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In the toljaso what justain’tso column… [Bush AWOL story]

Posted by Charles II on May 25, 2012

(Thanks to Norwegianity-in-exile for providing the link to this story)

So, we all know the facts. Dan Rather, working with information provided by Lt. Col. Bill Burkett through 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes, aired a sensational story that there was definitive proof that George W Bush had at best been casual about his National Guard service. But brilliant and courageous right-wing bloggers quickly (like, so quickly that they had to have been supplied some assistance from the Bush White House) unraveled the truth: the documents were forgeries, proven by the fact that no typewriter of that era could possibly have typed them and that they could be reproduced by Microsoft Word.

The Washington Post in particular rushed the bloggers’ conclusions into print. Amid all the breathless talk about kerning, fonts, and proportional spacing, and cries of “Rathergate” from the right, official harrumphing about journalistic standards gave way to a commission which promptly found… well, not exactly anything except that Mapes and Rather had to go. There wasn’t any arguing from any quarter that they had rushed the story onto the air without properly vetting the documents, relying instead on the reputation of Lt. Col. Burkett. Alas, Burkett had not verified their provenance. Mapes and Rather were left to (metaphorically) swing.

But, of course, everything other than the fact that the source of the documents had not been established wasn’t true. The documents, if they were forgeries, were much better forgeries than the right-wing gave credit for. They could indeed have been produced by a typewriter of that vintage. That, in fact, was a more likely explanation than what the right-wing claimed.

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Mahablog was perhaps the most careful and thorough of the few voices of reason at the time of the frenzy. Hunter produced an excellent summary.

Joe Hagan, Texas Monthly:

Littwin’s lawyers … obtained the most thorough and least redacted copy of Bush’s military file that anyone had yet seen….

…[Boston Globe reporter] Walter V. Robinson… spent several days studying Bush’s military records. What followed was a painstaking investigation by the Boston Globe, unrivaled in its detail, which put the Bush campaign on the defensive and inspired other reporters to focus on Bush’s “lost year.”

But after receiving relatively high marks as a pilot of the F-102, Bush suddenly stopped flying in the spring of 1972. Despite the declaration in his 1999 memoir, A Charge to Keep, that he flew jets for “several years” starting in 1970, his flying career actually ended two years later. …. Bush had committed to continuing his Guard service with a unit based in Montgomery, but nobody from that unit remembered seeing him, including the commander of the base….It seemed that not only had Bush avoided Vietnam by entering the Guard, but he may have simply disappeared for a spell, failing to fulfill his duty to fly planes for a full six years.

The Globe story whipped the national media into a frenzy. The gaps that it revealed in Bush’s record—and his campaign’s inconsistent and sometimes discredited explanations for those gaps—prompted persistent questions about whether he had gone AWOL or even deserted the military for a time. In particular, reporters zeroed in on a document showing that Bush had lost his flight status in August 1972 for failing to take a flight physical, a serious offense.

As it happened, another pilot [James R. Bath] listed on the same document also lost his right to fly for the same reason and at around the same time. …

What’s clear, however, is that Bush’s superiors made it unusually easy for him to quit flying and leave Houston. They first attempted to sign him up for a postal unit in Alabama that met once a month. … When Bush was informed that he couldn’t fulfill his duty by doing that, he sent a letter requesting “equivalent duty” with the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, at Dannelly Air Base, in Montgomery. The unit commander, in official memos, said Bush could start by attending two drills in September 1972. He didn’t show up for the drills.

When Bush lost his flight status, in August 1972, the official military protocol of the Texas Air National Guard was to open an internal investigation and review why the pilot didn’t show up for his physical. It says so on Bush’s own documents. That never happened.

In 2004 Knight Ridder newspapers interviewed several people who had worked at PULL while Bush was there. One of them, Althia Turner… She said Bush had come to the program because he had been in “trouble,”…

[Bush’s] military file shows that he didn’t return to the National Guard base in Houston until May 1973, four months after he’d supposedly started working for PULL, in January. His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Killian, signed off on a May 2, 1973, report that said Bush hadn’t been seen for a full year: “Lt. Bush has not been observed at this unit during the period of the report. . . . He cleared this base on 15 May 1972.”

