MONDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2004
THE LAST BULLDOG DIES: Tim Russerts first question showed a small bit of promise. On Friday, he said to his guest, you announced a committee, a commission to look into intelligence failures regarding the Iraq war and our entire intelligence community. You have been reluctant to do that for some time. Why? But instead of an answer, he got a long speechthe first of many hed hear this morning. Let me step back and talk about intelligence in general, his slow-talking guest slowly said:
BUSH: Well, at first, let me step back and talk about intelligence in general, if I might. Intelligence is a vital part of fighting and winning the war against the terrorists, because the war against terrorists is a war against individuals who hide in caves in remote parts of the world, individuals who have these kind of shadowy networks, individuals who deal with rogue nations, and so we need a good intelligence system. We need really good intelligence. And so the commission I set up is to, obviously, analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence. It was kind of lessons learned. But its really set up to make sure the intelligence services provide as good a product as possible for future presidents as well, which is a part of analyzing where we are on the war against terror.Can you find any hint of an answer to Russerts question? Bush was asked why he dragged his feet on setting up a probe. His answer? Terrorists are people who hide in caves. Bushs languorous answer, by the way, lasted a minute and 32 seconds. That was 92 seconds the slow-talking guest had managed to take off the clock.
But readers, you know that ol bulldog, Tim Russert! Surely he got in Bushs face with a tough-talking follow-up question, a question designed to force his guest to get himself back on the mark! After all, Russert is the toughest pundit in all punditdom, pundits say. Hes just like a prosecutor, they like to say. You can runbut you cant hide from Russert.
But no, Russert didnt follow up when Bush gave a speech to avoid his first question. As he did throughout the hour, he simply moved on to Question 2 when Bush failed to answer Question 1. What happened to that frightening bulldogthe one the press has talked up for years? You saw itthat bulldog turned to a puddy-tat, coughed a hairball and died. What became of Bulldog Tim? That dog didnt bark, hunt or slobber.
Irrelevant answers went without follow-up. Blatant misstatements by Bush went unchallenged. Bush was allowed to give long, windy speechesspeeches so long and so slow that it sometimes seemed that Russert must have left the building. And where, on where were those film clips Tim lovesthe clips where he highlights his targets past statements? Such clips had been sent down the memory-hole, along with the bulldog your fake pundits love. No no no no no no no? Russert loved lecturing Dean last June. This Sunday, the phrase wasnt heard.
But dont worrypundits immediately began pretending that Russert really put Bush through the hoops. They know the script, and they love to recite. Well examine the clowning all week.
SHALES KNOWS SCRIPTS: Every scribe is reciting the script today, so perhaps we shouldnt jump on Tom Shales. But in this mornings Washington Post, the reigning expert on Kathy Lee Gifford says what all pundits are saying:
SHALES (pgh 1): What did the president really know, and what made him think he really knew it? That was sort of the question put over and over to George W. Bush by Tim Russert of NBC News on a special edition of Meet the Press yesterday. Russert interrogated Bush on the matter of faulty intelligence and the role it played in Bushs decision to invade Iraq.According to Shales, a relentless inquisitor bore down on his victim. Why, it was just like the old Perry Mason! Its what all pundits know they must say. In fact, Imus pandered even harder to Russert todaywhile savaging Bush for a hapless performance (quotes tomorrow). What really happened on yesterdays show? Bulldog Tim rolled over and died. But all major pundits know not to say it. More notes on this program all week.
ITS TIME FOR TIMES AWOLS TO ANSWER: The Times is sticking to its story. In this mornings page-one lead story, Richard Stevenson offers this misleading account of Bush and the National Guard:
STEVENSON (pgh 2): In a rare broadcast interview that he agreed to do as his poll numbers were falling and Democrats were increasingly hopeful of ousting him in November, Mr. Bush said on Meet the Press that he was far from alone in judging Saddam Hussein to be a threat. He rebutted accusations that he did not complete all of his duties while in the National Guard in 1972. He portrayed job growth as strengthening and did not rule out the possibility of more tax cuts.But that is not the accusation. On May 2, 1973, Bushs commanders at Houstons Ellington air base filed an annual, formal report saying that Bush had been absent from the base for the previous twelve months. This is the strongest piece of evidence concerning Bushs alleged missing year. The accusations about Bushs service are not confined to 1972. Stevensons statement is grossly misleading.
Why does Stevenson limit the problem to 1972? In all likelihood, he restricts his scope because the New York Times accepted the validity of the famous torn document in its Campaign 2000 reporting. If the torn document shows what Bushs aides claim, then Bush didnt skip a full year of service. According to the famous doc, Bush returned to service in November 1972and Bushs two commanders in Houston were oddly, mysteriously wrong.
But why did the Times accept the torn document? Bushs name doesnt appear on the document, and the SS number has been redacted. There is no apparent way to know if it really records Bushs service. Why did the Times accept this document? Weve heard that ex-Times reporter Jo Thomas wouldnt say when interviewed by Eric Boehlert last week. But its long past time for the New York Times to answer this simple question.
