WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2004
SOME FACTS ARE STILL MISSING IN ACTION: Wonders never cease! In this mornings New York Times, Elisabeth Bumiller offers a lengthy, page-one report about the new National Guard records. Whats the new state of evidence concerning the alleged missing yearthe year from May 1972 through May 1973? The new records seem to show that Bush performed drills starting in late October 1972. But contradictions still exist. During Campaign 2000, Bushs Alabama commanders said they were 99 percent sure that Bush didnt report there for duty. And real-time evidence exited in Texas; on May 2, 1973, Bushs Houston commanders had refused to file his annual review, saying that he had been absent from that base for the preceding year. How does Bumiller handle these contradictions? Heres her basic summary:
BUMILLER (pgh 5): [White House spokesman Scott] McClellan could not say why some of Mr. Bushs commanding officers did not recall his turning up on the dates he was paid, but he suggested they might have forgotten. Were talking about 30 years ago, Mr. McClellan said.Later, Bumiller says that Alabama commander William Turnipseed has said that while he is not sure, he does not remember Mr. Bush reporting for duty. She never mentions the Texas commanders, who filed that real-time, formal report saying Bush had been missing all year. Imperfect memory plays no role in the Texas part of this story.
In her piece, Bumiller offers a lengthy summary of the year in question. She notes that the new records seem to show that Bush performed some drills. But she only mentions the weakest contradictory evidencethe memory of the Alabama commanders. She fails to mention the stronger evidencethe real-time, formal report filed by Bushs Texas commanders. And she never mentions an undisputed factshe never says that Bush, while in Alabama, was suspended from flight duty for failing to take his annual physical. Its a basic, undisputed fact. But its AWOL from this report.
Bumillers report is over 1200 words long. Its accompanied by a margin-to-margin charta chart which purports to show key events of the alleged missing year. But nowhere are Times readers told that Bush was suspended from duty during this yearand readers arent told that his Houston commanders said he was absent from that base the whole year. She mentions the weaker contradictory evidencethe memory of the Alabama commandersand omits the stronger contradictory evidencethe real-time, formal Texas report. The undisputed fact of Bushs suspension has gone down the memory hole, too.
What are the facts about Bushs service? The ultimate facts are still unclear. This, of course, is a built-in problem when we try to judge a candidates character based on 30-year-old events. But duh! You simply cant summarize the missing year without mentioning the fact of Bushs suspension. Nor can you simply decide that you want to deep-six that real-time, formal Texas report. Times readers may think that theyve read a full summary. But several key facts have gone missing today. At the Times, such desertions never stop.
THAT BULLDOG WOULDNT HUNT: A fearsome bulldog was missing in action when Bush sat down with Russert last week. Right from the start, his absence was evident. After Russert asked his first question, Bush gave a lengthy, rambling reply. The answer had nothing to do with the questionbut Russert, feared bulldog, didnt yelp, bark or growl (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/9/04). And when Russert asked if he the pre-war intelligence had been hyped, Bush side-stepped that question too (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/10/04). Did Russert pose a follow-up question? No. He just let it slide by.
Indeed, was there anything Bush could have said this day that would have provoked a follow-up question? Russert is praised as a junkyard doga host who chomps down hard on his prey. But when he sat with Bush last weekend, the bulldog became a poofed poodle. Repeatedly, Bushs statements cried out for challenge. But guess what? That bulldog wouldnt hunt!
How tame was Russerts performance this day? Lets consider a string of instances where the bulldog refused to follow up.
First, consider the tenure of Tenet. Early on, Bush volunteered some surprising news. George Tenet is doing great work!
RUSSERT: Will you testify before the [new] commission [on intelligence]?What a surprising statement! We had a major intelligence shortfall before 9/11, and weve now found another big problem in the intelligence about Iraq. Why isnt Tenets job in jeopardy? Bush may have a very good answerbut Russert didnt bother to ask. But then, this was just the first of many timers that an obvious follow-up question was skipped. A bulldog had joined the stenographers pool. It was the role that hed play this whole day.
