The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, February 15, 2004  

The Nation’s “Paper of Record” is Just So Confused

Look, Bill Keller, you and the rest of the gang at the New York Times knew this coming, “this” being the Bush administration’s unbearably and unconscionably tardy release of what they are calling “all” of the records pertaining to the president’s at best spotty participation in the National Guard during the Vietnam War.

So, why, may I, a devoted reader, ask, wasn’t your staff fully prepared for the event?

In Haze of Guard Records, a Bit of Clarity,” by David Barstow, is a pretty lame, and obviously uncertain and confused, assessment of the documents released by the White House. (I concede, however, that as with all media time is of the essence, and readers benefit from getting at least something rather than nothing.)

I suppose the link to Barstow’s article from the Times homepage, which states, with uncharacteristic honesty, “Guard Record Resists Easy Review,” might help readers understand that the Times still hasn’t decided what the heck ever went on back then, let alone whether President George W. Bush went absent without leave (AWOL) or, worse, was a deserter under the operative laws of the period.

But, may I remind you, Mr. Keller, first impressions mean a great deal in politics, almost everything, in fact, and because the Times apparently didn’t have a reporter fully up to speed on this issue, a matter of extreme importance that unjustifiably has been lingering for in the background for years (and “lingering” isn’t quite the right word, because more astute outlets beyond the so-called mainstream media have been pounding this issue with informed commentary since before the turn of the century).

Within so narrow a timeframe as the Karl Rove and the gang have granted you, Mr. Keller, the Times, and the rest of what passes for “the media” in this country, your paper’s inability to immediately, authoritatively, and convincingly issue a determination about President Bush’s highly questionable acts in the early 1970s already has left the field wide open -- and untended -- for the masters of the “sound bite”: your colleagues, if you will, at CNN, Fox News, talk radio AM, and among the Bush-lapping punditocracy.

What the hell is going on up there? Anything?

At the Washington Post it was no better. The Post’s first offering, “Many Gaps In Bush's Guard Records,” by Dana Milbank and Mike Allen, was similarly hesitant and cautious, though, sadly, and I think inappropriately, even more complimentary of President Play-Dough’s National Guard record.

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