Credibility Gulch

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, February 13, 2004; 10:53 AM

Today's Washington Post-ABC News poll really gets to the heart of the White House's problems.

The Richard Morin and Dana Milbank story starts off this way: "A majority of Americans believe President Bush either lied or deliberately exaggerated evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction in order to justify war, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

And here are some of the numbers:

• 54 percent think he intentionally exaggerated that evidence.

• 52 percent think he is "honest and trustworthy" -- down from a high of 71 percent.

• 48 percent think the war in Iraq was worth fighting -- down from a of 70 percent, and down 8 points in less than a month.

This graphic shows the shifts in presidential approval ratings over time -- in this poll, it's down to an all-time low of 50.

This trend document has all the details.

One item of note: A large majority of Americans -- 60% -- think questions about George W. Bush's service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War are not a legitimate issue in this year's presidential election. (See the question.)

In an entirely unscientific vein, I asked you readers in yesterday's column where you think this military service story is going.

The response was overwhelming, in number and in intensity. I repeat: This is not a scientific sample -- it obviously skews heavily, though not entirely, toward the Bush-haters. And I heard from a lot of veterans. But credibility did seem like a consistent theme.

The voices are real, the emotions are raw, and, well, my readers rock.

I've reproduced more than 100 of the responses here.

Here are a few excerpts:

Ted Rose, Modesto, Calif.: "Bush stated clearly on national television that he would release all his military records, and now he is refusing to do that. This follows his usual pattern (lie, then cover up). "

Don Bashline, Watertown, Mass.: "The issue will be the contrast between the "regular guy" image the President likes to project versus the arrogant sense of entitlement to privilege that defines the way he has lived."

Andy C. Szul, Alexandria: "If, God forbid, terrorists hit us again, I can guarantee you that folks won't worry about whether Bush made it to every drill over 30 years ago. Instead, they'll be looking to a steady hand in the White House. And, that's exactly what, as history tells us, Bush can ably provide. "

Jill Werschin, Gainesville, Fla.: "All this nonsense is just a big smoke screen created by the Democrats to try to keep the shining light off Kerry's 30 year history after his 'hero' days in a boat. "

Todd Anderson, Columbia, Md.: "I wish the press would move on, this is a non-issue."

Hal Lutsky, San Francisco: "The press is doing a good job looking into Bush's military record. My question is, where the hell were all you guys four years ago?"

Roger Wolvington, Boulder, Colo: "The point I think people will resonate with is the President telling the militants in Iraq who are attacking our National Guardsmen there to 'Bring it on'. I don't think he would have had that attitude if his National Guard unit had been sent to Vietnam. "

Tim Kery, Fairfield, Conn.: "So what will happen? The mainstream media will continue to beat a dead horse to discredit the President while promoting the eventual democratic candidate in an attempt to promote a hideously skewed ideology."

Dana Burnham, Raleigh, N.C.: "The problem I have with George Bush is that he evaded (obviously thru family connections not available to us poor guys) a war that he either supported or lacked the courage to renounce."

Cale Powers, Ellicott City, Md.: "I think the entire 'story' has turned into a witch-hunt for a pack of wolves from the 4th Estate who are in the tank for Kerry (or anybody but George W. Bush). "

Joe Stewart, Albuquerque, N.M.: "Isn't 'trolling for garbage' beginning to sound a lot like 'third rate burglary'???? "

Read more here. Then join a message board to share your thoughts and reaction.

Military Service Update

Mike Allen and Lois Romano report in The Washington Post: "President Bush's aides said last night that they have finished reviewing an inch-thick file of his Texas Air National Guard records and do not plan to make any more of them public, but they will consider possible releases from a new set that is to arrive at the White House this week."

And while retired guard personnel say there should be records of what he did, one eyewitness does appear to have turned up.

"A Republican close to Bush supplied phone numbers yesterday for the owner of an insulated-coating business in the Atlanta area, John B. Bill Calhoun, 69, who was an officer with the Alabama Air National Guard. Calhoun said in a telephone interview that Bush used to sit in his office and read magazines and flight manuals as he performed weekend duty at Dannelly Field in Montgomery during 1972. "

Allen and Romano also note: "Republican lawmakers have been growing increasingly concerned about the fallout from the dispute over Bush's Guard service."

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post, drills down into the whole dental exam release saga. It's an incisive look at a White House that isn't exactly opening wide. (I'm just teething.)

Also on a lighter note, Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times writes about the White House rush to fend off another possible controversy.

