Media's memo obsession has enabled conservatives to distract from Bush's lies about service

The media's fixation on the controversy over the authenticity of memos exposed by CBS's 60 Minutes has enabled conservative members of the media to discount the serious questions regarding President George W. Bush's National Guard service. The media's focus on the memos has enabled conservatives to dodge questions raised by the strong evidence indicating that strings were pulled on Bush's behalf in the National Guard; that he did not meet his service obligations; and, most importantly, that he has repeatedly lied about his service. As recently as February 8, Bush told NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert: “I did my duty.”

CLAIM: Service questions are meaningless if the documents are forged

  • On the September 15 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, FOX News Channel contributor and Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke claimed that the “net effect” of the memo controversy is that “the draft story” (allegations that Bush avoided the draft by getting into the National Guard with the help of family connections) is “falling apart” :

    KONDRACKE: I mean, look, the net effect of this [memo controversy] is that attempts to use this to hammer George [W.] Bush, the draft story, are falling apart. You know? It's still faithful, loyal Democrats, you know, will believe this to the last ditch. But you know, this assertion, at least, is falling apart.

  • On the September 14 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, co-host Alan Colmes attempted to ask L. Brent Bozell III, president of the conservative Media Research Center, substantive questions regarding whether Bush “got special consideration” to “get in” to the Guard. Bozell used the memo controversy to dismiss those questions:

    COLMES: Whether he [Bush] was there -- let me just ask the question. Whether he [Bush] was there or not, whether he got special consideration to get in. Rather than dealing with those questions we're dealing with whether these memos are real and what the typeset is.

    BOZELL: And what I'm saying, Alan, is that it's the -- it's the height of journalistic irresponsibility to bring up those issues when they're based on fraudulent documents.

But as Media Matters for America has noted, former Texas Speaker of the House Ben Barnes swore under oath that he helped Bush get into the Guard, and Bush's Harvard Business School professor Yoshi Tsurumi said Bush “admitted to me that to avoid the Vietnam draft, he had his dad -- he said 'dad's friends' -- skip him through the long waiting list to get into the Texas National Guard.” Neither statement has anything to do with the CBS documents.

  • On the September 15 edition of FOX News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, guest Tony Snow (a conservative radio host) falsely claimed that the disputed memos are the only evidence proving Bush skipped a physical in July 1972 and thereby violated Guard regulations:

    SNOW: And now, it [CBS News] also has the fuller problem of if the documents are forgeries, how do you make the claim that the story itself was true? After all, the story itself hinges upon what? Somebody finding out whether the president showed up for a physical.

    In other words, you have to prove that he wasn't there. Well, that's almost impossible to do. The doctor is not around. So there's CBS left grasping at straws.

    In fact, a separate, unchallenged document states clearly that Bush was suspended from flying because he missed his physical.

  • On the September 14 edition of his radio show, FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly agreed with co-host E.D. Hill that if CBS admits the disputed memos are forged, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Web page highlighting Bush's false statements about his Guard service will be discredited. But only one small section of the page, which is based primarily on CBS's original story, relies on the disputed memos.

    From the September 14 edition of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

    HILL: But if they say that [the documents are fake], and the DNC's website is basing their entire “Bush lied” page [a September 9 “Headlines” page bore this headline] --

    O'REILLY: On fabricated documents --

    HILL: On the CBS report --

    O'REILLY: Right. There you go. See, it's all over. They lost. “They” being the DNC or whoever tried to push this phony stuff on CBS. They lost. Bush wins again. He wins.


    HILL: Yeah, the DNC makes it -- hurts itself --

    O'REILLY: Right. Right.

    HILL: -- by repeating that stuff.

  • On the September 15 edition of Hannity & Colmes, co-host Sean Hannity repeatedly interrupted guest Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post investigative journalist who first broke the Watergate story, in an attempt to stop him from addressing the substantive questions relating to Bush's Guard service record:

    BERNSTEIN: [W]e're looking -- I think we're looking at a side show here. I don't think this [whether or not the documents are forged] is the real issue. It's -- the real issue is the war record of these two candidates.

    HANNITY: I don't want to talk about that.


    HANNITY: We're going to get into that.

    BERNSTEIN: This is about journalism. Let me finish.

    HANNITY: But wait a minute. Wait, wait.

    BERNSTEIN: I would like to finish.

    HANNITY: Hang on a second. I'm not having you here to talk politics.

CLAIM: Bush's honorable discharge means something

FOX News Channel hosts E.D. Hill, Brian Kilmeade, and Sean Hannity, NPR national political correspondent and FOX News contributor Mara Liasson, and WABC radio host and Landmark Legal Foundation president Mark Levin joined others in the media (as MMFA has documented here, here and here) both in repeating the irrelevant Bush-Cheney '04 talking point that Bush's honorable discharge means he fulfilled his obligation to the Guard and in dismissing serious questions about his service.