The famous torn document is laughably shaky. Meanwhile, Bushs commanders in Houston said, in real time, that he didnt serve. Why did Thomas accept a shaky torn documentand call this pair of commanders Big Fools? The New York Times has had four years. Its time for these AWOLs to answer.
STILL KEEPING THE RUBES DUMB AND HAPPY: Do you read the Washington Times? If so, you wont have to learn unsettling facts about your inspiring president. How else to read the papers posts concerning the Bush AWOL matter? On Friday morning, editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden tackled the case in his weekly column. But here was Prudens hapless attempt to summarize what is at issue:
PRUDEN (2/6/04): The rap on George W., noised about mostly by those who would rather go naked in a snowstorm than wear their countrys uniform, is that he went AWOL from a few Air National Guard make-up drills. This accusation got a tryout in 2000, when the Boston Globe measured George W.s Air National Guard service against Al Gores duty writing press handouts in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Now some Democrats are trying to mount this horse, which is still dead.According to Pruden, Bushs critics say he missed a few drills. As he continued, Pruden showcased his matchless skill at deceiving the Times pampered readers:
PRUDEN: In 1972, [Bush] moved to Alabama to work in the unsuccessful Senate campaign of Winton Blount, and received permission to train with a squadron in Montgomery. One officer told the Globe that he didnt remember the young Texan making up drills there; others do remember him. He returned to his Texas unit the following spring and made up some of the missed Alabama drills. Make-up drills were not unusual in Air National Guard units at that time.For Pruden, facts are not stubborn things. In fact, two officers told the Globe that Bush didnt show up for duty in Alabama. No officer ever said different, and the Bush campaign never found anyone who remembers serving with Bush in the state. (Two Bush friends say he told them he was serving. They claimed no knowledge beyond that.) Meanwhile, did Bush return to his Texas unit the following spring? Yes, but only after his two superior officers in Texas officially reported that he had been missing from that base for the previous year. Deftly, Pruden picks and chooses his facts, keeping Times readers dumb and happy.
But then, everything published in the Washington Times buries the facts of this case. Also on Friday, the Times published an op-ed piece by three Republican congressmen. Was Bush AWOL or a deserter? Here is their account of the matter:
JOHNSON/KIRK/PEARCE (2/6/04): Contrary to these bogus allegations, the president was honorably discharged from the National Guard. In fact, the nonpartisan Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania thoroughly investigated and dispelled these false charges. The Annenberg Center reported, The Associated Press quoted two friends who worked with Bush in the Blount campaign as saying they recall him attending Air National Guard drills in Alabama. And they concluded, The fact is Bush was honorably discharged without ever being officially accused of desertion or being away without official leave.As many Bush-defenders will do, the congressmen cite the ludicrous account of the facts published at the Annenberg site (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/04). And as they dismiss the charges as false, the congressmen prove to be permissive judges. Two friends of Bush say he told them he servedand that settles the case for these pols! Meanwhile, the gentlemen only discuss Bushs absence in Alabama. Readers of the Times cant be told that his Texas commanders said he was absent there too.
The Times continued the clowning on Saturday. In yet another op-ed piece, Dan Thomasson battered those who discuss this topic. But here was his full account of the facts:
THOMASSON: [I]t is becoming clear the tenor of the campaign could descend into one of hatefulness with Kerry surrogates, if not him personally, prepared to contend that the president actually shirked his duty while in the Air National Guard. That is exactly what [DNC head Terry] McAuliffe did recently on nationwide television, stating that the president was AWOL while assigned to an Alabama Guard unit. It is not a new accusation, but it never has been substantiated and Mr. Bush has denied it vehemently.The accusation never has been substantiated. Thats all a Times rube needs to know.
Indeed, have WashTimes readers ever been told the basic facts of the Bush AWOL case? Apparently not. According to Nexis and WT archives, the Times has offered no reporting on this matter since it resurfaced a few weeks ago. Instead, readers are handed pleasing accounts of the facts from permissive protectors like Pruden. Wes understands his papers jobto keep readers from hearing basic facts.
Meanwhile, Fox viewers dont have to worry their heads about this matter, either. On Fox, all-stars seem to know its their job to keep viewers barefoot and clueless. Case in point? Mara Liasson. As we noted on Friday, Liasson ducked the facts of the case on last Thursdays Special Report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/6/04). But it wasnt because she didnt know them. Here she was the very next day, on NPRs All Things Considered:
LIASSON: Heres the background. More than 30 years ago, John Kerry was in Vietnam, in combat, winning medals for valor. George W. Bush was learning to fly jets for the Texas Air National Guard, a post that was made possible by his family connections. Theres a one-year gap in the record of Mr. Bushs service from May 1972 to May 1973. During that time, he was allowed to transfer to an Alabama Air Guard unit because he was working on an Alabama Senate campaign. But there are no paper records that show Mr. Bush performed any military duty in Alabama.Theres a one-year gap in the record of Bushs service, she said. Yes, Liasson knew the facts of the case. But on Thursday night, she knew her job. Appearing on Fox, she kept quiet.