A Texas Monthly article by Joe Hagan revisits the controversy over the gaps in George W. Bush’s National Guard service and the damage done to Dan Rather by the 60 Minutes story about it.
(Note: It’s a long story, and if you want to read it you’d better print it out now, because I understand that it will go behind a firewall in a couple of days. )
It’s still mostly a story about missing documentation. It does establish that the head of the Texas Air National Guard, Brigadier General James Rose, did make spaces in the Guard for both G.W. Bush and the son of Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentsen. It also establishes that Bush was allowed to drop out of flying in 1972. Ten other pilots were allowed to drop out that same year, but the rest of them were much older and had had more than two decades of experience. Bush had been flying for two years.
As the story says, this wasn’t exactly illegal. It just shows that the Texas National Guard was a “loosely regulated fiefdom,” and Gen. Rose could dispense favors as he wished.
There is still no evidence that Bush reported for duty in Alabama when he said he did. The existing records say he blew off two drills for certain. The article also says that for part of the time he was being paid for his duty in Alabama he actually was in Houston. More than that is kind of a blank. By all appearances he was allowed to skip out of the rest of his Guard duty. He says otherwise, but any documentation that might have cleared that up is mysteriously missing from his military record. Which is pretty much what we all knew back in 2004 when the 60 Minutes segment ran.
Of particular interest to me was this:
But the man officially credited with inspiring a fusillade of blog attacks was Harry MacDougald, known on message boards as Buckhead, a GOP lawyer in Atlanta who missed the segment but downloaded the Killian documents from the CBS website later that night. He specifically claimed that the memos used proportional spacing and superscripts that didn’t exist on typewriters of the early seventies. …
… In any case, MacDougald’s arguments about the documents turned out to be inaccurate. He acknowledged as much in an interview with me in 2008. And in a speech given that same year, Mike Missal, a lawyer for the firm that CBS hired to investigate its own report, said, “It’s ironic that the blogs were actually wrong. . . . We actually did find typewriters that did have the superscript, did have proportional spacing. And on the fonts, given that these are copies, it’s really hard to say, but there were some typewriters that looked like they could have some similar fonts there. So the initial concerns didn’t seem as though they would hold up.”
… which is what I said at the time, and was mercilessly skewered for it. But, dammit, I had typed and typed and typed on those typewriters in the early 1970s, and there was nothing on those memos that couldn’t have come out of one of the better 1970s-era electric typewriters — proportional type, precise centering, superscripts, etc.
If course, since the memos Dan Rather and his staff had were photocopies, there is no way to prove they were authentic, which was why it was stupid on Rather’s part to use them as proof of anything. There was plenty of “story” without them, but with them the bogus type font issue ate up all the oxygen and became the story.
The Right basically was allowed to establish that the memos were phony mostly by screaming and stamping their feet real, real loud, and without the originals they couldn’t be proved wrong.
Hagan also says that at the time of the 60 Minutes broadcast the Associated Press had been pressing the Pentagon for some other documents that they believed would reveal the truth about the “lost year.” The AP actually asked CBS to wait on their story so as not to spook their sources. But CBS didn’t wait, and once the story became radioactive the AP dropped its investigation also.
By now any original documents that might show us something have been destroyed or rotted in a landfill somewhere, so unless Dubya himself confesses we’ll never know the whole story. Damn shame.