Woodruff fell for Bush spin about honorable discharge


On the September 8 edition of CNN's Inside Politics, host Judy Woodruff repeated the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign's defense of President George W. Bush's apparent failure to show up for duty for several months in the National Guard. Woodruff repeatedly suggested that, because he received an honorable discharge, Bush must have fulfilled his duty. In fact, as The New Republic has noted, "Going missing from military service and then squeaking out with an honorable discharge has a rich history among politicians."

Woodruff repeated the spin while interviewing Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who wrote a September 8 article detailing how "Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty" but "didn't meet the commitments, or face the punishment."

From the September 8 edition of CNN's Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics:

WOODRUFF: How does that square, though, Walter Robinson, with the fact that he was discharged honorably, as the White House points out?

ROBINSON: Well, as the White House points out, he was in fact discharged honorably by the Texas Air National Guard. It was the Texas Air National Guard and his own superiors who apparently looked the other way when he was not showing up for drills. The issue here is whether or not he performed his service obligation, and the records on that are now quite clear: He did not.

WOODRUFF: And, uh, so, but -- but some people would say well, if he didn't perform his -- if he didn't fulfill his obligation, then how did the service end up giving him an honorable discharge?

In February, an article (subscription required) in The New Republic debunked the Bush claim that an honorable discharge means he fulfilled his duty:

Far from being a mark of exemplar service, the honorable discharge is better thought of as a standard severance, something every soldier receives unless there's significant evidence of misconduct and a commanding officer eager to brave the paperwork, panels, and disciplinary hearings required to send the soldier home with anything less. Like any number of other officers, Bush could have ducked out of his service for months and still received an honorable discharge.

Going missing from military service and then squeaking out with an honorable discharge has a rich history among politicians. Current U.S. Representative Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, served in the army through the mid-1960s, becoming progressively more involved with radical antiwar groups. In 1968, after Martin Luther King's assassination, he went AWOL from his unit to help found the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. Weeks later, he was honorably discharged.

In 1999, a Texas sheriff up for reelection saw his candidacy unravel after local newspapers reported that, despite a subsequent honorable discharge, he'd skipped out on Army service for several months in 1976 to "patch things up with his ex-wife."


A few years ago, a guest columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ruminated on going AWOL from his unit routinely with a "case of beer" to drink himself "into oblivion." "I don't know how, but I did manage to get an honorable discharge."


Perhaps more striking is how often serious questions of misconduct have been flat-out ignored. John Allen Muhammad, convicted last November for his participation in the D.C. sniper shootings, served in the Louisiana National Guard from 1978-1985, where he faced two summary courts-martial. In 1983, he was charged with striking an officer, stealing a tape measure, and going AWOL. Sentenced to seven days in the brig, he received an honorable discharge in 1985.

Bush Military Service, 2004 Elections
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