Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Why journalists should take a basic course in logic and/or linguistics

A number of blogs today have linked to a pretty uncomplimentary article about George W. McFlightSuit in the Boston Globe, documenting how it's extremely unlikely that he fulfilled his duty in the Texas Air National Guard (as if there's really any doubt about this any more -- like, duh).

You can read the entire article, of course, but I'm particularly interested in how the Bush administration and its spokesweasels get away with making demonstrably false statements and/or just avoiding embarrassing questions, and are allowed to get away with it by those hard-nosed, objective, investigative journalists. (HAHAHAHAHAHA! Sometimes, I crack me up. Sigh.)

Here's the excerpt I want to pick on, with the really irritating parts highlighted (and I apologize for the verbosity, but it's important):

... On July 30, 1973, shortly before he moved from Houston to Cambridge, Bush signed a document that declared, ''It is my responsibility to locate and be assigned to another Reserve forces unit or mobilization augmentation position. If I fail to do so, I am subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months. . . " Under Guard regulations, Bush had 60 days to locate a new unit.

But Bush never signed up with a Boston-area unit. In 1999, Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett told the
Washington Post that Bush finished his six-year commitment at a Boston area Air Force Reserve unit after he left Houston. Not so, Bartlett now concedes. ''I must have misspoke," Bartlett, who is now the White House communications director, said in a recent interview.

And early in his Guard service, on May 27, 1968, Bush signed a ''statement of understanding" pledging to achieve ''satisfactory participation" that included attendance at 24 days of annual weekend duty -- usually involving two weekend days each month -- and 15 days of annual active duty. ''I understand that I may be ordered to active duty for a period not to exceed 24 months for unsatisfactory participation," the statement reads.

Yet Bush, a fighter-interceptor pilot, performed no service for one six-month period in 1972 and for another period of almost three months in 1973, the records show.

The reexamination of Bush's records by the Globe, along with interviews with military specialists who have reviewed regulations from that era, show that Bush's attendance at required training drills was so irregular that his superiors could have disciplined him or ordered him to active duty in 1972, 1973, or 1974. But they did neither. In fact, Bush's unit certified in late 1973 that his service had been ''satisfactory" -- just four months after Bush's commanding officer wrote that Bush had not been seen at his unit for the previous 12 months.

Bartlett, in a statement to the Globe last night, sidestepped questions about Bush's record. In the statement,
Bartlett asserted again that Bush would not have been honorably discharged if he had not ''met all his requirements." In a follow-up e-mail, Bartlett declared: ''And if he hadn't met his requirements you point to, they would have called him up for active duty for up to two years."

Let's deal first with that last highlighted portion, a claim that the White House has made a number of times: that Bush must have fulfilled his duties and "met his requirements" since he got an honorable discharge. This claim is clearly nonsensical -- it's equivalent to saying that, since someone on trial for murder was found not guilty, he didn't commit the crime. Obviously, that's nonsense, but your vaunted press corps seem utterly unable to take folks like Bartlett or Li'l Scottie McClellan to task for it.

How hard can this be? Logically, Bartlett's position can be summarized as follows: If you received an honorable discharge, you must have fulfilled your duties. All that's required to deflate this claim is a single counter-example -- someone who got an honorable discharge while admitting that they shirked or blew off their responsibilities. That's it -- one contradiction or counter-example and Bartlett's position is toast. And the press corps doesn't even have to get Bartlett to admit that -- all they need to do is find such a counter-example, present him or her to Bartlett and say, politely but absolutely firmly, "You're wrong." No debate, no negotiation -- just make it clear that Bartlett is flat out incorrect and don't let him off the hook. There is no negotiation or waffling here -- the counter-example shows he's wrong, and that's the end of it. Sadly, your press corps seems unable to grok this concept. But, wait. It gets worse.

Consider an additional, easily-falsifiable Bartlett claim:
"... if he hadn't met his requirements you point to, they would have called him up for active duty for up to two years."

This claim is, again, easily falsified by just reading the actual words in the agreement -- "that Bush was "subject to involuntary order to active duty for up to 24 months", and that he understood that he "may be ordered to active duty ..." There's nothing there that suggested that he would be ordered to such duty, only that he was leaving himself open to the possibility, that's all. Ergo (and other cool Latin phrases), Bartlett's claim that "if he hadn't met his requirements you point to, they would have called him up for active duty for up to two years" is again, totally incorrect. Yet you listen in vain for any member of the press corps to point that out to him directly.

My final point has to do with the increasing number of people who "misspeak", but I've rambled enough for now -- I'll save that for the next post.

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