The Peach

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Thursday, September 16, 2004

We're Off Track with TANG

Recent coverage of Bush's military record falls into two basic categories. There are the questions being raised about documents aired by CBS 60 Minutes last week, and the more substantive questions about Bush's military service itself, being raised by the likes of AP, The Boston Globe and U.S. News and World Report. Which is most important? It seems it depends on what's on your menu.

In the shallow world of TV journalism, the he-said-she-said controversy about the authenticity of CBS's documents is clearly the only thing that matters. Are they or aren't they? Selectric or MS Word? Superscripts or no superscripts? Is that proportional spacing or just something that looks like it? And the parade of "experts" weighing in! One says yes, one says no. A former colleague of Bush's commanding officer swears these are the real thing. A former secretary says no, but they do reflect his real thoughts! Others -- often with partisan connections -- insist that CBS's docs are forgeries from beginning to end.

Meanwhile, it seems to The Peach that AP, the Globe, U.S. News and others are focused on something that is more central to the purpose of journalism -- to hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions. They are less obsessed with CBS's document, more concerned with the questions that preceded them and other new evidence that has come to light. E.g., what is the deal with Bush's military service? Why did he stop flying and blow off his physical? What kind of influence did he use to get in, and how did he obtain that honorable discharge? Where are the rest of his military records, since it is clear that the White House has not released all of them? And finally, how does Bush reconcile his various statements over the years with facts -- above and beyond the disputed memos -- that clearly and entirely refute them?

The focus on the Killian memos is a red herring. Take them out of the mix, and the discrepancies between the best-documented records and Bush's public statements remain as glaring as ever. The media should be calling Bush to account. Instead they focus on things that don't matter, to the impoverishment of American political life.

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