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Saturday, September 04, 2004

WaPo's Dobbs stumbles farther off the track

Michael Dobbs is really disappointing me.  Saturday's WaPo contains his article entitled "Democrat Says He Helped Bush Into Guard to Score Points," which contains absolutely no news (boldface mine):

A former senior politician from Texas has told close friends that he recommended George W. Bush for a pilot's slot in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War because he was eager to "collect chits" from an influential political family.

The reported comments by former Texas lieutenant governor Ben Barnes add fuel to a long-running controversy over how Bush got a slot in an outfit known as the "Champagne Unit" because it included so many sons of prominent Texans. Friends said that Barnes had recorded an interview for the CBS program "60 Minutes" that will address the question of whether Bush pulled strings to evade being sent to Vietnam.

Barnes, a longtime Democrat who works as a lobbyist and political consultant in Austin, has said that he is now "very ashamed" of helping "a lot of people who had family names of importance get in the National Guard." He made the statement during a meeting with John F. Kerry supporters in Austin on May 27, a video of which is now circulating on the Internet.

Friends said Barnes will expand on the remarks in his interview with "60 Minutes" while taking care not to contradict sworn testimony from 1999, in which he said that no member of the Bush family had directly asked him for help. Barnes was unavailable for comment yesterday....

Barnes is now telling friends that he understood that [Houston businessman Sidney] Adger was making his request on behalf of the Bush family, even though Barnes has no memory of Adger explicitly saying he was.  Barnes based his understanding on the knowledge that Adger was extremely close to the Bush family and Barnes's feeling that Adger would not have acted without the family's consent.

News flash:  Big-time Texas favor-trader did an unsought favor for the Bush family!  Stop the presses!  WaPo has second-hand information that Ben Barnes is about to give a "60 Minutes" interview in which he says the same thing he said in 1999, only now he's got ... a guess based on a "feeling"!  Barnes says he was willing, even eager, to pull strings without the presumed beneficiaries having requested or even known about it — yet his guess and his feeling are good enough to negate the possibility that Adger might have been doing the same?

Mr. Dobbs sure gives up easily, it seems:

At the time, Barnes was speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and in close touch with the head of the Texas Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. James Rose. Adger and Rose are dead.

Hey, if we're going to go on Ben Barnes' guess about his feeling, wouldn't a séance for Gen. Rose and Mr. Adger be in order as well?

Mr. Dobbs, recycling five-year-old news isn't going to win you any Pulitzer Prizes.  Busting through a presidential candidate's cover-up and stonewalling might.  Are we going to have to ask you to sign the newspaper equivalent of Standard Form 180, whatever that may be, to find out whether your editors have ordered you to ignore the "mystery" that you wrote about only two weeks ago?

Posted by Beldar at 02:43 AM in Mainstream Media, Politics (2006 & earlier), SwiftVets | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to WaPo's Dobbs stumbles farther off the track and sent a trackback ping are listed here:


(1) Todd made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 7:45:28 AM | Permalink

Beldar, you're being too hard on Dobbs. He's just trying to balance out the national coverage on the service issues to the proper ratio of 1,000 to 1. Thus far, it's 4,883 articles on Bush's national guard service, and 4 on Kerry's fraudulent medals. After another 117 articles on Bush's national guard service, someone will get around to writing article #5 on Kerry. Fair and balanced.

BTW, what happened to Lisa Myers'coverage of the Swift Boat issue? It seemed to stop rather abruptly. Was Tom Brokaw getting a little testy at the bashing his hero was taking?

(2) ncoic6 made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 9:21:11 AM | Permalink

Dobbs does not necessarily determine what he is going to write about. His editors know that the 60 Minutes piece is going to hit. That alone is a news "peg". That makes it news, and allows the WaPo to do a story.
You are correct that it is old news, but one can say the same about old charges against Kerry.
In fact, this plays into SBVT hands, because it keeps the debate going. What is fair for Kerry should be fair for Bush.
Dobbs is getting inundated from both sides after his "Accounts Flawed" piece two weeks ago. Not to mention all kinds of talking points being flung at him. He has writing deadlines to meet every few days. It is hard to be a writer, doing new stories all the time, striving for accuracy while dodging the continuous avalanche of comment and criticism because he has written about a very politically hot topic. The guy has to have time to eat too!
You can bet that the Wapo is digging further on the Kerry SBVT story.
Non-polemical, short, written letters to the journalist that point to one or two glaring contradictions are far more effective in raising the level of awareness of a story that has yet to be fully covered.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 10:06:44 AM | Permalink

ncoic6, thanks for your comment! You make some good points, and I hope you're right. Maybe I have too many naive notions of newspaper reporting and WaPo in particular left over from "All the President's Men."

The idea that "60 Minutes" views on what's newsworthy ought to be ditto'd — before the program has even aired! — strikes me as very unfortunate, although I don't doubt that you're correctly describing WaPo's attitude. If Barnes actually had anything new to say, I might feel differently. But I'm left with a strong suspicion that this is someone at CBS' favor to the Kerry campaign, and someone at WaPo's favor to both CBS and the Kerry campaign.