  • From the September 15 edition of FOX News Channel's FOX & Friends, during a discussion of the $50,000 reward being offered by anti-Bush group Texans for Truth for original information proving whether Bush performed his duties in the Air National Guard between May 1972 and May 1973 in Alabama:

    HILL: Wouldn't you just have to show his [Bush's] honorable discharge papers [to affirm Bush's service]?

    KILMEADE: You would think so.

  • From the September 14 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume:

    LIASSON: [I]f the Bush campaign says the bottom line is he was honorably discharged, the official record [of his honorable discharge] should be the final statement on this.

  • From the September 13 edition of Hannity & Colmes:

    HANNITY: We know he [Bush] served honorably. He served all these hours that he had put in the aircraft itself. We know that. It's documented. He has his honorable discharge. You see these attacks against the president. You see that they've gone to this Colonel Killian [alleged author of the CBS documents]. Now, we had Colonel Killian's son on the program Friday night, and he dismisses this as absolutely outrageous and wrong and inaccurate, and it was not his father. His father thought highly of him. What do you think is going on here?

  • From the September 13 Mark Levin Show:

    LEVIN: The bottom line is George [W.] Bush served all the hours he was required to serve in order to receive his honorable discharge -- all of them. CBS lied. Dan Rather lied. They lied today. They were too anxious to assassinate Bush's reputation. They were deceived by pro-[Senator John] Kerry people and others. And they've destroyed whatever reputation that they have left.

Evidence that Bush lied is being ignored

Meanwhile, evidence indicating that Bush has misrepresented his record in the Guard has largely been ignored:

  • BUSH CLAIM: “I did my duty” in the National Guard.

    During an interview with host Tim Russert on the February 8 edition of Meet the Press, Bush stated, “I served in the National Guard. I flew F-102 aircraft. I got an honorable discharge. ... I -- I put in my time, proudly so.” Later in the interview, Bush reiterated the claim: “I'm just telling you, I did my duty.

    EVIDENCE: Media reports found Bush didn't fulfill obligation to the Guard.

    As Media Matters for America has documented, according to a September 20 U.S. News & World Report article, Bush didn't fulfill the “military service obligation” that he signed. Even using White House methodology, he still didn't attend enough drills to meet requirements. Bush also failed to comply with time limits on making up missed drills. The U.S. News article reported: "[D]uring the final two years of his obligation, Bush did not comply with Air Force regulations that impose a time limit on making up missed drills." In addition, Bush never made up five months of missed drills. According to the U.S. News article, Bush “apparently never made up five months of drills he missed in 1972, contrary to assertions by the administration.” According to a September 8 article in The Boston Globe, Bush twice signed documents pledging to meet requirements and twice violated that oath. Finally, on September 16,'s Eric Boehlert reported that a “newly surfaced document (pdf) from President Bush's military file" from 1968 shows that Bush agreed to serve for five years as a pilot after he completed his Guard pilot training. But since Bush stopped flying at least two and a half years before this five-year commitment would have ended, as Boehlert noted, the document “offers more proof that Bush failed to fulfill his military obligations.”

  • BUSH CLAIM: I flew planes in the Guard for “several years.”

    On page 34 of his 1999 campaign autobiography, A Charge to Keep (penned by Karen Hughes), Bush claimed that, after learning to fly the F-102 fighter jet, “I continued flying with my unit for the next several years,” as Joe Conason noted in a February 2 New York Observer column.

    EVIDENCE: Bush flew planes for 22 months.

    As Conason pointed out, "[I]n May 1972, only 22 months after he completed pilot training, he [Bush] stopped flying," according to the facts established by Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson in May 2000. Twenty-two months, not even two years, hardly constitutes the "several years" that Bush claimed.

  • BUSH CLAIM: The Guard “just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time”

    On September 15, journalist and blogger Joshua Micah Marshall noted that Bush was asked by James Moore during a 1994 Texas gubernatorial campaign debate against Ann Richards, “How did you get into the Guard so easily? One hundred thousand guys our age were on the waiting list, and you say you walked in and signed up to become a pilot. Did your congressman father exercise any influence on your behalf?” Bush responded, “Not that I know of, Jim. I certainly didn't ask for any. And I'm sure my father didn't either. They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time.”

    EVIDENCE: Others say Bush got preferential treatment.

    As MMFA previously documented, former Texas Speaker of the House Ben Barnes swore under oath that he helped Bush get into the Air National Guard. According to The Boston Globe: “Ben Barnes, who was speaker of the Texas House of Representatives in 1968, said in a deposition in 2000 that he placed a call to get young Bush a coveted slot in the Guard at the request of a Bush family friend.”

    In addition, as MMFA also noted, Bush's Harvard Business School professor Yoshi Tsurumi said Bush admitted his father's friends got him into the Guard. A September 13 article reported that Tsurumi said that Bush told him that family friends had pulled strings to get him into the Texas Air National Guard: “He [Bush] admitted to me that to avoid the Vietnam draft, he had his dad -- he said 'Dad's friends' -- skip him through the long waiting list to get him into the Texas National Guard.” The videotaped interview has been largely absent from CNN's cable broadcasts, as Media Matters for America has also noted.