"Media Matters," week ending September 17; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

This week's Media Matters focuses on coverage of George W. Bush's service (or lack thereof) in the National Guard. While recent reports by the Associated Press, The Boston Globe, and U.S. News & World Report provide exhaustive and damning new detail to go along with what we already knew about Bush's failure to take a required physical -- which led to him being grounded from flying -- and his failure to meet his commitments, those reports have gone largely ignored.

Week ending September 17, 2004
www.mediamatters.org
action@mediamatters.org

CNN's skewed coverage: Introduction

CNN's skewed coverage, Part One: Only 5 PERCENT of reporting in Inside Politics' Tuesday and Wednesday packages about "Bush's National Guard Service" actually discussed the allegations or evidence against Bush

CNN's skewed coverage, Part Two: Inside Politics packages included quotes or paraphrases of eleven Republican sources; only four Democrats

CNN's skewed coverage, Part Three: Anatomy of an unbalanced segment

Bill O'Reilly Update: One month after Media Matters predicted O'Reilly would compare MMFA to Goebbels, he did just that

CNN's skewed coverage: Introduction

This week's Media Matters focuses on coverage of George W. Bush's service (or lack thereof) in the National Guard. While recent reports by the Associated Press, The Boston Globe, and U.S. News & World Report provide exhaustive and damning new detail to go along with what we already knew about Bush's failure to take a required physical -- which led to him being grounded from flying -- and his failure to meet his commitments, those reports have gone largely ignored.

Instead, media reports ostensibly about Bush's Guard record focus on CBS News and four documents purportedly written by Bush's commanding officer, Jerry Killian. For a week, questions about the font faces and curlicues in the documents have dominated coverage of Bush's Guard record -- despite the fact that even if the documents are fake, the case against Bush remains based on solid and uncontested evidence and documentation.

While focusing on the CBS documents rather than Bush's record, the media cuts Bush one additional break: while revelations (or allegations) challenging the documents receive extensive coverage, scant notice has been paid to the fact that three of Killian's colleagues -- his superior officer, his secretary, and another officer -- have said that whether or not the documents are real, they accurately reflect Killian's thoughts.

The following sections focus on coverage of Bush's Guard record on CNN's Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics.

CNN's skewed coverage, Part One: Only 5 PERCENT of reporting in Inside Politics' Tuesday and Wednesday packages about "Bush's National Guard Service" actually discussed the allegations or evidence against Bush

The Inside Politics segments on the Bush Guard controversy on September 14 and September 15 totaled roughly 2,500 words. Below is every single statement contained in those two reports that could even conceivably be considered criticism of Bush, explanation of the allegations against him, or details of the evidence against him:

  • JUDY WOODRUFF (Inside Politics host): Today, some Bush opponents are pressing their charge that the president has misled Americans about his National Guard service, a charge that the Bush camp strongly denies. The Democratic National Committee unveiled a two-minute video challenging the president to answer questions about whether he received special treatment and fulfilled his obligations. [9/14]

  • WOODRUFF: The so-called Texans For Truth are offering a $50,000 reward to anyone who can prove that George W. Bush fulfilled his service requirements in the Alabama Guard. [9/14]

  • JEANNE MESERVE (CNN correspondent): But she says they do accurately reflect Killian's attitudes at the time [9/15]

  • JOE JOHNS (CNN congressional correspondent): Democrats, of course, are saying this is not the great issue Republicans think it is. [Johns had previously paraphrased a Republican strategist saying the topic helps Republicans.] They say it's keeping the Bush Guard story alive, and keeping the media focused on his National Guard service. [9/15]

  • received special treatment?* [9/15]

    * taken directly from transcript available on CNN.com; the speaker and full quote are not available on the transcript.

That's it: 127 words out of 2,500 - just 5 percent - actually described or discussed what the allegations against Bush are in any way, or mentioned the evidence supporting them, or suggested the story is bad for Bush.

