Dan Rather's Raw Deal

They finally put Dan Rather out of his misery at CBS. CEO Leslie Moonves put on his best mourning face, offering upon Rather's departure, "He had a very distinguished career. I'm sorry he's leaving us." However sorry Moonves may be, he still sent Rather to the glue factory -- all for reporting the truth. But not all of it.

Rather's "unsubstantiated story of Bush's military service" (says USA Today) got him canned. Yet, all the poor man did was repeat a story the Brits put on BBC Television a year earlier -- that Poppy Bush put in the fix to get his son out of 'Nam and into the Texas Air Guard, spending his war years guarding Houston from Viet Cong attack.

But Dan never reported this: the documentation from inside the US Department of Justice detailing the fix. Why not? Because it opened up a far more serious charge: that those who kept Little George out of war's way ended up very well rewarded. The BBC, the world's biggest network, ran that full story -- from the evidence of the fix to the evidence of the lucrative pay-backs -- and the BBC never retracted a comma of it. Nor, by the way, has the White House denied our accusations despite our repeated offers to respond.

George's slithering out of combat turned into big pay-days for those in on the fix and its cover-up: Harriett Miers (remember her?), Karen Hughes and Texas lobbyists.

The necklace-ing of Dan Rather

You aren't stupid, they just talk to you that way. It's 2004. Falluja's on fire, your pension's burning away, the last General Motors worker is turning out the lights in Detroit -- and the biggest issue of the election, aside from Christians who don't want homosexuals to have families, was whether some elderly news celebrity, Dan Rather, had besmirched the reputation of our President, a former Naval Aviator. They can't get you to ignore that man behind the curtain, Dorothy, unless there's a fascinating show on stage to distract you. And, for the final days of the presidential campaign, they gave us the lynching of Dan Rather.

We know George Bush was a Naval Aviator because it says so right on his toy box. Actually, he never was a Naval Aviator and never once landed a plane on the deck of an aircraft carrier. During the Vietnam War, our future President flew in the Texas Air National Guard protecting Houston from Viet Cong attack. Our President obtained that job the same way he got the current one: The fix was in.

Congressman Poppy Bush, said Rather, put in the fix for his son, despite Junior's too-dumb-to-fly test scores, by putting in a call to the head of the Texas Air Guard via Texas Lt. Governor Ben Barnes. That's what Dan Rather reported on 60 Minutes, that Bush Jr. got the Texas top gun post, and thereby dodged the draft and the bullets of Vietnam. It was a hell of a scoop and his network rewarded him and his producer, Mary Mapes, by firing their sorry asses. That wasn't enough.

The president of CBS, Leslie Moonves, bullwhipped his network's stars and, with his own spit, polished the soiled war record of our President, declaring that Rather's producer "...ignored information that cast doubt on the story she had set out to report -- that President Bush had received special treatment thirty years ago, getting to the Guard ahead of many other applicants."

Really? Well, Mr. Moonves, look at this evidence: "His [George W. Bush's] dad called then-Lt. Gov. Barnes to ask for his help to get his son not just in the Guard, but to get one of the coveted pilot slots which were extremely hard to get. [Barnes, through a 'cut-out,' a third party,] contacted General Rose at the Guard and took care of it. George Bush was placed ahead of thousands of young men, some of whom died in Vietnam."

This is from a letter which had remained locked for years in the file cabinets of the U.S. Justice Department prosecutor in Austin, Texas. How I got it does not matter. Our War President has not challenged authenticity. And its contents, Mr. Moonves, were confirmed by the "cut-out" himself, the man who made the call to the Texas Air Guard for young George. (Would the cut-out, a major figure in the Lone Star State, allow BBC to film his statement? He said, "Do I look like the dumbest Texan on the prairie?") But you knew that, if you're not American. At the Guardian and on BBC we also reported, before the presidential election, that Lt. Governor Barnes had put in the fix for George Jr. at the Air Guard. The BBC reported that in 1999, before Bush's first run for office.

Justice for Miers

But there's much, much more to the story than Rather had cojones to report. Barnes had two tasks -- one, to get little George into the Air Guard and the other was to shut up about it. Keep it quiet. Barnes's good deeds and long silence were, indeed, well rewarded.

Barnes, who left office under a cloud of impropriety, stayed on in Austin as a big-fee lobbyist. And the biggest fee he received, maybe the biggest ever in the history of the lobbying art, was at least $23 million for representing a company called GTech when it got the contract to operate the Texas lottery. GTech's creepy ways of doing business caught up with it in 1997, when, after questionable payments to the Texas lottery director's boyfriend were exposed, GTech lost its contract by order of the new, uncorrupted, lottery director. The lottery work was put up for bid and GTech's replacement chosen.

But then something quite extraordinary happened: The new state lottery director was fired, the bids tossed out and GTech given back the lottery work -- no bidding required. The governor at the time: George W. Bush. Now, let's go back to the letter buried at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Austin: "Governor Bush through [another cut-out] made a deal with Ben Barnes not to re-bid because Barnes could confirm that Bush had lied during the '94 campaign. During that campaign [for Governor of Texas], Bush was asked if his father...had helped him get in the National Guard. Bush said no he had not, but the fact is his dad called then-Lt. Gov. Barnes. ..." Silence has a price and Barnes, the letter says, got his "safety for his client GTech, with whom he maintained hidden ties." I can't imagine that Barnes would make such a raw demand on Bush.

But the war hero Governor's team made damn sure that no harm came to Barnes and his business associates. The Governor talked to the chair of the lottery two days later and she then agreed to support letting GTech keep the contract without a bid. Did Governor Bush put in the fix for GTech as alleged?

I wasn't on the phone when he spoke to the lottery board Chairwoman. Maybe they talked about their newfound faith in the Lord, which they both discovered together at the same time. The Chairwoman? Harriet Miers. We don't know if Miers gave the overpriced GTech its contract back to help the governor keep his Air Guard secret a secret or simply because she liked GTech's record of high costs and corruption. In 2005, George W. Bush's attempted appointment of Miers to the United States Supreme Court surprised the U.S. media and even the President's own supporters. But I wasn't surprised at all.

Silence of the media lambs

In 2004, he knew exactly what would happen when he finally asked those questions. He had already delivered his own eulogy. On June 6, 2002 on the program I report for, BBC Newsnight, Rather said:

It's an obscene comparison but there was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tyres 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 tyre 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.
The lynching of Dan Rather is a cautionary tale of how news is made in the USA -- and unmade -- and topics permissible during an election. The story that cannot be reported is not about George Bush's special treatment but about the special treatment of the specially privileged.

The real story, for me, is that Little George was just one of a dozen privileged princelings saved from the dangers of their powerful daddies' wars. Barnes did not give help to Bushes only. The man who actually made the call to the Air Guard for Little George at Barnes' request also confirmed that at Barnes' request, he also put in the fix for sons of Democratic big-wigs, Governor John Connally and Congressman, later Senator, Lloyd Bentsen.

Vietnam was one front in a class war, and only one class was sent to fight it. I don't blame Congressmen Bush Sr. or Bentsen for keeping their sons out of Vietnam. I do blame them for sending other men's sons in their place.

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