No matter how many times they try to spin this story in Bush's favor (and right-wingers have been trying for five years now), the facts just don't budge. And the facts are this: After receiving $1 million worth of free government flight training as member of Texas Air National Guard, pilot George Bush walked away from his Guard duty in April 1972.
From 1972 and until he was discharged nearly two years later, Bush essentially disappeared. He went unsupervised. He refused to take a mandatory physical, he failed to show up for mandatory training sessions, and he tried to transfer to a unit in Alabama that had not airplanes.
Those are the facts.
But five years later, super-sleuth Bernard Goldberg claims he's got big news (and more proof of CBS's liberal media bias) because he went back and read a four-year-old report about Memogate, the "independent" report put together by CBS. (Yes, the same "independent report, that was overseen by a partisan GOP attorney and the same "independent' panel on which CBS considered including Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh.) In that report, it states that, according to some of Bush's old National Guard buddies, he at one point volunteered to go to Vietnam.
That's Goldberg's "startling" news. And my reaction is, so what?
First, this is very, very old news. Goldberg claims he couldn't find hardly any media mentions from 2004 about Bush allegedly volunteering to go to Vietnam. Funny, it took me four seconds to find this National Review column from Feb. 19, 2004:
In fact, he tried to volunteer for Vietnam.
Of the four pilots I spoke to who flew with Bush in the Texas days, Fred Bradley knew him best. They had met before going off to the year-long ordeal of pilot school, and entered the 111th at about the same time. Both were junior lieutenants without a lot of flying experience. But the inexperience didn't prevent Bush — along with Bradley — from going to their squadron leaders to see if they could get into a program called "Palace Alert." "There were four of us lieutenants at the time, and we were all fairly close. Two of them had more flight time than the president and me, said Bradley." All four volunteered for Vietnam.
Truth is, this GOP talking point was everywhere in 2004, but apparently Goldberg missed it.
But the reason nobody really cared that Bush allegedly volunteered for Vietnam while he was in pilot training was that it had nothing to do with the burning controversy of how Bush walked away from his Guard duty; how he abandoned his responsibilities during his last two years of service. Goldberg's scoop is completely irrelevant to that debate, and does nothing to change the facts, which remain quite damning for Bush and his followers.
Yet for some unknown reason Goldberg, as well as lots of right-wing bloggers, are now treating this old news rehash as the smoking gun. But the "revelation," which has been sitting in a public report since 2005, is utterly meaningless.
As I reported back in 2004, everybody agreed that while Bush was training to be a pilot (i.e. while he was allegedly volunteering for Vietnam) he received high marks, and he, y'know, showed up for duty. Nobody questioned his actions and performance from 1968 to 1972. The controversy surrounds the fact that Bush clearly made the decision in April, 1972, with 770 days left of required duty, that he was done fulfilling his military obligation. And how, despite the promise he made to his country when he entered the Guard's training program that he'd serve as a pilot until 1974, Bush just packed up and left.
He didn't show up for mandatory weekend training. He didn't show up for a mandatory physical and he became invisible for months at a time, completely unsupervised. (Try doing that in the military. It aint easy.)
Not surprisingly though, Goldberg never tries to answer these question. Instead he just plays dumb and pretends the National Guard story was about how Bush got into the Guard; how he avoided duty. But that was never the main thrust. The story was how Bush got out of the Guard. How he decided no rules applied to him and it was okay from him to abandon his service after the government trained him to fly.
That's the real story. Unfortunately, Goldberg has nothing insightful to say about that. But he did uncover a story that was widely reported five years ago. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.
UPDATED: The New York Observer's Felix Gillette can't help making fun of Goldberg and his silly 'scoop.'
UPDATED: Gillette's report is especially embarrassing for Goldberg becuase in his report, aside from claiming nobody ever wrote about Bush (allegedly) volunteering for Vietnam, he stressed that CBS producer Mary Mapes sat on the information. That the liberal media wouldn't acknowledge Bush (allegedly) try to go to Vietnam
In her 2005 book Truth and Duty, Ms. Mapes writes explicitly about the "Bush volunteered," angle. Specifically, on page 65, she writes about a 1999 interview she conducted with Maurice Udell, who was George W. Bush's trainer in the 147th Fighter Group in Houston in the late 1960s.