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Sunday, September 19, 2004

The real story of the "Memogate" Air National Guard scandal 

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Once again in this presidential campaign, the media has managed to obsessively focus on a trivial issue while ignoring the important ones. The so-called "Memogate" controversy - the media debate over the integrity of CBS News and veteran journalist Dan Rather because of questionable documents used to support their story on Bush's service history in the Texas and Alabama Air National Guard - has completely overshadowed any dialogue about the authenticity of the story itself as well as the real bombshell news event of the week: the release of a report by Bush's own intelligence agencies containing more very dour forecasts about the future of Iraq similar to others recently published even as he continues to tout the "success" of the war effort in Iraq. (CBS News | The New York Times | Chatham House)

I've been meaning to post something about this scandal ever since it broke in the wake of the 60 Minutes II broadcast nearly two weeks ago but there have been so many twists and turns since then that my head has been spinning trying to keep up. I'm not even sure what the latest word is since a judge just ordered the release of all papers relating Bush's Guard service (sidenote: didn't the White House claim they had done that already months ago?) while some papers released Friday have not resolved any issues and have only raised more questions. Here's my take though ( |

When questions about the authenticity of the documents initially arose, I immediately dismissed them as partisan defense manoeuvres on the part of the GOP. It was a typical and expected response to the devastating revelations in Rather's piece which seemed to hold the promise of finally blowing the lid off the long-simmering rumors that Bush never fully served out his National Guard duty as he has always claimed. The story had the potential of being the factor that would finally undermine his reelection effort. But as the controversy grew, despite CBS at first standing by their story, they, not Bush, became the focus and were forced to reexamine their claims and eventually concede that their methods for verifying the memos' authenticity were sub-par. (San Jose Mercury News | CBS News | | The Boston Globe)

While the story has now become the incompetence of Rather and CBS News - which does, admittedly, deserve some attention - the bigger story is being ignored. The premises underpinning the original story: that Bush used privilege to get preferential treatment to enter the Texas Air National Guard thereby avoiding a draft call-up for combat duty in Vietnam; that he then deliberately disobeyed direct orders to report for a physical and that senior Guard command pressured his superior officers to gloss over the incident, still seems to hold up. In fact Marian Carr Knox, a sometime secretary to Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, author of the memos in question, recently came out as saying that while she hadn't typed the disputed memos and also thought they were probably forgeries, the information and opinions they contained with respect to her former boss were completely accurate. (The Boston Globe | The New York Times)

On top of that it seems that Bush not only did not honorably serve out his term in the Guard but may have falsely claimed to have served in the Air Force in past election campaigns and also worn medals he did not earn (see picture above). (The Blue Lemur)

As Eleanor Clift deftly argues in an online only Op-Ed "Where's the Outrage?" for Newsweek : "George W. Bush's proven failure to fulfill his National Guard duties was widely reported, but because of CBS's flawed journalism, the GOP was able to shift the story away from Bush's credibility to Dan Rather's."

This should have been yet another issue decisively beneficial to the struggling Kerry campaign but Bush has somehow managed to wiggle out of the bind again. Whether it's pure luck or genius on his part is up for debate> What's clear is that Bush is still benefitting from a media and US public who still inexplicably demonstrate tolerance for his track record of privilege, incompetence and lies even as larger issues, with which Kerry could score major points if he went on the offensive and presented viable alternatives for voter to consider and choose from, continue to be ignored by both candidates and the media. (Newsweek)

Related: somebody in the media agrees with me. Too bad they're in Canada! (The London Free Press)

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