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Jewish World Review Sept. 14, 2004 / 28 Elul 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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Bush critics off their guard | The highly dubious CBS story that featured what appear to be bogus documents about President Bush's National Guard service is likely to prove the rule of mudslinging: When a charge doesn't resonate with the public, more mud sticks to the slinger than the slingee.

No sooner did "60 Minutes II" air a story last week about a late Air National Guard officer, Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killian, who complained in memos that he was being pressured to "sugarcoat" Bush's evaluation, than the story began to unravel.

Retired Maj. Gen. Bobby W. Hodges — whom CBS cited as the "trump card" in verifying its story — told the Dallas Morning News that he never saw the memos. After he did see them, Hodges said, "I don't think Killian wrote them — official or unofficial."

CBS announced it still stood by its story. A spokeswoman told reporters, "We believed Gen. Hodges the first time we spoke to him." That is, CBS believed Hodges when he knew less than he knows now.

Killian's family announced it thought the documents were fake. His widow told reporters her husband didn't keep notes. Worse, the Dallas Morning News also reported, while Killian purportedly complained in a 1973 memo cited by CBS that Col. Walter "Buck" Staudt was applying pressure on him to go easy on Bush, Staudt had retired 18 months earlier.

The CBS spokesperson told The Washington Post that Staudt was a "mythic figure" who wielded influence after retirement. Mythic indeed.

Key Democrats were more imaginative. On "Nightline" last week, Chris Lehane, spokesman for Al Gore in 2000, suggested that it was possible that someone near the Bushies planted the memos with CBS.

Even as the CBS charges wilted, Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe wallowed in the National Guard story, telling the Los Angeles Times, "This is about character, this is about credibility, the character and credibility of the president.''

Then, McAuliffe said Bush guru Karl Rove may have been behind the questionable documents.

See the signs of hysteria here?

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McAuliffe was a stalwart Clintonista who had no problem with the former president's failure to serve in either Vietnam or the National Guard. Now, McAuliffe is indignant that Bush might have missed some service before receiving his honorable discharge.

The most desperate part of the anti-Bush mud throwing is that it is supposed to tell people what they already know. Americans already know that Bush was not the Guard's Man of the Year. As retired Maj. Gen. Paul A. Weaver told The Washington Post, Bush was "a young lieutenant who was very aggressive, a good participant in the program for 3 1/2 years" who near the end of his term "was a minimally satisfactory participant."

Not that voters necessarily care. I'll posit that voters care more about who George W. Bush is today than who he was 30 years ago.

Ditto John Kerry, who in Boston at his convention so overplayed his laudable service in Vietnam that his Senate record disappeared as Kerry relived glory days decades old.

What is more, today's Bush stands by his actions on Iraq. Kerry straddles his.

Back to CBS. The documents it aired may be legitimate, but if so, CBS has not made the case. Simply put, the network didn't have the story nailed but ran with it anyway. Its credibility suffers, as it should. CBS looks the worse for it, not Bush. With this story, the mud sticks most to the slingers.

How ironic that has bankrolled Texans for Truth, which aired ads attacking Bush's military record. began in 1998 with an online petition to "Censure President Clinton and Move On to Pressing Issues Facing the Nation,'' to protest wasted time investigating Clinton for "lies about his sex life" so that Washington could pay attention to important issues of the day.

Now, is bankrolling 30-year-old personal attacks on Bush. It's sad when people become what they once hated.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate