Diane Rehm: I'll Believe What I Want to Believe

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Well, that's not quite what she said, but it's the import of it. I was astounded at her reaction in the last hour to Fred Barnes's mentioning of a piece of information that's pretty much common knowledge. She grilled him about where exactly he might have heard it, and of course he couldn't remember. She then said that she'd never heard of such a thing, and he said he'd heard it several times but had not confirmed it personally. This piece of information was that Lieutenant George W. Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam during his National Guard service. The fact is that Barnes was right. Rehm was wrong. This is public knowledge. The colonel who swore Bush in has gone on record saying that Bush had indeed asked to serve in Vietnam but was turned down because he hadn't yet put in enough training hours. He'd completed only 300 out of the 500 needed. It's possible that this colonel wasn't telling the truth, but it's a matter of public record that he said this, and that's all that Barnes had claimed.

A quick Google search by one of Rehm's staff could easily have found something on this and cleared it up by the end of the show. Instead, they allowed a caller to come on claiming that Barnes was irresponsibly spreading false rumors, with no moderating of this claim by Rehm. They do screen their calls. They could have chosen a different caller. I think this counts as irresponsible journalism. Even if they didn't have the resources to check up on it immediately (which I doubt is the case; a show like hers probably has staff members who can do quick fact-checking on the spot), they should have kept in mind that Fred Barnes is a respected journalist who doesn't just make things up. But she didn't want to believe what he was saying, so she assumed that he had to be wrong. They should not have allowed him to be slandered on the air in such a way without at least saying that they should take the time to investigate these claims before calling him a liar.

Update: I found a letter sent by someone who knew Lt. Bush that includes mention of this here, in the third paragraph. It sounds entirely plausible. Some new plane was out, and Bush thought it was really cool. He was interested in the program that would have involved using these plans in Vietnam, but he didn't have enough experience yet to do it.

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The then-lieutenant governor of Texas noted that he had pulled strings to get Bush into the Air Guard, jumping Bush over the waiting list, as a favor to the family, to keep Bush from going to Vietnam. He said so on tape, to several different media at several different occasions, and no one contested it. His story is corroborated by dates and names. The other people involved from the Air National Guard confirmed the events. This was on the record for five years. Bush doesn't deny it. Bush's campaign didn't deny it.

Then a rather unknown guy claims that Bush volunteered for Vietnam, but there's no corroboration.

Excuse me, but I think Ms. Rehm's skepticism of the story is wholly justified. Did Barnes offer any corroboration? Is there a good explanation for why the Bush campaign didn't make use of this story during the campaign? -- I mean, other than the fact that by the Bush campaign rules, they would have had to charge this guy was derelict for serving his country, his being a Vietnam-era vet, and the Bush campaign policy being to denigrate all Vietnam vets.

It's a call in show. Barnes clearly didn't come ready to defend the point, and there's no reason to think that there weren't 100 other callers out there ready to savage Barnes' claimi -- your assertion that this call was not representative of the audience is wholly unevidenced.

Since when is it irresponsible journalism to ask someone questions about an assertion they just made contrary to the public record? It would have been irresponsible to do anything other than what Rehm did.

Shame on you for picking on a woman doing a good job.

I'm not revisiting this issue, and I'm not taking any flamebait. This post isn't about whether Bush got out of Vietnam illegitimately, and it's not about whether someone helped Bush avoid some other branch of the military. It's about whether Diane Rehm should have treated Fred Barnes as if he were lying.

Fred Barnes has a good reputation as a good journalist. End of story. She should have said, "Wow. I've never heard about that. I'll have to look into it. Are you sure?" Anything more obviously doubtful of his account is an insult to his character. To say something less accusatory would not have meant that she believed the colonel saying this about Bush was telling the truth, just that she was believing that Barnes was telling the truth that Barnes had heard this. She made it quite clear that she thought Barnes was lying about the fact that anyone had said this to begin with, and I find that thoroughly reprehensible.

I didn't assert that this caller wasn't representative of the audience. Maybe many wanted to say the same thing, and they let him through because it was a common point among the callers. So what? I can understand what caused them to let him through. I can't understand what would morally justify it. Even if there was only one other caller with a legitimate point to make or question to ask, it would be immoral to put this one through instead to charge Barnes with lying about something that a quick fact-check would have shown to be the clear and plain truth.

