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FLASHBACK: When the New York Times ignored gaping holes in candidate Bush's war record

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It wasn't until the eve of the election that the Times set aside an entire news article to examine some of the crucial questions raised by the Globe. The Times' conclusion in November 2000? See for yourself [emphasis added]:

Two Democratic senators today called on Gov. George W. Bush to release his full military record to resolve doubts raised by a newspaper about whether he reported for required drills when he was in the Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973.

But a review of records by The New York Times indicated that some of those concerns may be unfounded. Documents reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Bush served in at least 9 of the 17 months in question.

That's right, half a year after the Globe published its scoop, the Times finally addressed the issue, announcing in the second paragraph that some questions about Bush's Guard service were "unfounded." ("The Times got spun," was how the Globe's Walter Robinson later described the Times' Guard reporting.)

Indeed, by the time Election Day rolled around, the Times had failed to report that in 1972, the Texas Air National Guard grounded Bush for failing to take a required physical exam and that neither Bush nor his aides could point to a single person who saw Bush -- the hard-to-miss son of a congressman and U.S. ambassador -- perform his active duty requirements during the final 18 months of his service. (It would be 45 months after the first Boston Globe report -- February 2004 -- before the Times finally spelled out to readers with any kind of specificity the facts regarding Bush's skipped physical exam.)

Bottom line: In 2000, candidate Bush's military record during the Vietnam War was very much in doubt, as was Bush's repeated explanation as to why, after receiving $1 million worth of taxpayer-funded flight instruction, he had essentially vanished from the Guard and failed to fly, show up for monthly drills, or even take a mandatory physical. Yet back in 2000,The New York Times didn't seem to care much about that military-record story. And the Times newsroom seemed to make a decision not to cover the controversy -- a controversy that, given the historically close nature of the 2000 race, could have tipped the balance of the vote.

So, yes, given that stark background, it's tough to make sense of the Times' recent dedication to pursuing the Blumenthal story.

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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for Salon.com, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a (more...)
 

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