U.S. President George W. Bush may or may not have gone AWOL during his Texas National Guard vacation from Vietnam but one thing's sure: The media did.
Tuesday's sudden — and oh-so-fortuitous — release of his service records during a heated White House press conference had them finally reporting for duty — four years after The Boston Globe's Walter V. Robinson broke the story.
At the time, it was ignored, minimized or pooh-poohed by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the television networks etc.
A database search of that period turned up some 13,000 references to former President Bill Clinton's having avoided the draft — and only about 50 about Bush's military career. (For more details, check out http://www.awolbush.com.)
Now it has become a campaign issue for the self-styled "wartime president" who refused to fight but did not hesitate to send other people's children to die.
Judging from the polls and his performance on NBC's Meet The Press last Sunday, Bush is flopping around like those 70 pheasant Vice-President Dick Cheney brought down at an exclusive "hunt'' club last fall.
And so, in our inimitable way of coming down from the hills to shoot the wounded, we media types smell blood.
Turns out there was no "imminent" threat of "mushroom clouds," no "smoking gun" connections to Al Qaeda, no nothing. Bush's State of the Union address underwhelmed even conservative pundits; the economy is in trouble, while Bush's talk of "shadowy networks" no longer scores the points it used to.
All the commander-in-chief can offer is fear and loathing, a backward look, and no hope, nor, as his Daddy would say, a "vision thing" for the future.
No wonder that last week, as Nipple Gate thrust itself into the headlines, so many right-wing columnists cleaved to Janet Jackson's breast to fulminate about morality, while pointedly ignoring the administration's many obfuscations.
The way those Jackson kids divert media attention from the administration — recall Michael dominating the news last November as Americans were slaughtered in Iraq — you'd think they were on (Bush strategist) Karl Rove's payroll.
Or maybe it's just a Big Media plot.
Consider this: Yesterday, the Republican-controlled Congress began "indecency" hearings, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken a new "get tough" stance against the boob tube.
This despite how FCC chief Michael Powell, son of secretary of state Colin, declared three years ago: "I don't want the government as my nanny. I still have never understood why something as simple as turning it off is not part of the answer."
So why the sudden change?
Could it have to do with how, in Philadelphia yesterday, a trial that will decide whether Big Media can get even bigger got underway? Not that you've seen much reporting on that.
But now, with that "wardrobe malfunction" still grabbing headlines, coverage of this far more serious issue will be further ignored.
It's as if the media are willing to have their mouths washed out with soap while whitewashing the real dirty business of concentration. (Yesterday's news that Comcast, the biggest cable company south of the border, has made a $66 billion U.S. hostile bid for media giant Disney promises to concentrate media even more.)
Some observers even speculate that Democrat presidential candidate Howard Dean was done in — even CNN now admits it overplayed his "scream" — by the media conglomerates that he promised to break up.
And how coincidental is it that Democrat front-runner John Kerry has received major financial support from News Corp., Viacom and Sony?
There's no question Kerry has milked his military background for political gain, which gained traction for the Bush AWOL story.
Now he's refraining from comment, leaving it to the media to pose the many questions that still need asking. Chief among them:
How come there are many months unaccounted for in Bush's Guard duty records?
Thirty years ago, when President Richard Nixon was in the throes of the Watergate scandal, there was much talk of the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Oval Office tapes, a gap that had supposedly been caused by a secretary's inadvertent erasure.
Now it's a five month gap — yet another credibility gap.
If only the media pounced on this one with the same alacrity they did that other one.
Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited