Just Above Sunset
June 27, 2004: The news media wakes up and starts doing its job?

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The news media wakes up and starts doing its job –

when it is far too late to matter and no one much cares.
Oh well.



This week my friend Rick, the news guy, in our ongoing dialog about America and the world right now, and about Steve Holmes’ views and all the rest, here, had a lot to say. 

Rick has worked for CNN, AP and NBC so he has strong views about the American press.  In reaction to Holmes suggesting autistic was a good word to describe how the media have covered the national discourse that led us to war, and the general coverage of what the administrations says (less than skepticism – little more than transcription of the official point of view) Rick commented -


I just so wish we could go back to the days when delivering news was considered a sacred public trust, instead of an opportunity to "enhance shareholder value" by being the most popular kid in school.  (I caught just part of Michael Moore speaking with Katie Couric this morning, and thought he was right on when he said something like, "You news people are in the privileged position of asking these people any question you want, and going into this war, you didn't do it.  You really let us down!")


Someone at AP might have been listening to that. 

It seems someone at the AP where Rick used to work suddenly grew a backbone.  One can only speculate why, and why now.  The climate is changing?  Moore got folks riled? 

I sent Rick this unusual item – the press being skeptical… and actually doing something other than transcription. 

AP Sues for Access to Bush Guard Records
Pete Yost - Associated Press - Posted on Tue, Jun.  22, 2004


WASHINGTON - The Associated Press sued the Pentagon and the Air Force on Tuesday, seeking access to all records of George W.  Bush's military service during the Vietnam War. 

Filed in federal court in New York, where The AP is headquartered, the lawsuit seeks access to a copy of Bush's microfilmed personnel file from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in Austin. 

The White House says the government has already released all the records of Bush's military service. 

Controversy surrounds Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard because it is unclear from the record what duties he performed for the military when he was working on the political campaign of a U.S.  Senate candidate in Alabama. 

There are questions as to whether the file provided to the news media earlier this year is complete, says the lawsuit, adding that these questions could possibly be answered by reviewing a copy of the microfilm of Bush's personnel file in the Texas archives. 

The Air National Guard of the United States, a federal entity, has control of the microfilm, which should be disclosed in its entirety under the Freedom of Information Act, the lawsuit says. 

The White House has yet to respond to a request by the AP in April asking the president to sign a written waiver of his right to keep records of his military service confidential.  Bush gave an oral waiver in a TV appearance that preceded the White House's release this year of materials concerning his National Guard service. 

The government "did not expedite their response ...  they did not produce the file within the time required by law, and they will not now estimate when the file might be produced or even confirm that an effort has been initiated to retrieve a copy from the microfilm at the Texas archives," the lawsuit says. 

In the absence of any privacy objection by the president and in light of the importance of the file's release in advance of the November election, says the lawsuit, AP seeks a court order to compel the release of records "that are being unlawfully withheld from the public."


And the item goes on with details of custody and authority and such. 

Now this is odd.  Such a suit, filed in the years since the September 11 attacks, should have made everyone jump up and scream the AP was being unpatriotic, undermining the president, supporting the terrorists – that the AP hated America and all the rest.  The times have now changed. 

Of course I’m not clear about the Federal Freedom of Information Act.  I thought it had been superceded by provisions of the Patriot Act - rendering it null and void.  Maybe not. 

Rick’s reaction? 


No, as far as I know, the Freedom of Information Act hasn't yet been superceded.  Then again, we live in times in which all sorts of things you thought you could always count on seem to come and go in the night while we're sleeping, without prior notice and not nearly enough fuss or understanding paid them afterward.  ("Back to your homes, citizens!  Nothing going on here!  We just need to borrow a few of your constitutional rights and protections for a while!  But they will be returned to you once we determine that this crisis has passed!  After all, there's a war on, in case you hadn't noticed!")

Still, notwithstanding the specific mention in the AP suit of the timeliness factor in light of the November elections, my recollection of the FOIA is that AP may finally get those materials just before the elections in 2008, and there will be nothing anyone can do about it. 
Oddly, when I worked for The AP during the Vietnam War, the wire service was famous for reflecting the politics of its owners (newspaper publishers), and therefore tended to support whatever a current administration wanted them to.  But this lawsuit looks like a healthy sign. 

But I do contend that what anyone did during the Vietnam War era will probably continue to be a non-issue in this campaign, and here's why:

The Democrats, desperately seeking someone who looked "electable," trotted out a Vietnam War hero -- not because Democrats are genuinely impressed with war heroes, but because they thought it would neutralize a "wartime" president who seemingly not only used his father's influence to weasel out of going to Vietnam, but apparently also weaseled out of serving all of his alternative service. 

Now, the problem with this plan is that, (a) although it makes Democratic voters feel good that their guy doesn't just talk the talk but, as his record shows, actually did walk the walk, (b) Republican voters don't really care about how you may have walked back then, they care only about how you talk right now.  In other words, Kerry talks like a wimpy Democrat, not a tough-talking Republican, so who cares about his history?  To this dilemma for the Democrats, you can add that (c) Independent swing voters, who will be the ones to decide the election, just don't care about this issue either way; they just want to know which guy is best for the economy. 

What's interesting about the Democratic 2004 plan is that it mirrors the Republican plan of 2000, in which Bush made himself available as the likely "electable" candidate very early on, arguing that he was a "compassionate conservative". 

But, I further contend, that ploy was not really as foolproof as it looked either, since the word "compassion" is not a word used by liberals as much as by conservatives, and derogatorily at that (e.g., "We conservatives don't measure our compassion by how many losers we can get onto the welfare rolls!")

Then again, the approach did serve the purpose of getting fellow conservatives to think that Bush could pull a Clintonesque "triangulation" trick, which made him look "electable" enough to chase other Republican candidates off the field early, thusly avoiding the "seven dwarves" syndrome that so often befalls out-of-power parties in election years. 

(I always imagine some conservative, as he first heard the phrase, asking nobody in particular, "'Compassionate Conservative?' What the hell is that supposed to mean?!?  'Compassionate'?  ...  Oh!  Oh, yeah!  Yeah, that's right, our guy is not only a 'Conservative,' he's a 'Compassionate' one!  Ha!  Let's see them top that one!")

"Yeah," you may be asking, "but since he won, I guess the ploy worked for Bush after all, didn't it?"

Maybe, but maybe not.  Ask yourself this: Which candidate got the most votes?  Only with the help of the famous fickle finger of fate -- not to mention a cartel of carpetbagging protestors in Florida and "activist judges" (see note) in Washington-- did the Republicans finally squeak through. 

So this time around, just maybe the Democrats will get as lucky.  

  - Rick

Note: I find that every time I hear George W.  Bush rant about "activist judges," the term "shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you" comes to mind. 


So I gather the AP lawsuit is (1.) a good sign – the press it waking up.  But (2.) it won’t achieve its goal in time to matter to anyone.  And (3.) even if it did produce these military records in the next few months, it wouldn’t matter to anyone.  Everyone had made up his or her mind about all this stuff long ago, or, if not, doesn’t much care. 

One in three isn't bad.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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