If your claim is that Barnes is a better journalist than Rehm, say so. There's no evidence to support the claim, and were it accurate, it wouldn't mean he's right and she's wrong. I didn't think Rehm treated her old acquaintance Barnes as if he were lying -- she treated his extraordinary claim as an extraordinary claim. Barnes has made plenty of errors in the past (and owned up to many) -- he's not infallible, and claims about Bush's reputation are not above questioning.

If Barnes was insulted let him carry his own water. He's a big boy. If you can't understand what morally justifies asking questions of people who go onto interview programs with the express purpose of having the public ask them questions -- well, I see your point. You don't understand much of that game, and you get in a dudgeon from time to time. Damn the fact torpedoes, full speed ahead!

I regret you're offended that Bush's reputation on Vietnam isn't as stellar as others -- say, John McCain's, or John Kerry's. Tough. Bush has learned to live with it. It's not off limits for a good, award-winning journalist like Diane Rehm to ask about. One odd story doesn't make your case, and that it's odd and rare, contrary to the most of the stories by other people of stellar reputations, such as the lietenant governor of Texas who was an old Bush family friend.

Rehm was performing a public service. She made no transgression in asking the question worth commenting on the way you did.

It's not one odd story. The Google search I did turned up The Command Post, InstaPundit, Ann Althouse, Backcountry Conservative, Powerline, Free Republic, Captain's Quarters, and California Yankee. It's all over the blogosphere. It's also not just the one person who said it in the article I linked to. This National Review piece gives corroborating testimony from someone else, and I think there's also a third witness. At the very least, this isn't some lone guy who said something that no one ever heard about. It was all over the place. Remember that this is not an issue of whether these people are telling the truth. It's an issue of whether they said it, and they did. It's an issue of whether the claim was widespread, and it was. Someone who had done any wide reading on this issue on the internet (i.e. not just from liberal sources) should have encountered it.

The information we have seems to be as follows. Some guy claims he pulled strings to get Bush into the National Guard. This tells us nothing of Bush's motivations, of course, but it is one guy's claim.

Some form out there indicates that Bush didn't volunteer his initial time in the service in combat duty. This tells us nothing of whether he wanted to serve ultimately, because we all know that he did want to be a pilot like his father, and that takes a certain amount of training before he could serve. One likely explanation of this decision is simply that he wanted to be a pilot more than he wanted to be in Vietnam immediately. This is fully consistent with the chickenhawk explanation but is also fully consistent with having a hope that he could fly in combat like his father did (or anything in between). We have ample evidence that his desire to be a pilot was about emulating his father, so I'm not going to assume that this had anything at all to do with wanting at all costs to avoid combat.

Finally, we have testimony from three sources that Bush later tried to get into a program that would get him flying combat missions in Vietnam, but he still didn't have enough hours of training. If we take all three pieces of information seriously, I don't see how any one of these pieces of evidence conflicts with any other. There's nothing here that clearly supports the chickenhawk conspiracy theory, and there's nothing here that clearly supports the view that his primary goal when entering was to be in combat, but it's likely that he first of all wanted to be a military pilot like his dad, and it's probably true that he volunteered to go to Vietnam once he had achieved that goal. I see no reason to doubt this.

But as I said before, that's not what this is about. How you put all the pieces of evidence together isn't the issue. I clearly don't share your interpretation of the evidence. I certainly wouldn't think of Bush's service as less honorable than Kerry's, given Kerry's willingness to give radically contradictory evaluations of his own service depending on the audience. That's not honorable service to his country. In the end, I don't care. You don't even need military service in your background to be a good civilian command-in-chief. The chickenhawk argument is an ad hominem to begin with, as if the reasons for going to war are suspect just because you don't like the character of the person giving the orders. That's a standard fallacy or reasoning in all the critical thinking texts.

But again that's not what this is about. You called this an extraordinary claim, and you said that it was therefore ok for her to treat it as such. But the facts simply don't line up with that interpretation. It's not an extraordinary claim. All he said is that some people have claimed that Bush volunteered to serve in Vietnam. That's not an extraordinary claim. It's simply a well-confirmed fact that anyone who pays attention to the blogosophere should be familiar with. The moment he said it, I remembered hearing about it and didn't remember where I'd heard it, but I remembered hearing it several times, the same thing he remembered.