Indeed, it soon became clear: There was nothing Bush could say that would lead to a challenge from Russert. Tenet was serving ably, Bush said. Instantly, the prez added this:
RUSSERT: Theres another commission right now looking into September 11th. Will you testify before that commission?Say what? We have given extraordinary cooperation with chairmen Kean and Hamilton? In fact, the cooperation has been so extraordinary that Kean and Hamilton have persistently threatened to sue the White House for withheld information. These battles continue in the papers today, as they have for months on end. But Russert posed no challenge to Bush, any more than he had done when Bush side-stepped his opening questionthe question about why Bush tried to avoid a commission to study failed intel.
By now, the stenography was in high gear. Nothing Bush said would provoke a response. Russert moved on to the matter of intel. As weve seen, Russert allowed Bush to sidestep the key question on this key topic. But there was more. Even as Russert asked about hyped intelligence, the affable host took a total pass on this presentation by Bush:
BUSH: Now, let methis is verytheres a vital questionSpeaking of selective presentations, look at that list of theories Bush offereda list the bulldog politely accepted. What might have happened to the stockpiles of weapons? All the theories Bush recites presume they existed until just before the war! Bush fails to mention all other theories; indeed, he makes precisely the sort of selective presentation Russert was pretending to challenge! But there was no attempt to follow up when Bush presented this selective list. The bulldog failed to notice.
Readers, what ever became of that pugnacious dogthe one to whom the press throws its bones? As the interview dragged along, Bush offered long, repetitious, slow-talking answers to vague and repetitious questions. And it became abundantly clear: There was nothing Bush could say that would provoke a real follow-up qauestion. In particular, Bushs comments on the budget were so absurd that many observersof the left, right and centerhave assailed him for what they refer to as lies. But Russert took absolutely no notice. Would the prescription drug entitlement reduce the deficit? Had Clinton massively outspent Bush? Would Bushs budget cut the deficit in half? Those are the things Bush saidand Russert didnt peep in protest. By now, almost everyone has challenged Bushs statements (see below)but Russert, the bulldog, failed to take notice. In the past, he would gnaw on a candidates leg. Now he just wagged his short tail.
On this day, that dog wouldnt hunt! And hed left his very best weapons at home. Consider what the president said when he was asked about changing the tone. Why had Tom Daschle complained about Bush? I dont speak ill of anybody, Bush replied. I think if you went back and looked at my comments, you see that I dont attack. Say what? We think you know what that fearsome old bulldog would have done! Up on the screen, wed have seen the president making the statements which provoked Daschles complaints in the first place! Wed have seen the tape from September 2002, when Bush said that Senate Democrats were not interested in the security of the American people because of their stand on the bill to create a Department of Homeland Security. (Outrageous. Outrageous, Daschle had said. Youd likely have seen that clip too.) And theres something else you would have seen. Youd have seen those Republican TV ads morphing Max Cleland into Saddam and Osamaand Russert would have asked the prez what he had done to change the tone in his party. But the tape machine was missing this day. There were none of those trademark clipsthe embarrassing clips for which Russert is famous! A bulldog had left his best weapons at home. He now seemed to sleep in the sun.
YepTim was a different dog this day. Since Sunday, the scribe has taken a victory lapand has seemed to explain the change in his conduct. Tomorrow, well look at what he has said. Question: Should this bulldog be sent out to pasture?
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: How they hate to criticize Russert! In The Nation, David Corn capably critiques the bulldogs toothless performance. We especially recommend his treatment of Bushs budget discussion. Budget experts across the political spectrum have all said that the Bush White House is engaged in fake accounting and that his deficit projections are a fantasy, a dishonest coverup, Corn writes. They agree that the deficits in the coming years will be much higher than Bush is claiming. Just a few days before this interview, The Washington Post editorialists blasted Bush for engaging in outright budgetary deceit. But Russert noted none of thisand accepted more funny numbers from Bush. I waited for Russert to pounce on Bush. But no pounce came, Corn says.
Corns analysis is right on the mark. But more intriguing is the obvious pain he feels at having to criticize Russert. Its Hard Pundit Lawall must pander to Tim. Corn serves brilliantly in this fine column. But even David would plainly prefer to be stroking this big bulldogs brow.