CNN's skewed coverage, Part Two: Inside Politics packages included quotes or paraphrases of eleven Republican sources; only four Democrats

The following partisan sources were quoted or paraphrased in the two Inside Politics segments in question (unnamed sources are listed below the way CNN described them):

Republicans:

[Bush] aides

senior administration official

Laura Bush*

Bush officials

Bush political aides

Bush aides

Republican National Committee

Scott McClellan* (White House press secretary)

Roy Blunt* (House GOP whip)

Republicans in the Senate

Top Republican strategist

Democrats:

Some Bush opponents

Terry McAuliffe* (Democratic National Committee chairman)

Texans For Truth

Democrats

* indicates that a clip of the speaker was shown; it should be noted that the McAuliffe clip showed him defending Democratic criticism of Bush rather than directly criticizing Bush.

CNN's skewed coverage, Part Three: Anatomy of an unbalanced segment

On September 15, Inside Politics ran a roughly 1,800-word package introduced by host Judy Woodruff announcing "Some new developments today in the controversy over President Bush's National Guard service." Most of the package, however, was about the controversy around the documents CBS released, and nearly the entire package consisted of either discussion of the CBS documents, defense of Bush, or attacks on Democrats. Not a single word out of 1,800 explained what, exactly, Bush is accused of, or what the evidence for it is. The significant elements of the Inside Politics package were, in order:

  1. A clip of CBS anchor Bob Schieffer saying he doesn't know how CBS will convince viewers that the CBS documents are real is shown.

  2. CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve said three experts CBS consulted now say they raised questions about the documents.

  3. Meserve paraphrased document examiner Linda James, questioning the CBS documents.

  4. A clip of James saying she cautioned CBS about the documents.

  5. Meserve quoted document examiner Emily Will, saying she warned CBS about the documents.

  6. Meserve paraphrased a CBS statement saying Will & James deferred to another expert.

  7. Meserve paraphrased Will & James denying that they deferred to anyone.

  8. Meserve paraphrased CBS reporting that document examiner Marcel Matley thought the documents were real.

  9. Meserve quoted Matley denying that he thought the documents were real.

  10. Meserve paraphrased unnamed "experts" expressing doubt about the CBS documents.

  11. Meserve paraphrased Killian's secretary, Marian Carr Knox, saying the documents are fake.

  12. Meserve paraphrased Knox saying that the documents did, however, reflect Killian's attitudes.

  13. A video clip showed White House press secretary Scott McClellan attacking Kerry and Democrats.

  14. CNN congressional correspondent Joe Johns quoted a letter from Republican Congressman Roy Blunt attacking CBS.

  15. A 90-word clip of Blunt attacking CBS is shown.

  16. Johns paraphrased a "Republican strategist" with whom he spoke; according to Johns, the strategist said the story is great for the GOP, "almost like a dream," and keeps the issue of "liberal bias in media alive."

  17. Johns paraphrased "Democrats" as saying "this is not the great issue Republicans think it is" and that it is "keeping the Bush Guard story alive."

  18. CNN reporter John King said his impression of this week's National Guard convention is that it is a "pro-Bush group."

  19. A retired guardsman is shown on camera; he says he supports Bush "completely."

  20. A guardsman is shown on camera saying he doesn't care about 30 years ago, and that Bush "absolutely supports what we're trying to do."

  21. Another guardsman is shown on camera saying, "You got to give them credit for both serving."

Not only did the package focus overwhelmingly on criticism of CBS, defense of Bush, and attacks on Republicans, it also quoted and paraphrased three Republicans -- McClellan, Blunt (both of whom were shown on camera) and an unnamed strategist - while only once briefly paraphrasing "Democrats."

Even more astounding: not a single word out of the 1,800 mentioned what the allegations against Bush are or detailed the evidence for them.

Not a single word.

Meserve told viewers that Killian's secretary said the CBS documents "accurately reflect Killian's attitudes" - but didn't bother to tell viewers what those "attitudes" were: that Bush disobeyed a direct order to take a physical and benefited from political pressure to sugarcoat his reviews.

