Tuesday, January 27, 2004


Has the Media gone AWOL?

Earlier I noted that Bush's 1970's service record is less important than what he is doing today, for example, in stonewalling and hampering the 9/11 Commission's work. Nevertheless, I have to agree that Jonathan Chait is probably right when he says that the media have applied a double standard and given Bush too much slack on the fact that he didn't show up for National Guard service during 1972 and 1973.

Consider this bizarre passage in a recent New York Times article focusing on slip ups by General Wesley Clark:

But 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.

Mr. Bush's actions did not meet the technical definition of desertion.

"President Bush was not a deserter," said Eugene Fidell, a Washington expert on military law. "To desert in wartime is a serious offense, potentially punishable by death. It requires an intent to remain away permanently."

The article is trying to show that Moore's statement was technically inaccurate as a matter of military law and an exaggeration. But in doing so, it certainly makes one think "well, why was his absence unexplained?" So he's not technically a deserter. Well, so what? Being able to say that you were "not technically a deserter" is not exactly a badge of honor. And yet there's no hint in this story that any of this might be a problem for the Commander-in-Chief.

Although to my knowledge George W. Bush was not ever formally charged with being AWOL (absent without leave, which is different from being a deserter), you don't have to be formally charged to be in violation of military regulations that prohibit skipping out on military service. Why didn't the press make more of it in 2000? Perhaps it was because foreign policy wasn't a big issue in that election (although you may recall that one of Bush's campaign themes that year was strengthening the military). In any case, given that the President has shown little compunction about sending American troops into dangerous combat situations, it certainly seems worth a look today. Let me put it this way: If any of the Democratic candidates (or Bill Clinton for that matter) was thought to have skipped out on months of military service, the press would be all over it.

UPDATE: Paul Waldman compares media treatment of Clinton in 1992 and Bush in 2000.

And in the interests of fairness to George W. Bush, here is the New York Times story from November 3rd, 2000 which criticized the Boston Globe story that originally raised the allegations. Although it does not completely rebut the Globe story, it does argue that some of the Globe's concerns may be unfounded. Clearly one has to take this story into account in assessing the seriousness of the allegations made against Bush:

Two Democratic senators today called on Gov. George W. Bush to release his full military record to resolve doubts raised by a newspaper about whether he reported for required drills when he was in the Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973.

But a review of records by The New York Times indicated that some of those concerns may be unfounded. Documents reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Bush served in at least 9 of the 17 months in question.

Dan Bartlett, a Bush spokesman, said that Mr. Bush had fulfilled his military obligations "or he would not have been honorably discharged."

The senators, Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, both Medal of Honor winners, were responding, in a telephone conference with reporters, to an article in The Boston Globe on Tuesday.

The article, citing military records for Mr. Bush, raised questions about whether Mr. Bush performed any duty from April 1972 until September 1973, when he entered Harvard Business School.

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.

Mr. Bush was assigned to the 111th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston, from November 1969, last flying there on April 16, 1972.

In a report dated May 26, 1972, his commander, Maj. William D. Harris Jr., said Mr. Bush had "recently accepted the position as campaign manager for a candidate for the United States Senate."

Mr. Bush went to work for Winton M. Blount a few days after Mr. Blount won the Republican primary in Alabama on May 2, 1972.

From that time until after the election that November, Mr. Bush did not appear for duty, even after being told to report for training with an Alabama unit in October and November.

Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Bush had been too busy with the campaign to report in those months but made up the time later.

On Sept. 5, 1972, Mr. Bush asked his Texas Air National Guard superiors for assignment to the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery "for the months of September, October and November."

Capt. Kenneth K. Lott, chief of the personnel branch of the 187th Tactical Recon Group, told the Texas commanders that training in September had already occurred but that more training was scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8 and Nov. 4 and 5. But Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Bush did not serve on those dates because he was involved in the Senate campaign, but he made up those dates later.

Colonel Turnipseed, who retired as a general, said in an interview that regulations allowed Guard members to miss duty as long as it was made up within the same quarter.

Mr. Bartlett pointed to a document in Mr. Bush's military records that showed credit for four days of duty ending Nov. 29 and for eight days ending Dec. 14, 1972, and, after he moved back to Houston, on dates in January, April and May.

The May dates correlated with orders sent to Mr. Bush at his Houston apartment on April 23, 1973, in which Sgt. Billy B. Lamar told Mr. Bush to report for active duty on May 1-3 and May 8-10.

Another document showed that Mr. Bush served at various times from May 29, 1973, through July 30, 1973, a period of time questioned by The Globe.


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