Barbra Streisand, media ankle-biter!

In an official-looking press release, Barbra Streisand has weighed in on freedom of the press, and against big media cowardice. She slams the American media for being intimidated and silenced, and in light of the recent uproar over ankle-biting, I think this is an important enough matter to be treated with the utmost seriousness, and dealt with one sentence at a time.

So h-e-e-ere's Barbra:

....if you choose to air a story about George Bush's military service, or lack thereof, like CBS did last week, you and your award winning news anchor, get investigated by the FCC.
Streisand must be referring to this petition filed with the FCC by the Media Ethics Project. But the petition (complaining about forgery, not choosing to "air a story"!) was filed by a private group, not the Bush administration.
So it's no wonder that the press has taken a backseat to reporting the misdeeds of this administration.
It has? Really? Does Streisand no longer consider the Iraq war, the failure to find WMDs, the destruction of our precious "alliances" with France and Germany and lots of other things, "misdeeds of this administration?" I've seen plenty of reporting, not in the backseat, but in the front seat! And I'm sure that a woman of Streisand's age knows that Bush's military service occurred during the Vietnam War -- too distant in time to be called a "misdeed of this administration."
It's not surprising that the press failed to ask the hard questions leading up to the war in Iraq, when a more informed public still had time to speak up.
Is she suggesting that there was no debate? From where derives this notion that the public didn't speak up? I know it was over a year ago, but as I recall it, there were huge demonstrations, and a loud and angry opposition to the war in Iraq, before it started, during every phase of the war, right up to and including the present time. It was cold on the eve of the war in February, 2003, but I ask, does this look like Streisand's "public" failed to "speak up"?
In New York on Saturday, a giant puppet depicting President Bush holding buckets of blood and oil towered over the cheering crowd that was pressed against police barricades near U.N. headquarters. The main demonstration stretched 20 blocks down First Avenue, and overflowed onto Second and Third avenues as more people tried to reach the rally.
I even remember that "hard questions" were asked!
Never mind that CBS's story included substantive and uncontested evidence that Bush didn't show up for duty when he was supposed to, that he skipped a required physical that grounded him from flying, and that he mysteriously received an honorable discharge.
Bush served from 1968-1973, and he was discharged honorably. Allegations of a deep, dark conspiracy are, in my view, comically out of place. No one denies Bush never served in Vietnam, yet a missing physical exam in 1973 is being treated as an impeachable offense -- by people who not only are not known for scrupulous adherence to the letter of now-alleged military "requirements" but who (to be charitable) probably did worse things in the early 70s.
Yes...the documents CBS presented could not be confirmed for their authenticity, but these details of Bush's military record have been out for public consumption for years.
She's right! (Well, except that the documents have been pretty much confirmed for Microsoft Word authenticity!)

However, I'm glad Streisand was honest enough to admit that the Guard service story is old news; here's a detailed WaPo report from 1999. Little if anything has been "discovered" since.

Why is the media not discussing the facts behind the story instead of just focusing on CBS?
Hmmm..... Might that be because the Rather forgery is the only new "fact" to come along since 1999?
For example, Killian's secretary said those memos accurately reflected the Colonel's feelings.
Yeah, and Killian's family says otherwise. So does his superior officer, Staudt. Not that I am in the position to argue about the former "feelings" of a dead man, but why would an 86 year old Kerry supporter any better qualified than the man's family?
Ben Barnes, former lieutenant governor of Texas, admitted that he pulled strings to get Bush into the National Air Guard.
A "fact" his daughter denies. Not to take issue with Barnes, but here's what he said in 1999:
In an interview, Barnes also acknowledged that he sometimes received requests for help in obtaining Guard slots. He said he never received such a call from then-Rep. Bush or anyone in the Bush family.

However, when asked if an intermediary or friend of the Bush family had ever asked him to intercede on George W.'s behalf, Barnes declined to comment. Kralj, in his deposition, said he could not recall any of the names he gave to Gen. Rose.

Barnes has since written a book, so his memory has obviously improved.

