The Still-Unreported Story of “Top Gun” George Bush
by Greg Palast
New York- Newly unearthed records reveal that, in 2004, when Americans were in the midst of a brutal electoral battle over whether to reelect a president posing as a war hero, a commanding US reporter, Dan Rather, went AWOL.
Just three months before the election, Rather had a story that might have changed the outcome of that razor-close race. We now know that Dan cut a back-room deal to shut his mouth, grab his ankles, and let his network retract a story he knew to be absolutely true.
In September 2004 when Rather cowered, Bush was riding high in the polls. Now, with Bush’s approval ratings are below smallpox, Rather has come out of hiding to shoot at the lame duck. Thanks, Dan.
It began on September 8, 2004, when Rather, on CBS, ran a story that Daddy Bush Senior had, in 1968, put in the fix to get his baby George out of the Vietnam War and into the Texas Air National Guard. Little George then rode out the war defending Houston from Viet Cong attack.
The story is stone-cold solid. I know, because we ran it on BBC Television a year before CBS (see that broadcast here). BBC has never retracted a word of it.
But CBS caved. So did Dan.
That’s according to Rather’s written confession, his law suit, which is as much a shameful set of admissions as it is a legal complaint. In the suit filed Thursday, Rather tells us that Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, owner of CBS, was “enraged that the [Air Guard] Broadcast had hurt CBS in the eyes of the Bush administration.” Viacom then set out to, “divert public attention from the accurate facts reported in the Broadcast concerning President Bush’s service (and lack thereof) in the TexANG during the Vietnam War; and enable CBS and Viacom to curry favor with the White House….”
Redstone roared and Dan, hearing his Dark Lord’s voice, admits he then “refrained from defending” the truths in the Broadcast. Dan shut his mouth, he confesses, in return for 30 pieces of Viacom silver: a promise that “his contract would be extended.”
Had Rather stood up to the Viacommunist thugs and defended his story, President Kerry and our nation could today express gratitude for his public service. Instead, Dan traded the public interest for airtime on 60 Minutes. Yuck.
Now Dan is shocked to find that the network snakes didn’t live up to their slimey bargain with him. Well, Dan, that’s what happens with snakes. Get in bed with them and wake up slimed.
The Story Still Not Reported
By contrast, BBC never backed down from the story of the fix that got Little George out of ‘Nam. We had a smoking hot document [view it here] and an interview with the crucial source: the man who confessed to making the call for Bush to the head of the Air Guard.
No, I won’t give you his name. I don’t expose sources – unlike Dan and CBS. That’s another thing that makes me just FURIOUS. Rather revealed, then blamed, a source, retired Air Guard officer Lt. Col. Bill Burkett. Burkett, an Abilene rancher, is a courageous, stand-up guy. [See The Real Lt. Col. Burkett]. But after standing up with Dan, he was ruined, ostracized from the cattle business. No one would sell him feed. Dan got a multi-million dollar kiss-off from Viacom. Burkett got dead cows and bankruptcy.
And there’s more. More that Dan didn’t report. As I said, Dan picked up an old story, one that I reported, as did others, in 1999. But we added our discovery of a confidential document which had walked its way out of the files of the US Department of Justice. It was a whistleblower statement that explained why the Lt. Governor of Texas, Ben Barnes, who arranged for George W. to get into the Air Guard, kept silent about it for 35 years. It states that, in 1997, Governor George W. Bush overruled his state’s Lottery director and gave a billion-dollar contract to a company tied to Barnes. Barnes received a cool fee of $23 million from the contractor.
This is a devastating accusation. And one that’s more serious than the scandal of a draft-dodging rich kid’s vile use of daddy’s connections three decades ago. Here was evidence of gross abuse of public office by Governor Bush to pay off a crony who kept silent while Bush ran for the presidency.
US Reporting: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
But how could I expect Rather to take on the tough story when he wouldn’t stand by the easy one? In June 2002, two years before his media lynching, Rather explained his Fear of Reporting in an interview on BBC Television (cautiously, to a European audience only):
“It’s an obscene comparison but there was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around people’s necks if they dissented. In some ways, the fear is that you will be neck-laced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck. It’s that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions and to continue to bore-in on the tough questions so often. Again, I’m humbled to say I do not except myself from this criticism.”
This is what’s so frustrating about Dan Rather. He’s two people: a real journalist locked inside a television news-actor begging for air-time. Indeed, disgustingly, in his law suit, he conceals his inner reporter by claiming he only “narrated” the draft dodge story. For shame.
But what about all those other preening birds on the chicken ranch known as US television news? Rather tells us he wasn’t alone in failing to ask tough questions. Not one damn US reporter asked Bush at a press conference, “Yes or no, Mr. President: Did your daddy call Ben Barnes to get you out of the war in Vietnam?”
[For the record, BBC did ask for the President’s denial or admission. We got none. And when Dan’s CBS boss, Leslie Moonves, said Dan’s story, “ignored information that cast doubt” on the revelation that Bush Sr. put in the fix to get his son into the Air Guard, I asked Moonves to provide that information. In fact, I offered him $100,000 for his info which would have shown Dan’s story false. He never produced it.]
The same week Dan confessed that he agreed to shut up, a journalism student, Andrew Meyer of Florida, insisted on asking tough questions of the man Bush defeated, John Kerry. For Andrew’s impertinence, he was hit with 50,000 volts from a taser.
Andrew is just a student and still needs a couple of lessons in posing questions properly. (Lesson One: “Wear a grounding wire.”) But Andrew has the next lesson down pat: ask the question they don’t want to hear when they don’t want to hear it. Rather could use a few lessons in journalism himself – from Andrew – about taking the heat for the story.
Seeing Andrew’s arrest and Dan’s complaint, I was thinking that perhaps, instead of tase-ing those reporters who ask questions, we might tase those who don’t.
Greg Palast is the author of “The Necklace-ing of Dan Rather” in the New York Times bestselling book, Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans – Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild (Penguin 2007).