DUI? AWOL? BFD!
The ConWeb spins furiously to protect the faithful from the truth about their candidate.
By Terry Krepel
The surprising thing is not that some long-ago peccadillo would come back to haunt George W. Bush in the final days of the presidential race. After all, questions about one particular issue, Bush's spotty attendance record while in the Texas Air National Guard, had been rumbling quietly for months, gaining added legitimacy with Iowa farmer Marty Heldt's research of Bush's military records. Around Halloween, this issue was gaining steam and set to turn into something the Bush campaign could no longer ignore.
But it was pushed to the side when the media pounced on the revelation that Bush had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol in 1976. It became so big that even the ConWeb, careful not to upset the faithful by running anything negative about Bush, could not ignore it.
Their first act, of course, was to go into full kill-the-messenger mode.
No opportunity was missed to tell readers that it was Maine lawyer Democratic National Convention delegate Tom Connolly who tipped off the Maine TV reporter who broke the story -- even though the first national reporting of the story occurred on the conservative-friendly Fox News Channel (which the Media Research Center quietly admits). The MRC goes on to call the story "obviously ... a late-campaign Democratic smear plot" and the story "legally irrelevant" and bashes the networks for noting that a Democrat was behind the release of the conviction.
Of course, the ConWeb doesn't offer the equivalent by noting that many of the alleged scandals of the Clintons and Al Gore originated with political enemies, and MRC's Brent Bozell has been telling lies about Gore for months.
MRC surrogate Conservative News Service delves deeper into Connolly-bashing, reporting that he had dared to defend an accused drunk driver in court. Another story glosses over the conviction, quoting one Republican official as saying the offense was "nothing more than a traffic violation" and noting that Bush's blood alcohol level at the time of the arrest "was a level 99.9 percent of drinkers in America had as their blood alcohol level when they were stopped."
CNS also pulls a journalistic no-no in its coverage. One of its stories is the response of Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes to the charges, insisting that Bush had not denied it when was asked in 1996 if he had ever been arrested for drunken driving, insisting that Bush's response of "I do not have a perfect record as a youth" to the question meant that the reporter who asked "was left with the accurate impression that the governor had been involved in a punishment involving alcohol."
This is what's called in the business a one-source story. A one-source story is stenography, not journalism; fairness dictates that the other side of the story be reported as well. Had CNS bothered to search for a response, they would have found Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, who says that in a 1998 interview, Bush did indeed deny having ever been arrested after 1968 but may have been about to correct himself when Hughes abruptly ended the interview.
Even WorldNetDaily was roused from its slumber of outside links, reporting an everybody-does-it story featuring, of all people, a spokeswoman for the Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who says that Bush's DUI conviction should be viewed in the context of the era in which it occured, when drinking and driving lacked the stigma it carries today. The spokeswoman's criticism of how Bush handled the conviction, however, gets shoved farther down in the story.
And then there's NewsMax. Sure, the Gore-bashing and Connolly-bashing and excuse-making are there. There is also the most, um, original old-news excuse story you have ever seen. It reprints a purported e-mail about a report on Bush that allegedly details "charges of plagiarism, fraternity hazing, public drunkenness, drunken driving, group sex, cocaine and heroin use, and a woman who claims she and a friend purchased some "bad shit" from Bush, with her friend almost dying as a result. ...
"The dossier was perhaps best summed up by one alleged sexual partner, a Brazilian woman, who said of her sex with Bush: "I could've of done it in my sleep. In fact, I may have." On the other hand, there is nothing in the report that recommends Bush for the presidency. Or for any other job, for that matter."
Is this NewsMax's idea of a joke? If so, it shows a heretofore hidden willingness to make fun of itself; the story notes that there was a "similar investigation apparently ordered by Hillary Clinton for the 1992 campaign (The investigator in that case ended up dead in a gang style slaying)."
And, despite its appearance by now in the New York Times and Washington Post, not a word from the ConWeb yet about Bush's National Guard service.
UPDATE: While The ConWeb Slept
The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby tells us what to look for:
We heard all about the doggy pills. We heard all about that union lullaby. We heard all about the kid with the desk. We heard how long Westmoreland spoke.