[Right-wing blogger Harry] MacDougald’s arguments about the documents turned out to be inaccurate. He acknowledged as much in an interview with me in 2008. And in a speech given that same year, Mike Missal, a lawyer for the firm that CBS hired to investigate its own report, said, “It’s ironic that the blogs were actually wrong. . . . We actually did find typewriters that did have the superscript, did have proportional spacing. And on the fonts, given that these are copies, it’s really hard to say, but there were some typewriters that looked like they could have some similar fonts there.

When the panel report finally came out in January 2005, it did not determine whether the documents were real, but it did blame Mapes and three other CBS producers for failing to properly vet them. CBS fired Mapes and asked the three others to resign. All three threatened to sue and were subsequently paid settlements to stay quiet about the story.

There was a bizarre postscript: the failed nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. One year after the fateful 60 Minutes segment aired, two FBI agents paid a visit to the Manhattan apartment of Larry Littwin, the former Lottery Commission executive director. If he were cleared to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the agents asked, what might he say about Miers’s involvement with GTECH during her time as chair of the commission? According to Jerome Corsi, who had resurfaced, post-Kerry, as one of Miers’s fiercest critics, what Littwin proposed to allege was quite a lot: that more than $160,000 in legal fees Miers collected from Bush in the nineties were a de facto payoff for maintaining the quid pro quo agreement with Ben Barnes and GTECH.

So, congratulations, Harry MacDougald and the right-wing bloggers for producing the Big Lie! And thanks, Washington Post and CBS for spreading it! Through your dishonesty, you are responsible for saving the presidency of a coward who dodged military service in Vietnam, got into trouble with the law, and didn’t fulfill his National Guard requirements. You put a hopelessly unqualified and morally debauched man into the office of the presidency and look what great things he did: debt and decline with no end in sight. None of you have any honor or moral worth.

5 Responses to “In the toljaso what justain’tso column… [Bush AWOL story]”

  1. MEC said

    One more person to congratulate for supporting the Big Lie: I vividly remember seeing John McCain on a Sunday talk show during the 2000 campaign, after Bush had the nomination. In spite of the shameful way the Bush campaign treated McCain, when the host asked McCain about the reports that Bush had bailed out early from his National Guard duty, McCain avowed that Bush had completed all his requirements (and therefore those reports should be dismissed out of hand). And since everybody knows John “Did You Know He Was a POW?” McCain would never dishonor the military or disgrace himself in the interest of political expediency ::koffkoff: he lent credence to the coverup of Bush’s dereliction of duty.

  2. Mark Gisleson said

    Back in the day I typed myself hoarse leaving comments about that fake story. I have very vivid memories of using typewriters that produced type similar to that of the Killian memos, and was a big subscriber to the Texas Guard CYA memo theory (there was so much corruption in how the rich got their kids into the Texas Guard, years later most of the commanders wrote after-the-fact CYA memos, and the Killian memos seem to have been a classic example of that — yes, the dates on the memos were phony, but they were accurate and written by the people who signed them).

    Anyhow, after I posted this to Norwegianity (I’ve done maybe three posts this year so no, not many people saw it) I got flamed by a troll!

    Years after the fact, the hard right is still out there googling Mapes and Rather and leaving BS flames on blogs that write about this story.

    The failure of the media to cover what’s really happening in this country is staggering.

    • Mark Gisleson said

      Oh, and my troll was emphatic about the Killian memos being forged because of the ridiculous “Microsoft match” gif some idiot created that purported to show the memos were done on a PC with a laser printer.

      Of all the crap they dealt out, that was the biggest insult of them all. Anyone who knows fonts could tell at a glance that the examples given were radically different (by typesetting standards). Not. Even. Close.

      Yet years later this guy is still trolling the ‘net, fighting to prove his side’s lies were gospel truth.

      You can’t beat crazy.

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