"'Have you ever been arrested, indicted or convicted for any violation of civil or military law?' a form in President Bush's National Guard file asks. But the answer in the publicly released form, published on Thursday in USA Today, is blacked out, suggesting the worst.

"So on Thursday, Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, who has accused the Democrats of 'trolling for trash' in the president's record, did not even wait for anyone to ask."

And what was under the ink? From the transcript of the gaggle:

McClellan: "Misdemeanor, New Haven, Connecticut, December 1966, charge dismissed. Well, this was a widely-reported prank that the President was involved in while at Yale University. . . . Two speeding tickets, July '64 and August '64, $10 fine, Houston traffic court. Two collisions, July '62 and August '62, $25 fine, Houston traffic court. I'm just amazed by the kinds of conspiracy theories that some have chosen to pursue."

USA Today, which started this particular brouhaha by printing the blacked-out version yesterday, is not letting go so easily.

Dave Moniz and Jim Drinkard write: "The traffic violations are significant in the context of Bush's military career. At the time Bush enlisted in the Texas National Guard, the Air Force typically would have had to issue a waiver for an applicant who had multiple arrests or driving violations."

David Barstow writes in the New York Times: "Inside the Alabama Air National Guard an informal search is on for someone, anyone, who recalls encountering First Lt. George W. Bush in 1972."

Michael Rezendes in the Boston Globe raises questions about one of the players in the drama: "Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett, who has been pressing his charges in the national news media this week, says he even heard one high-ranking officer issue a 1997 order to sanitize the Bush file, and later saw another officer poring over the records and discovered that some had been discarded.

"But a key witness to some of the events described by Burkett has told the Globe that the central elements of his story are false."

Blogger Calpundit has an interview with Burkett.

Thomas M. DeFrank of the New York Daily News draws this conclusion:

"President Bush's crisis management corps is so contemptuous of Washington's political culture that they have foolishly ignored the cardinal rule of damage control: If there's nothing to hide, don't behave as if there were."

Allen G. Breed of the Associated Press quotes a woman who recalls Bush talking about his guard duty in Alabama.

Reuters has this goofy picture of Bush.

The Associated Press has a FAQ.

Attack Video

Mike Allen in The Washington Post: "President Bush's reelection campaign directly engaged Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) for the first time last night with a harsh video calling him 'unprincipled' and 'brought to you by the special interests.' . . .

"Campaigns typically open their media drives on a positive note. But with polls showing Kerry running ahead of Bush, the president's handlers concluded that they needed to start roughing up their likely opponent immediately rather than waiting until the nomination is officially decided."

Here's a link to the video.

Backtracking on Outsourcing

On Monday, N. Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said that the "offshoring" of U.S. service jobs is "the latest manifestation of the gains from trade that economists have talked about" for centuries. "Outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade."

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post from Pennsylvania: "President Bush, visiting this industrial state to tout his prescriptions for employment growth, distanced himself from his chief economist, who this week spoke approvingly of jobs moving overseas. . . .

"'There are people looking for work because jobs have gone overseas,' he said. 'And we need to act in this country. We need to act to make sure there are more jobs at home, and people are more likely to retain a job.'"

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "In an election year when Democrats are regularly attacking Mr. Bush for the loss of millions of jobs during his presidency, Mr. Mankiw's initial remarks have been criticized by members of both parties as insensitive and politically tone-deaf."

At the same time, Adam Entous of Reuters reports, Mankiw "issued what amounts to a public apology after Bush expressed concern in a speech in Pennsylvania about 'people looking for work because jobs have gone overseas.'

"'My lack of clarity left the wrong impression that I praised the loss of U.S. jobs,' Mankiw said in a letter to House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert."

Here's the text of Bush's remarks.

Commission Watch

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks said Thursday that it would seek public testimony from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney about intelligence agency warnings they might have received before the attacks, a move that could provoke a new showdown between the panel and the White House."

Dana Priest writes in The Washington Post: "The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted last night to expand its investigation into the prewar intelligence on Iraq by probing whether President Bush and other top administration officials exaggerated intelligence information to make a case for war, a move Republicans on the panel had resisted for months."

More Headlines

Bush Makes Final Appointments to Iraq WMD Panel Reuters.

Kay Says Bush Slowing Intelligence Reform Associated Press.

Bush Interview Lifts 'Meet the Press' Reuters.

Bush Daughter's Night Out; Babs Lets Her Hair Down Drinking and Dancing at Chelsea Fashion Week Shindig New York Daily News.

© 2004