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Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2004 / 20 Shevat, 5764

Thomas H. Lipscomb

Thomas H. Lipscomb
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Bush did his service — but the press hasn't done its job | President George W. Bush has had a ten days beginning with the Tim Russert "Meet the Press" interview of Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McCauliffe on Feb 1 who charged that Bush was "AWOL" and "never served in the military." Only a week later President Bush asked to appear on the Russert show in a clear attempt to stem the damage from these charges. For over a week they were endlessly repeated and never analyzed by the news media.

But the only basis for these charges was summarized by the London Sunday Telegraph on February 8 "If the Vietnam veteran John Kerry becomes the next President, there will be one man to thank above all others: retired Brigadier General William Turnipseed."

It all started with a report questioning Bush's National Guard service during the Presidential election in 2000 by The Boston Globe. Walter Robinson, the only Pulitzer Prize winning reporter to ever be successfully sued for libel, cited retired Brigadier General William Turnipseed of the Alabama Air National Guard as his source.

But in an interview General Turnipseed stated that Robinson's reporting of their conversation was either distorted or based upon his misunderstanding of how the military functioned at the time of Bush's Guard service. For Bush to be "AWOL" or "Away Without Leave" he had to have been assigned to a unit and under its command. If Bush was not under Turnipseed's command whatever he might have said to Robinson has no more authority than the opinions of any other Alabama National Guardsman that might have served with Bush at the time.

Turnipseed states that Bush was never ordered to report to the Alabama Air National Guard. Turnipseed points out that Bush never transferred from the Texas Air National Guard to the Alabama Air National Guard. He remained in the Texas Air National Guard during his stay in Alabama. This was confirmed by the Texas National Guard. And Turnipseed added that Bush was never under his command or any other officer in the Alabama Air National Guard.

Turnipseed added that Bush was simply informed of the drill schedule of the Alabama Air National Guard as a courtesy so that he could get credit for drills while in Alabama for his service record in the Texas Guard. There was no compulsory attendance and it was customary for visiting members of other state Air National Guard units to attend drills at his unit to accumulate drill credit towards the completion of their six year service requirement in effect at the time. That would reduce the number of makeup drills they would have to attend when they returned to their home unit. This was also confirmed by the Texas National Guard.

Senator John Kerry got in on the act asking on Sunday "was he [Bush] present and active on duty in Alabama at the times he was supposed to be? I don't have the answer to that question… ." But as Turnipseed points out Bush was never "supposed to be" anything in Alabama. His attendance at drills there was as a courtesy, not an order. He could just as easily have attended drills in any of the other 48 states besides Texas and Alabama. And Kerry doesn't have "the answer to that question" because he is taking advantage of a partisan political fantasy that has stayed aloft this long because of the lousy job done by the press in reporting on it.

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Now that the damage has been done, Robinson is beginning to have second thoughts. His latest column on the matter states: "President Bush received credit for attending Air National Guard drills in the fall of 1972 and spring of 1973 — a period when his commanders have said he did not appear for duty at bases in Montgomery, Ala., and Houston — according to two new documents obtained by the Globe." How could Robinson have gotten it so wrong and how can it have taken the press so long to find these "new" documents?

The most charitable explanation for this distortion is the almost total ignorance of members of the press of the realities of military service and its associated record keeping. Yet Turnipseed has been repeatedly called by news organizations since the original Boston Globe reporting four years ago and no one has chosen to correct the errors he has tried to point out or cover his denials.

The most startling aspect of this story is that the press has continually treated this affair as a political debate based upon conflicting opinions rather than a matter of recorded fact. Any question of Bush's service can be quickly answered by looking at the military record.

An Air National Guard officer like George Bush left an extensive paper trail of service. Some records are simply thrown out after a certain period of time. But the vital summary sheet of that record is a simple form called the DD214. Some National Guard units use a similar form called the NGB 22. It covers all the basic questions being asked about Bush today. Every veteran of military service has one. It is required in applications for Veterans' Administration housing loans, any VA health benefits, or even membership in organizations like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Senator John Kerry has one. On it are listed his dates of service, the nature of his discharge, whether honorable or conditional because of infractions of any kind, and the medals and service ribbons he has every reason to be proud of. It was filed away at the time of discharge and is almost impossible to alter.

No one who "deserted" as filmmaker Michael Moore originally charged would have that fact omitted from his DD214. And no one knows that more than General Wesley Clark who spent his life in the military and claimed disingenuously not to have had a chance to look into the charge raised by his supporter Moore just as Senator Kerry professes not to "have the answer" either. For all their pretended confusion about the issue, both Kerry and Clark know from their own experience that no officer who had not met the requirements of his six year service obligation to the satisfaction of his unit commander would have been granted an honorable discharge.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the author of the prize-winning book STOLEN VALOR, B.G. Burkett, looked up hundreds of DD214s. His research showed how fake "Vietnam veterans" claiming to be war heroes and war criminals had been duping members of the press for decades. They had filled hours of television time and hundreds of "news" stories with lies exactly like the ones Vietnam Veterans Against the War spokesman John Kerry recited in his testimony before the Senate back in April 1971. Did a single member of the thousands in the press take the trouble to look up just one DD214 or NGB22 — President Bush's?

Apparently not. And that is the saddest part of the story. Jayson Blair was discharged from The New York Times for making up stories. What about reporters who let their medium be used as a means of doing major damage to the reputation of any public figure without even a minimal attempt to check the record first? Moore and McCauliffe can at least plead the temporary insanity defense offered the Democrats so infuriated by Bush by former psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer. But what excuse does the press have for one of the most embarrassing episodes in American journalism?

After all, there was already an exhaustive look at Bush's National Guard records published and available on the Internet to any reporter who has written on this in the last week from Katharine Seelye at The New York Times to Richard Cohen at The Washington Post… neither of whom seem to have looked it up.. It's title? "The Real Military Record of George W. Bush: Not Heroic, But Not AWOL, Either." It was "the first full chronology… . Its basic conclusions… he did accumulate the days of service required of him for his ultimate honorable discharge."

The article included the evidence of the pasteup pay records just released by the White House. It also included the material in the "two new documents obtained by the Globe" by Robinson from left wing activist Bob Fertig.

It was published four long years ago — just a few weeks before the 2000 Presidential election in George Magazine. Its publisher was that well-known GOP supporter — the late John F. Kennedy, Jr. .

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JWR contributor Thomas H. Lipscomb is the director of the Center for the Digital Future in New York. An editor and publisher for many years, most recently as head of Times Books, he is also the founder of two public companies in digital technology. To comment, click here.

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04/02/02: Filipinos battle for Americans' ransom
02/25/02: Who commands American troops in the Philippines?
02/11/02: Group will 'open fire' on U.S. troops
02/08/02: A Philippine "quagmire"?
11/26/01: Dead men walking…
10/23/01: BLOWBACK!
06/14/01: Abandoning Miss Liberty for Ms. Reno
05/07/01: Saving Lt. Kerrey
02/28/01: Marc Rich and the Clintons' Court Jews
02/08/01: From 'civil rights' to 'snivel rights' --- 1968-2001
11/03/00: Clinton’s gotterdammerung
10/20/00: Gore wins the debate --- Bush wins the electorate
06/20/00: Fire Richardson now
05/01/00: Congressional hearings on Reno’s raid are not the way to go

© 2004, Thomas H. Lipscomb