AP embarrasses itself over Guard story

Published September 30, 2004 3:36PM (EDT)

At this point, it's possible the White House could tell reporters that George W. Bush earned a Purple Heart during the Vietnam War and the press would simply print it as fact. That's how badly the press has fallen down on the National Guard story. Clearly spooked by the recent controversy at CBS over the questionable memos "60 Minutes II" used for its story on Bush's National Guard service, the press has essentially abandoned the Guard story, despite the fact obvious unanswered questions remain about Bush's mysterious military service. Worse, when it is forced to address the issue, the press has simply morphed into stenographers, dutifully recording every absurd answer the White House gives and completely ignoring the established facts from Bush's own military record.

The latest, most egregious example came in yesterday's Associated Press story, which declares from the very outset, "President Bush never was disciplined while serving in the Texas Air National Guard, never failed a physical and never asked his father or family friends for help to get him into the Guard during the Vietnam War, the White House said Wednesday."

The key, of course, is the final phrase, "the White House said." What else is the White House going to say? And why is it news that the White House once again repeated its National Guard talking points? The actual news was that for the fourth time since February when White House aides told reporters it had released "absolutely everything" about Bush's' service, it once again came up with yet another document. In this case it was a copy of Bush's resignation in 1974.

Elsewhere, the AP simply let the White House roll out whopper after whopper:

-- "The White House said Bush fulfilled his Guard duty completely, even after ending his pilot's career to go to Alabama to work on a political campaign."

"After ending his pilot's career" makes it sounds as though Bush fulfilled his obligation. The fact is, in April of 1972 with 770 days remaining of flight obligation, Bush simply refused to fly again. The AP failed to mention that.

-- "Bush believed he was going to work in a "non-flight capacity" in Alabama and fulfilled his commitment doing administrative tasks, the White House said."

Of course "Bush believed he was going to work in a "non-flight capacity.'" Despite owing the military years more in flight duty, Bush specifically requested a transfer to an Alabama Guard unit that had no planes. The AP failed to mention that.

-- "The president's written evaluations demonstrate a good record as a pilot; the pay and points records demonstrate his complete fulfillment of his obligations; and the records demonstrate that he followed the proper procedures and worked through the chain of command to receive approval to perform equivalent duty in Alabama," the White House said."

First of all, Bush received no "written evaluations" for 1972 and 1973 because he showed up for duty so infrequently his commanders couldn't rate him. The AP failed to mention that.

Secondly, "proper procedures" for a transfer to Alabama required Bush to sign an acknowledgment that he received relocation counseling, that he receive a certification of satisfactory participation from his unit, sign and give a letter of resignation to his Texas unit commander, receive discharge orders from the Texas Air National Guard adjutant general, and receive new assignment orders for the Air Force Reserves. Bush did none of those things. The AP failed to mention that.

-- "The [White House's] answers also addressed why Bush skipped a required physical in the summer of 1972, prompting the termination of his pilot status. "The president was transferring to Alabama to perform equivalent duty in a non-flying capacity, making a flight physical unnecessary," the White House said."

Guard regulations made it perfectly clear that every member had to take an annual physical, regardless of whether they were flying or not. The AP failed to mention that.

-- "The White House said, "The president did not ask his father or family friends for assistance" in getting into the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War."

In 1999, former Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes, caught up in a lawsuit and forced to address the issue, admitted that in 1968 a wealthy Houston businessman approach him and asked that he try to secure a coveted slot for Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. Barnes said he acted on the request. Barnes told the same story to CBS earlier this month. The AP failed to mention that.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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