If the SwiftVets controversy were about, say, Kerry's flirtation with a questionably legal tax shelter in the 1970s, or even were it limited to his antiwar activism, then one could indeed describe that controversy too as "old news." But as Dobbs' August 21 article makes clear, the mainstream media has barely scratched the surface of the SwiftVets' claims about Kerry's war record. Bits and pieces of the SwiftVets' allegations have been looked at during Kerry's previous campaigns and by the Boston Globe's series that became the Kranish book. But there are huge expanses that haven't been seriously explored at all yet by the mainstream media.

A summer intern could have written Dobbs' latest piece about Barnes. I'll give him credit for including within the bounds of his own story the key points that make it a non-story — it's self-fisking, as it were, but he's entitled to recognition for not going all wild and moonbatty. Still, my impression from the August 21 piece was that this was a guy who digs and who at least tries to have an open mind, someone capable of genuine investigative reporting. Why's he being wasted on non-news?

That WaPo business card (or press pass tucked into his fedora, whatever) opens doors that won't open for bloggers. All that is required for a coverup to triumph is for good reporters to do nothing, and I'm afraid — based on his lack of substantive output — that's exactly what Dobbs has been doing for the last two weeks on the SwiftVets controversies.

I do hope that you're right and I'm wrong and that Dobbs has a blockbuster piece in the works. Only a steady drumbeat over from the mainstream media is going to break through the Kerry stonewall, however.

(4) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 11:10:56 AM | Permalink

A little fact checking would show there is nothing to this. In 1968 the Texas ANG was short of pilots, and actively recruiting for them. Bush, according to himself and one of his COs, got one of four or five openings. A man who flew with Bush in the Texas ANG told me in an e-mail that the son of a welder got the slot AFTER Bush.

This business of needing political influence to get into even the non-flying positions is total baloney. There were something like 150 openings for that unit.

But, if the story is that Barnes helped Bush avoid combat in Vietnam, it's doubly ridiculous. There were F-102s being flown in Vietnam by Texas ANG pilots when Bush signed up. Did he have a crystal ball that told him Nixon would win in November '68, and Vietnamize the war? That when he volunteered to fly in Vietnam that he wouldn't be accepted?

(5) Amelia made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 11:50:23 AM | Permalink


Check out who was the No. 3 contributor to Kerry '99-'03. Found this little tidbit on Betsy's page.

(6) ncoic6 made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 1:36:29 PM | Permalink

I am not saying that Wapo has a blockbuster in the works. I have no idea. However, the way things work in that arena of journalism is that the Dobbs story is open ended. WaPo does not like to ask for documentation (for clarification) and be turned down. I think it entirely likely that they are looking at the issue in greater depth and have renewed their requests to the Kerry camp for a DD180 access.

When Dobbs wrote that article, he did not realize that the damage report to PCF94 supported the SBVT version of 13 Mar 69. More Navy documents on that aspect are attainable as are many documents from Coastal Division 11 which would allow a reasonable reconstruction of standard policy in operation at that time. Reports from the Dec 68 period covering the skimmer and Cambodia controversies have yet to be uncovered and written about and compared to the testimonies that are in the public domain.

So far the MSM has given Kerry the benefit of the doubt. He should be given the benefit of the doubt, just as Bush should be given the benefit of the doubt. I am persuaded by what has come out so far that legitimate questions have been raised about the Kerry military record which deserve answers.

No veteran who served his country, who confronted the enemy in Viet Nam, should have to undergo such scrutiny 35 years later. But, no other veteran made his Nam service the focal point of his nomination as a candidate for president.

Ironically the only real "investigating" of these controversies has taken place mainly in the blogosphere.

(7) Teresa Unwin made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 4:10:27 PM | Permalink

Perhaps the only unique concept to come out of recent WaPo and CBS reportage is that Mr. Barnes is still shamelessly garnering favors--but somehow I don't think these great bastions of the main stream media are going to cover that angle.

(8) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 4:31:17 PM | Permalink

It's interesting that Barnes is such a big-time Kerry contributor — wasn't many years ago he was one of Texas' most famous citizens to pass through the bankruptcy court system, IIRC — but it's not surprising (he was always pronouncedly more liberal than his constituency, even when Texas was a solid yellow-dog Democrat state).

I'm willing to accept as gospel that Barnes thinks he got Dubya into TANG and that Barnes thinks it was a "champaign unit" and that Barnes thinks Dubya couldn't have done it without him. All that's entirely consistent with what a "chit collecting" — and demonstrably corrupt — politician would think.

But so what? And what else is new? Barnes also thought he was going to be the next John Connally. Well, both of them did manage to burn through huge fortunes and go bankrupt, but nothing he has to say has anything remotely to do with the character of our present C-in-C or his fitness for re-election. It's Michael Moore-type raving, and it's old raving — not something that justifies a "60 Minutes" profile or the diversion of a capable WaPo reporter like Dobbs from something that's new news.

(9) Jumbo made the following comment | Sep 4, 2004 4:37:50 PM | Permalink

How surprising that Mr. Dobbs was unable to find his conscience until after the death of the only other participant to the alleged request.

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