Rehm was claiming that some of the pieces of evidence that we have simply aren't out there. Her tone made it absolutely clear that she thought he was making this up on the spot. That kind of arrogant dismissal doesn't count as simply asking a question, which is how you've been trying to portray it. There was a clear insinuation that he was lying. She acted as if he was completely off his rocker, as if there's no possible way he was living in the same world she has been in for the last few years. She laughed at him quite disdainfully as she dismissed what he said without argument.

It's true that he couldn't cite sources, but how many people can cite sources about public knowledge on every little thing that might come up? You sound as if you're expecting him to carry around a list of sources for every possible point he might mention.

Also, I never said that either was a better or worse journalist than the other. I'm not going to play that petty game. I wasn't talking about her journalism. What I said is that he deserves a good deal more than mocking disdain and the assumption that he was making things up. Yes, he's a big boy. Yes, he can handle it. But the fact that someone can handle being treated immorally doesn't make that treatment any better.

"All over the blogosphere" is not evidence of the story being covered by other reporters. Bloggers rather notoriously tend to copy reports, and don't check the facts. Where is the follow-up? On what basis do we grant this lower-ranking fellow more credence than the elected official, public character who is the personal friend of the Bush family? Where is the corroboration?

The NRO story notes that the story about Bush volunteering has no paper back up: "(Bradley doesn't remember whether he and Bush actually signed paperwork, but he specifically remembers both Bush and himself trying to get into the Palace Alert Vietnam program.)" How convenient. No corroboration. The NRO story appears to involve no original reporting, but is instead based on the one story you cited earlier.

Worse, the NRO story repeats as fact the hoaxed photo of Kerry and Fonda. So you offer as evidence of corroboration a story that notes there IS no other corroboration, offers no original reporting of its own, and falls victim to hoax.

"All over the blogosphere." Yeah, the hoaxes are. There is value in determining which is hoax and which is not.

The "third corroboration" is clearly the same story the NRO used. Duplicates are not new autograph copies.

The "some guy" who said he pulled strings for Bush is former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, a man of well-established reputation for shooting straight, and a guy who was in a position to pull strings at the time. Let's be sure to name the guy, and establish that he had nothing to gain in the revelation.

The chicken hawk argument is that Cheney, Rumsfeld and others who avoided serving at all, together with Bush whose National Guard service all but guaranteed he'd not make it to Southeast Asia in combat, shouldn't claim to know better than those who were in war, what war is like. The chicken hawk argument is that Bush has no room to complain about Kerry's service. It's a solid argument, and it still stands, million-dollar smear notwithstanding but making the point.

Rehm was relying on CBS's uncontradicted stories, on Associated Press and Texas newspaper reports, independent, and independently corroborated, which make no mention of Bush trying to volunteer for service in Vietnam while serving in an organization where service was intended to avoid Vietnam. To claim Bush tried to get to Vietnam is indeed an extraordinary claim. You point to a handful of biased blogs which repeat one claim from a minor newspaper, and you act as if others should have known about it. Heck, you didn't even know about it at the time, I'd wager; even the Bushies didn't flack it. It is extraordinary in every way, and there's no reason to expect someone who reads the news broadly and deeply should have known it.

Of course, Fred Barnes is quite the Bush cheerleader, and you failed to note that his appearance on Rehm's show was to flack his new book cheerleading for Bush. His whole book is loaded with extraordinary claims. Since his viewpoint is one that claims Bush is close to being a god, an unbiased interview should have featured many challenges. You cite one small one, and then you go ballistic that there was any challenge at all.

The role of journalism in better times is to ferret out the truth from competing sources. This role involves asking tough questions of sources, repeatedly, to get at the truth. Of reporters involved in those enterprises, it is demanded that they be skeptics of virtually everything.

Rehm played that role well. If Barnes could not defend his viewpoint, he had no business writing the book. Barnes wrote the book, and he couldn't cite sources? Well, you may be right: He may be incompetent in his role. But Barnes is a veteran of this sort of program -- he has participated in Rehm's roundtables, with the McLaughlin Group, and with any number of other rough-and-tumble talking heads programs out of D.C. Barnes was promoting his book plumping Bush. Surely he knew he should be able to talk about claims he made. He's not so big an idiot as to fail to know that.

