much for that myth--the cynical distortion that
has become conventional wisdom in many circles.
During the presidential campaign of 2000, it started
going around that Texas Gov. George W. Bush, then
the leading Republican candidate, had significant
gaps in his military record.
that Bush failed to report for duty for an entire
year toward the end of his hitch with the Texas
Air National Guard.
short version: In May 1968 the silver-spoon son
of a U.S. congressman jumped to the top of a long
waiting list despite mediocre scores on his pilot-aptitude
test and was allowed to enlist in the Guard, a
common way to avoid being drafted into combat
May 1972 he sought a transfer from Houston, where
he flew F-102s on weekends, to a unit in Montgomery,
Ala. There, he worked on the U.S. Senate campaign
of a friend of his father's and, records indicate,
blew off his military obligations.
failed to take his annual flight physical in 1972
so Guard officials grounded him, the story went.
He never flew again and received an early discharge
to go to graduate school. His final officer-efficiency
report from May 1973 noted only that supervisors
hadn't seen him or heard from him.
campaign biography obscured or misrepresented
these details. In the summer and fall of 2000,
his spokesmen offered various and evolving explanations
for what Democrats said represented a far bigger
"character issue" than any of the windy exaggerations
of their candidate, Vice President Al Gore.
he is elected president, how will he be able to
deal as commander in chief with someone who goes
AWOL, when he did the same thing?" Nebraska Sen.
Bob Kerrey said to the Boston Globe, where veteran
investigative reporter Walter V. Robinson, a former
Army intelligence officer, wrote several major
stories on the subject. "This stinks."
but like Bush at the end of his hitch, it didn't
fly. A search of all news publications and programs
archived in the LexisNexis database for the last
seven months of the 2000 campaign found 114 stories
referencing Bush, the Texas Air National Guard
and Alabama. Over that same span, nearly 10 times
that many stories--1,076 to be exact--referenced
Al Gore and the expression "invented the internet,"
an allusion to the bogus charge then haunting
Gore that he had wildly inflated his role in the
"Bush AWOL?" story appeared in this newspaper
and was based on good reporting and still-unanswered
questions. It faded away--a scant 14 mentions
in the database for all of 2001 and 2002 due to
the age of the allegations, the lack of any new
developments and the urgency of current events.
week, though, the president all but wore a "Kick
Me!" sticker on the back of his flight suit when
he decided to land on the deck of the USS Abraham
Lincoln in the co-pilot's seat of an S-3B Viking
the derisive merriment in the columns and on the
chat shows if former President Bill Clinton revived
the skirt-chasing issue by touring a sorority
house or if Gore delivered a lecture to the engineers
at Netscape Communications Corp. Think of the
snickering and the sardonic rehash of history.
for Bush in flyboy attire, a discreet silence.
The only voices I encountered raising this issue
were David Corn in the Nation; Newsday columnist
Jimmy Breslin, who asked, "Tell me if you ever
heard of anybody with as powerful a resistance
to shame as Bush"; and talk station WLS-AM's token
progressives Nancy Skinner and Ski Anderson, who
spent a full hour Sunday afternoon savoring the
irony of it all.
was no relentless examination of the damning timeline
on cable news outlets, no interviewing the commanders
who swear Bush didn't show up where he was supposed
to, no sit-downs with the veterans who have offered
still-unclaimed cash rewards to anyone who can
prove that Bush did anything at all in the Guard
during his last months before discharge.
much for the cynical distortion that has become
conventional wisdom in many circles. So much for
the myth of the "liberal media."
© 2003, Chicago Tribune
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