Woodruff introduced a clip of McClellan calling the charges "recycled attacks," without bothering to tell viewers that there is new information: new reports by The Boston Globe and U.S. News & World Report that further establish that Bush didn't fulfill his commitments and has lied about it; and three colleagues of Killian's who say the memos -- in which Killian allegedly wrote of pressure on him to give Bush undeserved positive ratings -- accurately reflect his thoughts.

CNN viewers heard none of these things; they wouldn't even know, watching CNN's Inside Politics, what the allegations against Bush are, much less what the evidence is.

Eighteen-hundred words about "new developments today in the controversy over President Bush's National Guard service" and not a single word about what that controversy is or what the evidence shows.

CNN didn't just drop the ball one day; their overall coverage of the Bush National Guard story has been one-sided. On the September 14 Inside Politics, for example, Woodruff opened a segment by saying "Mr. Bush has been hit anew with questions about his Vietnam-era service in the Guard."

But what questions was Bush "hit anew" with? CNN didn't tell its viewers; instead, as Media Matters for America noted this week:

[T]he segment made only passing mention of the allegations against Bush -- and it made no mention at all of the substantial and uncontested evidence that Bush didn't show up for duty when he was supposed to, that he skipped a required physical for as-yet-unexplained reasons, that he was grounded from flying, and that he mysteriously received an honorable discharge anyway.

Show host Judy Woodruff and CNN White House correspondent Dana Bash focused almost exclusively on the Bush team's defense and on controversial documents released by CBS that are not the primary evidence against him; the specific criticisms of -- and evidence against -- Bush have been ignored. CNN aired a clip of Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Terry McAuliffe speaking about the topic, but the clip CNN chose to air showed McAuliffe defending the DNC's decision to criticize Bush, rather than showing him actually criticizing Bush. Woodruff then followed the McAuliffe clip by reading a baseless Republican National Committee allegation -- that Democrats gave the memos to CBS -- without indicating that there is no evidence for the charge.

CNN won't tell you the facts about Bush's Guard record, so we will

Media Matters for America this week detailed several uncontested facts about Bush's National Guard record that the media is ignoring:

Bush didn't fulfill the "military service obligation" he signed: An article in the September 20 edition of U.S. News & World Report reported: "Because Bush signed a six-year 'military service obligation,' he was required to attend at least 44 inactive-duty training drills each fiscal year beginning July 1. But Bush's own records show that he fell short of that requirement, attending only 36 drills in the 1972-73 period, and only 12 in the 1973-74 period."

Even White House methodology shows Bush didn't attend enough drills to meet requirements: The U.S. News article continued: "Moreover, White House officials say, Bush should be judged on whether he attended enough drills to count toward retirement. ... Yet, even using their method, which some military experts say is incorrect, U.S. News's analysis shows that Bush once again fell short. "

Bush didn't comply with time limits on making up missed drills: The U.S. News article reported: "[D]uring the final two years of his obligation, Bush did not comply with Air Force regulations that impose a time limit on making up missed drills."

Bush never made up five months of missed drills: According to the U.S. News article, Bush "apparently never made up five months of drills he missed in 1972, contrary to assertions by the administration. White House officials did not respond to the analysis last week but emphasized that Bush had 'served honorably.'"

Bush twice signed documents pledging to meet requirements; violated both oaths: According to a September 8 article in The Boston Globe: "Bush fell well short of meeting his military obligation, a Globe reexamination of the records shows: Twice during his Guard service -- first when he joined in May 1968, and again before he transferred out of his unit in mid-1973 to attend Harvard Business School -- Bush signed documents pledging to meet training commitments or face a punitive call-up to active duty. He didn't meet the commitments, or face the punishment, the records show. The 1973 document has been overlooked in news media accounts. The 1968 document has received scant notice."

Bush skipped a required physical, and was grounded from flying: The Globe article continued: "While Bush was in Alabama, he was removed from flight status for failing to take his annual flight physical in July 1972. On May 1, 1973, Bush's superior officers wrote that they could not complete his annual performance review because he had not been observed at the Houston base during the prior 12 months."

