush operative named Dan Bartlett. Bartlett was spokesman for the rapid-response unit in Austin known as the Candygram Committee. (The name was taken from an old “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which a man-eating “land shark” knocks on the door, squeaking, “Candygram!” An early sobriquet, the Stink Bomb Committee, was dropped.) Not quite as nimble as Gore’s Kitchen, the Candygram Committee had been on the defensive for much of September, but now it pounced.

Robinson had found a congressional study that cited exactly the same prices for human and animal prescriptions of Lodine as those cited by Gore. As it turned out, Gore’s mother-in-law really was paying substantially more for her own arthritis medication than to treat the Gores’ dog, Shiloh, but not three times as much. Still, Gore had been caught exaggerating, and for a time Shiloh became a hot story, thanks in part to the energetic fanning of the Candygram Committee…

More on this inane story next week. But no—it’s not at all clear that “Gore had been caught exaggerating,” as we’ll show you. (“Robinson had found a congressional study that cited exactly the same prices…as those cited by Gore.”) But please note: All this activity happened six months after Gore sewed up the Dem nomination. And when Robinson published his ludicrous story, the nation’s editors somehow heard—and somehow, they knew they should pounce.