Accuracy in Media

At the end of CNN’s The Capital Gang, each panelist gets to nominate his own “Outrage of the Week.”  Predictably, left-leaning panelists take shots at President Bush or Republicans in Congress and the more conservative panelists return the favor.  From a program in March, regular Mark Shields was outraged by Bush administration attempts to discredit Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s Vietnam service.

Shields said that the Bush campaign was circulating a letter by retired Colonel William Campenni, who served with Lt. George W. Bush in the Texas Air National Guard from 1970 to 1971.  Shields said that Campenni had written that Lt. Bush “did more to defend the U.S. than John Kerry did in Vietnam.”  After reminding everyone of Kerry’s decorations, he quoted from the letter: “While Mr. Kerry was playing his anti-war games with Hanoi Jane Fonda, we?Bush and Campenni?were answering for who knows what inbound threat over a shark-filled Gulf of Mexico.”  Shields then asked, “Do the Bush folks really believe Americans are that stupid?”

Shields forgot to mention that he had lifted that quote verbatim from a column written by the L.A. Times’ Ron Brownstein in late February.  Brownstein wrote about Kerry’s reliance on his Vietnam service to shield him from charges that he is anti-defense or even soft on crime.  Brownstein cited Bush-Cheney campaign efforts to refocus Americans on Kerry’s anti-war activities and pointed to Campenni’s letter as an example.  In addition to the quote lifted by Shields, Brownstein writes that Campenni “implied that he and Bush had done more to defend the nation.”  Sound familiar?  Besides his Capital Gang appearance, Shields also used the quote in his weekly column, distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.

This all occurred during the Democratic National Committee’s efforts to impugn President Bush’s National Guard service.  In the midst of this campaign, Colonel Campenni sent a letter to the Washington Times that started, “George Bush and I were lieutenants and pilots in the 111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, Texas Air National Guard from 1970 to 1971.”   Campenni’s letter is indeed a defense of his and Bush’s service. 

He writes that, although the Guard and the Reserves did become a “refuge for many wanting to avoid Vietnam,” that was not true for those who signed up to become pilots.  The training alone required more than 2 and a half years of active duty, six months longer than a draftee’s tour.  And it was dangerous.  During Bush’s tour, he writes that their unit “lost several planes right there in Houston?with fatalities.” 

Contrary to Shields and Brownstein, Campenni makes no allegation that Bush’s service was somehow more important to the nation’s defense than Kerry’s tours in Vietnam.   His reference to Kerry’s involvement with Jane Fonda is clearly to Kerry’s emergence as an anti-war activist after he had left the Navy.  Indisputably, Bush and Campenni were still flying air-defense missions after Kerry rose to leadership in that movement.  Brownstein left that part of Campenni’s letter out of his commentary; not surprisingly, so did Shields.

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