web counter Media Lies: Fisking Rather's report, Part 1

Sunday, September 19, 2004

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Fisking Rather's report, Part 1

The first charge Dan Rather made against George Bush is that he received preferential treatment to enter the Texas Air National Guard. Ben Barnes is the man Rather interviewed who has made this claim. No one else has come forward with a similar or supporting claim.

I'm going to ignore Barnes' conflicting statements and his extensive support of Kerry and focus on the charge he has made. In my opinion it's entirely possible for someone to be very partisan and still tell the truth about events they have experienced. Furthermore, I think the charge of partisanship is insufficient to refute a claim that is made against someone. All it does is muddy the waters. (Witness Rather's attempts to deflect criticism about the authenticity of documentary evidence by claims that his opponents were partisans.)

In 1999 the Dallas Morning News published an article reporting that Ben Barnes had told friends that he helped Bush get in the Guard. Barnes claimed that "one of his staff members" forwarded a request from Sidney Adger, a Houston oilman closely associated with George H. W. Bush, to Brig. Gen. James Rose, the head of the Texas Air National Guard at that time. Both Sidney Adger and James Rose were dead when Barnes made his claim, so there was no way to question either man regarding the veracity of Barnes' statements.

Barnes has qualifed his statement to include the facts that he had not been contacted by either Bush senior or Bush junior for help and that neither man was aware of his efforts on George Bush's behalf.
Barnes testified for several hours Monday in a deposition in the case. Afterwards, his lawyer issued a written statement saying Barnes had been contacted by the now-deceased Sidney Adger, a Houston oilman and friend of the elder Bush.

"Mr. Barnes was contacted by Sid Adger and asked to recommend George W. Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard. Barnes called Gen. (James) Rose (Texas Air Guard commander) and did so," the statement said.

"Neither Congressman Bush nor any other member of the Bush family asked Barnes' help. Barnes has no knowledge that Governor Bush or President Bush knew of Barnes' recommendation," the statement said.
So the charge that Barnes makes is that a man who was friends with Bush senior asked him to help get Bush junior in the Guard and neither Bush senior nor Bush junior has anything directly to do with that request.

The fact still remains that Bush senior could have spoken with Adger, who then spoke with Barnes, and the request was passed on to Rose and carried out, resulting in Bush junior getting special treatment to get in the Guard.

George Bush denied there was an influence exerted to get him in the Guard.
Asked whether Mr. Adger or anyone else approached Mr. Barnes about the Guard, Mr. Bush said, "I have no idea and I don't believe so. I applied to be a pilot in the Guard and I met the requirements and the people who decided I was going to be in the Guard have said publicly that there was no influence."
George H. W. Bush also denied that he had exerted any influence to get his son in the Guard.
A spokeswoman for former President George Bush confirmed the elder Bush's friendship with Mr. Adger but said he was "almost positive" he never talked to Mr. Adger - or anyone else - about getting his son into the Guard.

"He said he is fairly certain - I mean he doesn't remember everything that happened in the 1960s - but he said he and Sid Adger never, ever talked about George W. and the Texas Air National Guard," said Jean Becker, a spokeswoman for the former president.
DMN's own research staff discovered that there were openings for pilots when Bush applied.
Research by The News has shown there were two or three pilot vacancies in the 147th when Mr. Bush applied - before losing his student deferment from the draft.

Although thousands of people were waiting for Guard slots around the country, Gen. Staudt said that Mr. Bush got in because he was willing to undertake the yearlong training and time-consuming duty as a pilot.
The Amarillo Globe-News published an account of a trial that Barnes was in that addressed the issue of Bush's Guard service. One person questioned under oath was Barnes' assistant, Nick Kralj. Kralj was in the unique position of being an aide to Barnes, who was Speaker of the House in Texas and an aide to Brig. Gen. Rose. Kralj would have unique knowledge about the events of those years and whether or not Bush had received preferential treatement or benefitted from the influence of the Texas Speaker of the House.

Under oath, Mr. Kralj testified that "Barnes and one of his assistants, sometimes passed on to him names of people wanting to get into the Guard" and "he turned the names over to the general but did not know whether they were accepted." Kralj, it turns out, is the "staff member" that Barnes had referred to in the DMN interview.

Did Kralj pass on Bush's name? Not according to his sworn testimony.
Kralj also said that he couldn't recall any of the names but that Bush's was not among them.

"I guess the bottom line here we want is that I did not help George Bush Sr. or George Bush Jr. get in the National Guard," he said during questioning by Levine.

Pressed further, Kralj said, "I didn't do it because I think that it would have been something that I would have remembered. He was a United States congressman. It would have been his son. I think I would have recalled something of that."
Supporting the President's claim and DMN's research saying that there were openings for pilots and that Bush did not need help to get in the Guard is the man who was directly involved.

In a recent interview, Brig. Gen. Staudt stated uneqivocally
Staudt insisted Bush did not use connections to avoid being sent to Vietnam.

"He didn't use political influence to get into the Air National Guard," Staudt said, adding, "I don't know how they would know that, because I was the one who did it and I was the one who was there and I didn't talk to any of them."

During his time in charge of the unit, Staudt decided whether to accept those who applied for pilot training. He recalled Bush as a standout candidate.

"He was highly qualified," he said. "He passed all the scrutiny and tests he was given."

Staudt said he never tried to influence Killian or other Guardsmen, and added that he never came under any pressure himself to accept Bush. "No one called me about taking George Bush into the Air National Guard," he said. "It was my decision. I swore him in. I never heard anything from anybody."
What I've written about here should be part of any discussion of Bush's entrance into the Guard and whether or not he received preferential treatment. CBS should have aired this information in Rather's 60 Minutes II segment when he interviewed Barnes. Only Mary Mapes and Dan Rather can answer why it wasn't addressed.

The reasonable conclusion is that Rather's first charge against Bush is not accurate.