Congressman's son George W. Bush mysteriously escaped punishment: The Globe article reported: "The reexamination of Bush's records by the Globe, along with interviews with military specialists who have reviewed regulations from that era, show that Bush's attendance at required training drills was so irregular that his superiors could have disciplined him or ordered him to active duty in 1972, 1973, or 1974. But they did neither. In fact, Bush's unit certified in late 1973 that his service had been 'satisfactory' -- just four months after Bush's commanding officer wrote that Bush had not been seen at his unit for the previous 12 months."

Former Texas speaker of the House swore under oath that he helped Bush get into the Guard: According to The Globe: "Ben Barnes, who was speaker of the Texas House of Representatives in 1968, said in a deposition in 2000 that he placed a call to get young Bush a coveted slot in the Guard at the request of a Bush family friend."

In addition, the Associated Press reported on September 7:

Bush's 2000 campaign suggested the future president skipped his medical exam in part because the F-102A was nearly obsolete. Records show Bush's Texas unit flew the F-102A until 1974 and used the jets as part of an air defense drill during 1972.

A six-month historical record of his 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, also turned over to the AP on Tuesday, shows some of the training Bush missed with his colleagues during that time.

Significantly, it showed the unit joined a "24-hour active alert mission to safeguard against surprise attack" in the southern United State beginning on Oct. 6, 1972, a time when Bush did not report for duty, according to his pay records.

Two significant facts in that AP report have gone completely unreported by the rest of the media: (1) Bush's longtime excuse for skipping his physical (which was never a valid excuse to begin with) turns out to be a lie; and (2) Bush didn't show up for duty when his unit went to a "active alert mission to safeguard against surprise attack." Bush didn't just skip routine weekend drills; he skipped an active alert mission.

Salon.com reported on September 16:

A newly surfaced document from President [George W.] Bush's military file, apparently withheld by the White House when it released his records in February, offers more proof that Bush failed to fulfill his military obligations while serving with the Texas Air National Guard from 1968 to 1973.

Upon joining the Guard, Bush agreed in writing to maintain satisfactory participation with his Guard unit for six years, until May 1974. In exchange for his service, he would be freed from active-duty status and from serving in Vietnam. That commitment has been made public. At the same time, however, Bush, who was accepted for Guard pilot training, signed an additional document in which he acknowledged the large financial investment the Guard was making in him. He agreed to serve for five years with his parent unit after he earned his wings, or completed his "undergraduate pilot training." That document has just now come to light.

[...]

It's clear, based on Bush's own records, that he failed to live up to the "Agreement" he signed to serve as a pilot, with his parent Guard unit, for five years after completing pilot training.

While the media obsesses over the font face and curlicues in the memos CBS says were written by Jerry Killian, little attention is given to the fact that three of Killian's colleagues -- his superior officer, his secretary, and another officer -- all say the CBS memos, which indicate that Bush disobeyed a direct order to take his physical and that Killian was pressured to sugarcoat his evaluations of Bush, accurately reflect Killian's thoughts.

Finally, as MMFA noted this week, evidence indicating that Bush has misrepresented his record in the Guard has largely been ignored. Among other lies, Bush has falsely said he "did his duty" in the National Guard and falsely claimed in his autobiography that he flew planes for "several years" after learning to fly the F-102.

Bill O'Reilly Update: One month after Media Matters predicted O'Reilly would compare MMFA to Goebbels, he did just that

In the August 13 edition of Media Matters, we wrote:

In a debate with Paul Krugman aired on the August 7 edition of CNBC's Tim Russert, O'Reilly compared Media Matters for America to the Ku Klux Klan and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Two days earlier, O'Reilly had compared MMFA to Mao Zedong. O'Reilly seems to be going to great lengths to avoid comparing us to Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels, one of his favorite insults. Let's see how long he can hold out. [emphasis added]

This week, we got the answer: exactly one month. On the September 14 broadcast of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, he finally broke down and made a Nazi comparison. After a caller made reference to MMFA's David Brock, O'Reilly dismissed Brock: "All right. That's just Joseph Goebbels Nazi stuff."

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