Amid renewed allegations that President George W. Bush may have shirked duties and disobeyed orders during his Vietnam-era Texas Air National Guard service and that he was granted a position in the Guard due to his status as a member of a well-connected and politically powerful family, many conservative members of the media continue to insist that the administration has been completely forthcoming in authorizing the release of the president's military records. While Bush asserted on the February 8 edition of NBC's Meet the Press that he would authorize the release of his military records, the sporadic disclosure of the pertinent documents tells a different story.
On February 13, shortly after Bush's appearance on Meet the Press, the White House produced over 300 pages of military documents in an attempt to put the matter to rest. But according to a February 14 Boston Globe article, those documents "add virtually no new information about Bush's stint in the Texas Air National Guard."
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, the lack of conclusive evidence that Bush completed his service prompted the Associated Press to file a lawsuit against the Air Force and the Pentagon. The suit, filed on June 22, was to "compel access to a microfilm copy of the military personnel file of President George W. Bush."
The subsequent disclosure of Bush's records has been erratic. On July 8, the Defense Department's Office of Freedom of Information and Security Review announced that the payroll records the White House had claimed would confirm Bush's service had been inadvertently destroyed. Then, on July 23, the Pentagon announced that those records had been found at the Federal Records Center in Denver but that they "offered no new evidence to dispel charges by Democrats that he [Bush] was absent without leave" [Reuters, 7/24/04]. On September 7, the Associated Press reported that two dozen new records were released as a result of its lawsuit. And in the wake of incriminating memoranda unearthed by CBS News, which were featured on the September 8 edition of CBS's 60 Minutes, the White House released Bush's personal flight logs. According to an article in the September 8 edition of The Washington Post, the newly released documents show that "Bush failed to carry out a direct order from his superior in the Texas Air National Guard in May 1972."
Yet none of this apparent reluctance has stopped conservative members of the media from insisting that Bush has made all of his records readily available to the public:
- Brian Kilmeade: More paperwork given out on President Bush's service in the National Guard, and boy, is that vital today. And it evidently, it pretty much exonerates him. [FOX News Channel, FOX & Friends, 9/8/04]
- Rush Limbaugh: Bush, by the way, has released all his records. He's authorized the release of all of his records. [The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/8/04]
- Tony Snow: And keep in mind, the president has ordered repeatedly, as commander and chief, he said to the Pentagon, "Get out all the papers," as opposed to John Kerry, who still hasn't signed that little form 180. [FOX News Channel, The O'Reilly Factor, 9/8/04]
- Sean Hannity: Well, this president actually signed Form 180, which authorized the Pentagon to release all of his military records, something we've been calling on Kerry to do for a long time. [ABC Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 9/8/04]
- Sean Hannity: The first thing he [Kerry] can do -- this is Form 180 that President Bush authorized, the full release of his records. John Kerry has steadfastly refused to do so. [FOX News Channel, Hannity & Colmes, 9/8/04]
Not even the White House supported Hannity's repeated claim that President Bush "actually signed Form 180, which authorized the Pentagon to release all of his military records." As The Washington Times reported on August 18:
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan said he couldn't say specifically whether Mr. Bush signed Standard Form 180, but the president did request and release his own military records in February. "I don't believe he signed any form, but he did authorize making his military records available publicly," Mr. McClellan said. "We have released all the records, and reporters were allowed to look at his medical records as well."