Some claims deserve mocking, but I don't think Rehm, with her spasmodic dysphonia, is capable of that. I heard a good, award-winning journalist being skeptical of an extraordinary claim. You want her to stop her live show and confirm it on-line, but there was no suitable confirmation available, as your search indicates. Then you want her to censor calls from listeners, as if there is some duty for journalists to roll over on claims flattering to Bush.

I hope democracy and journalism haven't sunk that low yet.

Why are you comparing the veracity of one witness on one issue with the veracity of a different set of witnesses on a different issue (as if someone should get more respect for being a politician than someone should get for years of military service to one's country)? The issue isn't which witnesses should be trusted. The issue is whether the information is out there. It is. Barnes said it is. She refused to believe him and made fun of him for saying it. And again, it matters not at all if it was a hoax or a completely true claim. All he said is that he had heard it. He didn't claim that it was true.

The NRO story doesn't depend on the other story except for one fact. The independent testimony is from someone else remembering a different side of the story. When you put them together, the one supports the other. Neither relies on the other. The third is yet another person claiming to remember from a third perspective. These are indeed three accounts from three people, not two people citing a third account.

If the chickenhawk argument is what you say it is, then no one is making it and it would be irrelevant anyway. I don't remember Bush or Cheney ever saying they know better what war is like than anyone who has fought in war. They simply haven't done that. They certainly didn't smear John Kerry. Bush consistently affirmed Kerry's service as honorable, which I have to say Kerry didn't consistently do with Bush. George Bush and Dick Cheney, regardless of any personal acquaintance with anyone to do with the Swift Boat Vets, are not the Swift Boat Vets. You can't use the chickenhawk argument as if Bush and Cheney were saying the things that they didn't say and more than once explicitly denied.

But that's not the chickenhawk argument I've most often heard. Usually it's simply the assertion that someone who at a much younger age wanted to avoid fighting in combat shouldn't be commander-in-chief, which is basically contrary to the entire spirit of having a civilian elected official as commander-in-chief and thus thwarts one of the most basic constitutional principles of this country. It's quite clear that George Bush didn't do anything illegal in his wanting to avoid combat, if indeed he did want to avoid combat. The evidence doesn't push that far. If the testimony you cite is correct, then someone (Bush or much more likely his father) asked for some favor, which could have been a spot in a non-combat unit, but given Bush's long-standing desire to follow in his father's footsteps was far more likely to have been wherever the nearest pilot openings were, and that was the National Guard. If Bush's father pushed to get his son into the nearest pilot spots, which happened to be in the National Guard, it says absolutely nothing about whether Bush was going way out of his way to cut corners to avoid fighting. It's true that it's been reported that he checked a box preferring a non-combat unit, but that's no crime. It's a legitimate option on a legitimate sheet they presented to him, and it doesn't mean he was unwilling to fight. It just means that he preferred not to. Very few people wouldn't. This argument, then, doesn't seem to take us very far.

Service was intended to avoid Vietnam? They were sending National Guard units to Vietnam. They've got lots of National Guard units in Iraq right now. There's no guarantee that a National Guard unit wouldn't be sent over. The fact that we can have all this uncontradicted testimony that Bush had the option (and preferred it at some later point in his training) should undermine this point seriously.

Anyone is capable of mocking, disability or no. I didn't want her to confirm that the source was telling the truth. I wanted her to confirm that Barnes was telling the truth. I didn't want her to stop her show. I wanted her to set one of her staff to do a quick web search, which I'd be very surprised if she doesn't regularly do in the middle of shows. I would if I had such a show. I don't want her to censor calls from listeners any more than she already does. They have so many calls that they have to be selective in some way. I'm sure she doesn't regularly pick her callers because of their intent to insult the guest without argument when she could have brought someone on who had a real question.

I know about it at the time, and I don't enjoy being called me a liar. When I said I remembered hearing it several times, I was telling the truth. I'm closing comments on this entry. I'm not tolerating that kind of slam against my character. It seems every time you decide to leave comments it turns into this kind of trolling, and I'm not going to continue it here. Most of what you've been pushing here is completely irrelevant to the point of the post, and lots of it is a complete misrepresentation of what I've said. Since it's clear that you have no intention of stopping any of that, I have no reason to continue it.

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