And you didn't hear about any of it from the ConWeb, if only because on the final weekend of a closely-fought presidential election, they took Saturday off. CNS' "News This Hour" showed the same news items for at least 21 hours. MRC and NewsMax lay dormant.
WorldNetDaily, however, came up with their own smear job, asserting that the Maine judge who passed Bush's DUI conviction onto Tom Connally did so anonymously in order to keep the revelation from going public that as a teen-ager he and a friend streaked naked through a Catholic girls' school.
Meanwhile, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal asserts that the motives of people who bring forward negative information about candidates should be carefully examined. There's no indication Fund wants this standard to apply retroactively to Bill Clinton.
Some people, though, don't want to hear about it at all, from anybody. On Lucianne.com, the Free Republic-like chat board operated by would-be Linda Tripp literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, is the notice: "In the next few days of the Election Day run-up be prepared to see the occasional mindless posting from terrified DemocRATS. We will try to remove those that get on the board as soon as possible. In the meantime, scroll on by. HELP IS ON THE WAY." Translated: Threads featuring bad news about Bush will not be allowed to exist here.
But lookee here! Online Journal is reporting that a former officer in the Texas National Guard says an aide to George W. Bush scrubbed Bush's military records to get rid of the disparities between those files and an account of Bush's military service in his official biography.
And Sen. Bob Kerrey, who jumped on the AWOL bandwagon a few days ago with appearances on pundit shows and a press conference with fellow wounded veteran Sen. Daniel Inouye, will be on NBC's "Meet The Press" Sunday morning.
Bush is just about to the point where he can no longer ignore the allegations.
I'm surprised. I thought the ConWeb would be working full-time driving stakes through the heart of any Bush controversy. They weren't going to give up that weekend off, I guess.
WorldNetDaily stayed in kill-the-messenger mode by demonstrating that the sister of Gore's campaign press secretary works for a law firm in Portland, Maine. How does that relate to Bush's DUI? Aside from both events occuring in the state of Maine, nothing.
NewsMax not only killed the messenger but will be pleading insanity; they dredged up a radio-talk-show transcript of some guy who accuses Gore of taking part in a sex-drugs-and-guns bacchanalia in 1971.
Both ignored Sen. Bob Kerrey's attack on Bush's National Guard record on "Meet the Press," but NewsMax, in the same story as the above Gore incident, reprints the following quote from "Gore backer former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey":
"[Bush] didn't want to tell us the truth. He said, 'I didn't want to tell you the truth because I was concerned about my daughters.' Governor, you remind me of that old song of Willie Nelson's -- 'Who you gonna believe, you gonna believe me or your lyin' eyes?' Governor, we're gonna believe our eyes. You're covering your rear end. You're protecting yourself."
NewsMax calls this "particularly ugly rhetoric." And speaking of "particularly ugly," NewsMax racks up two errors in the statement "Gore backer former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey." First, Kerrey is still a senator; he is leaving the Senate at the end of this term. Second, Kerrey backed Bill Bradley in the primaries.
A couple of interesting tidbits from elsewhere: The Los Angeles Times notes the following: " ... in an indication of how the controversy may have narrowed Bush's options, at least Friday, he omitted his standard criticisms about Gore's past exaggerations. His running mate, Dick Cheney, twice Friday omitted his standard line about Bush returning "honor and integrity" to the White House. Cheney did use the phrase in a third speech, after reporters asked campaign officials about the omission."
And earlier this year, Mothers Against Drunk Driving asked Gore and Bush six questions regarding issues such as lower blood-alcohol limits and regulation of the liquor industry. Gore answered all six. Bush answered "Yes" to a victim's rights constitutional amendment; he did not respond to the other five.
UPDATE: Excuses, Excuses
Quick, somebody alert Brent Bozell: Christopher Ruddy doesn't think the media is biased!
Well, not as biased as he has led us to believe, anyway. In a Sunday NewsMax commentary about the election, Ruddy initially contends that Gore "had a cakewalk from the rabidly liberal press." But in the very next line, he corrects himself with the subhead "In truth, the press is not so bad this time."