And Robert Mintz, retired National Guardsman who served in Bush's unit in 1972, doesn't remember seeing him there.
Streisand must not read Tom Maguire, who links to this Mintz admission reported by CBS itself:
"I cannot say he was not there," Mintz said. "Absolutely positively was not there. I cannot say that. I cannot say he didn't do his duty."
I'll bet a lot of people don't remember seeing me in 1972 either. How many people don't "remember seeing" Kerry? What I want to know is when the hell was Kerry discharged? 1970? 1978? 2001? This question is far from settled. And why hasn't he signed Form 180? (Did he already sign one? Or has he done a 180 on the 180?)
And in contrast to Senator John Kerry, who said "send me" when given the option to go to Vietnam, according to the LA Times, when asked the same question, Bush checked the box stating "do not volunteer for overseas."
Again, we return to 1999:
Among the questions Bush had to answer on his application forms was whether he wanted to go overseas. Bush checked the box that said: "do not volunteer."

Bush said in an interview that he did not recall checking the box. Two weeks later, his office provided a statement from a former, state-level Air Guard personnel officer, asserting that since Bush "was applying for a specific position with the 147th Fighter Group, it would have been inappropriate for him to have volunteered for an overseas assignment and he probably was so advised by the military personnel clerk assisting him in completing the form."

During a second interview, Bush himself raised the issue.

"Had my unit been called up, I'd have gone . . . to Vietnam," Bush said. "I was prepared to go."

But there was no chance Bush's unit would be ordered overseas. Bush says that toward the end of his training in 1970, he tried to volunteer for overseas duty, asking a commander to put his name on the list for a "Palace Alert" program, which dispatched qualified F-102 pilots in the Guard to the Europe and the Far East, occasionally to Vietnam, on three- to six-month assignments.

He was turned down on the spot. "I did [ask] and I was told, 'You're not going,' " Bush said.

Only pilots with extensive flying time at the outset, 1,000 hours were required were sent overseas under the voluntary program. The Air Force, moreover, was retiring the aging F-102s and had ordered all overseas F-102 units closed down as of June 30, 1970.

This is an issue? Evidence of a sinister coverup? Bush doesn't even deny it! Apparently he couldn't have gone to Vietnam (via his guard position) even had he wanted to, he had an administrator's help filling in the form (which, except for his signature, is typed), and he probably never gave it much of a thought, as it was moot to his enlistment in the guard. But according to Streisand, the media are too intimidated to give us the "facts."


The media's attention is diverted from the real story because we now live in a time where the fear of revenge by this administration sends a chill through the corporations that control our media and overwhelms the press' responsibility to investigate, educate and hold our leaders accountable.
The reason the media are not doing what Streisand thinks they should do (scream bloody murder over old news) is because of a "chill through the corporations?"

So where did they find the courage to present forged documents in the first place?

Is CBS the only network not living in fear of fascism?


Am I, by disputing Streisand, by implication defending Big Media from an ankle-biter? Why would I do such a thing?

(Might be compassion, I suppose..... I do know how it feels to be attacked by ankle-biters!)

posted by Eric on 09.29.04 at 09:39 AM


Eric, you have some good observations here, but I differ with you on what is important and what is not. Here is my perspective:

1) Barbra Streisand: Not important.
2) Bush's National Guard Service: Important.
3) CBS Memos: Not important.

Everyone admits that it is silly and narcissistic for Ms. Streisand to be issuing pronouncements like these in the form of press releases. In fact, the Streisand Memos are the subject of a very funny comedy routine on Air America radio.

Still, in a Democracy, for a citizen to be a-political is to avoid a very important social responsibility. So, I laud Ms. Streisand for airing her views, even if some of her statements are giggly stuff.

I object to the term ankle-biter, because it seems to imply that only the opinions of the powerful matter (the neck-biters?), while those of everyday citizens are relegated to the status of mites and chiggers.

Bush's National Guard service record is important. His service history allows voters to better evaluate his character. Did he fulfill the letter of the law? No documentary evidence available yet establishes that he did not. Did he fulfill the intent of the law? Participants and bystanders say that he did not.

I think this much is clear.

Should the media devote attention to this story? I think so. The media should also devote attention to John Kerry's service record. Should coverage of this story override coverage of Bush's actual record in office? I do not believe it should. In my mind, the public would be well-served by the media carefully surveying the presidential record of the last four years in such a way that media audiences have access to the facts.

Finally, the CBS memo story is not important. Calls for Dan Rather's resignation are laughable. I think the story damages the Bush campaign by highlighting the National Guard issue and it damages the process as a whole by allowing erroneous information to be repeated constantly in the media -- and with the way the media works now, who cares if it is accompanied by denials?

Meanwhile, CNN's news broadcasts are full of the most outrageous, demonstrably fictional statements ever to appear in a mainstream news show. If Dan Rather should resign, Wolf Blitzer and Judy Woodruff need to hand in their badges, too. They are just as guilty of sensationalism and partisan action as Dan Rather.

I guess if all newscasters had to resign for bias, we would only be left with blogs.

bink   ·  September 29, 2004 11:22 AM

The spectacle of "artist" after artist bemoaning the curtailing of speech and the silencing of dissent long ago descended into self-parody. If you're going to make such claims, you ought to at least be able to point to an example of someone actually being silenced or even seriously inconvenienced by government action. In Britain, Germany, and other "free" European countries, Michael Moore, to take the most notorious example, would be subject to much stricter libel laws at the very least. (Not that I favor the adoption of such laws.) In the US, he operates completely unfettered, making the most outrageous -- and indeed malicious -- allegations against those in power, and apparently Moore hasn't suffered so much as a vigorous IRS audit (surely he'd have told us about it).

A group of notable writers recently staged an event declaring a "state of emergency" because the Patriot Act was stripping us of our freedoms, etc., and even had the gall to recite poetry written by dissidents in communist Poland, as if that had even the remotest relevance to the current state of freedom in the US. To date, not one of the participants has reported being questioned, detained, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise intimidated by government agents or even tailed by suspicious men in black suits. More about that here.

Now a couple of points about the "binks" comment. First, "Still, in a Democracy, for a citizen to be a-political is to avoid a very important social responsibility."

Uh, no. To be apolitical is to exercise one of the many freedoms available to you. In fact, I suggest that the freedom to be political is only so robust as the freedom to be apolitical. Just witness the experience in communist and other coercive regimes, where every facet of life was/is effectively politicized. Also, being political requires a certain investment of time and energy. I'm perfectly happy for, say, a brilliant biochemist to devote all his/her time and energy to developing a cure for something at the expense of paying attention to politics (not that excellence biochemistry necessarily precludes political involvement/observation/whatever). As with financial markets, it probably takes a relatively small proportion of the population to drive a political system toward some kind of "efficiency" (in the informational sense). The Soviet Union and other commmunist countries bragged of 99% voter turnout, but that system was neither efficient nor free.

Second, "Bush's National Guard service record is important. His service history allows voters to better evaluate his character."

Maybe it allows them to better evaluate his character as a callow young man, but what value is that, except to biographers? The mature Bush has acknowledged a certain amount of dissoluteness in his past. By all accounts, he transformed himself and now conducts himself in a much different manner. Even if all the worst TANG allegations against him were true, there's no carryover. If the worst allegations against him as president are true, he is guilty of corruption or incompetence, but there's no indication he has neglected the form and function of the office -- in other words, his literal duty -- as would have been the case with the TANG story (where neither outright corruption nor incompetence is alleged). On the contrary, love him or hate him, he has built a reputation for a businesslike approach to the presidency (not all that surprising for an MBA).

But with John Kerry we have an entirely different case. His Vietnam-era conduct may tell us little about his later character, but his political exploitation and reinterpretation of that history tell a very consistent story about the man, from his antiwar activism through his "seared in my memory" speech on the senate floor through his "reporting for duty" campaign theme. And the story it tells is not a flattering one.

Roger Mitchell   ·  September 29, 2004 6:20 PM

Roger, thanks for your response and for the wisdom it contains.

bink   ·  September 30, 2004 7:34 AM

Wow, comments like these are posts in themselves. Bink, we may be left with blogs (or at least blog-style journalism) because big media journalism is a throwback to the monopolism necessarily created by the outdated limited bandwidth concept and the FCC (the Big Three, and the media titans which that system created).

Matt Welch had an interesting piece in October's Reason Magazine along similar lines.

Thank you both!

Eric Scheie   ·  September 30, 2004 10:43 AM

Very nice site!

Tom   ·  October 8, 2004 11:22 AM

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