He continues: "In fact, I have been stunned by how well-behaved the major press has been this election season. For example, the press has not done the usual mudslinging at Bush. Even the DUI thing was rejected by the liberal media pundits. Gore has not been treated as kindly by the media as, say, Bill Clinton and Hillary have."
However, he slips back into media-bashing mode by suggesting that the media want Bush to win so they have someone they can beat up on. "It was recently pointed out to me that we only have a truly divided government with a Republican administration in power. Only then does the press vigorously question and challenge government policies and abuses."
But hey, even Bozell's own Media Research Center was having a hard time trying to find something bad to say about the media. Saturday's CyberAlert (not posted on the MRC front page until today) covers media reaction to the Bush DUI incident, and couldn't come up with a single snippy comment.
Monday morning's CyberAlert, which covers the Sunday morning talk shows, are a different story. The only newsworthy thing it could find about "Meet The Press" was host Tim Russert's proposal of a Bob Kerrey-John McCain ticket for 2004. No mention of Kerrey's allegations on that show about Bush's missing National Guard record.
And no mention at all about a Time magazine article about a BBC documentary about Republican oppostion research on Gore during the campaign:
In the film we see RNC glee as the Associated Press accepts their oppo research on a Gore misstatement during the first presidential debate. During their months of filming BBC producers also observed producers for NBC's Tim Russert, among others, calling to enquire if the team had any new material. This was apparently normal practice.
On the other hand, CNS focuses its journalistic energy on the alleged Gore sex-guns-and-drugs episode NewsMax mentioned earlier. In a long story focusing on the the allegations made by Ray Hudson, CNS Managing Editor David Thibault notes: "Hudson's story lacks corroboration, as did earlier news reports of marijuana use by Gore during his tenure in Congress . ... But the detail of Hudson's recollections and his reluctance to tell the tale, with little to gain and much to lose, lend credence to his account."
Translation: We have no way of proving what he says, but he seems like a nice guy, so it must be true.
And the story of Bush's National Guard service, which does have corroboration, continues ignored.
Meanwhile, the ConWeb is laying the groundwork for the excuse they'll use if Gore wins: voter fraud. WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah devotes his Monday column to noting that the daughter of the non-citizen live-in housekeeper of a friend received a get-out-the-vote letter from the Democrats. Ruddy also brings up voter fraud in his column.
Look for ConWeb gloating if Bush wins and ConWeb whining if Bush loses.
It's clear that the ConWeb war against Gore will keep going until the last possible minute, all the better to keep in line troops who may have been wavering because of Bush's handling of the DUI incident and questions over his military service. Not that they ever gave the issues coverage, of course.
WorldNetDaily unearths a couple new cowpies: an allegation that Gore obstructed an investigation into theft from military bases, and an endorsement of sorts of Gore from the Communist Party USA. They also insist that California is in a "frenzy" over a get-out-the-vote effort that Joseph Farah thinks constitutes voter fraud. And the WorldNetDaily "Commentary" page lists no fewer than nine anti-Gore/pro-Bush columnists trying to get their last licks in.
NewsMax has again confused radio talk show hosts with actual reporters. (Not surprising, since NewsMax also confuses press releases for actual news.) Some talk show host is alleging that the speeding ticket Gore has admitted to is much more than that. "Gore was not just ticketed for speeding, he was arrested. And then he was arrested a second time for reckless driving" and fleeing from the police, the story states.
Seems to me that given Gore's reputation as a stiff, a little reckless driving in his past would help him at this point.
The MRC, meanwhile, stays focused on the hard issues to work up their indignation: like Barbra Streisand's appearance on Rosie O'Donnell's show and promoting the works of one of its writers on another conservative site.
But what's this at CNS? A story actually criticizing Bush for something? It sure is: "A coalition of religious leaders and religious liberty advocates expressed its "disappointment" Monday after the campaign of Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush refused to respond to the group's candidate questionnaire on international religious freedom."
CNS is certainly to be congratulated on such hard-hitting, deep-digging, damn-the-consequences investigative reporting on an issue that could turn the election for those voters with whom the ability of the candidate to answer questionnaires is the deciding. Should we tell them that ConWebWatch has already broken this story?
Naaah; they're probably already facing disciplinary action from boss Brent Bozell for daring to venture any criticism of Bush in the first place.