A slavish press connives to hide GW's shady side
It's not only his drink-driving arrest Bush has lied about
Special report: the US elections
Sunday November 05 2000
To the Guinness Book of Records: reserve a whole page under hypocrisy. It's
for George W Bush and the managers of his bid for the White House. They have
run a campaign of character assassination. Knowing that Al Gore has an
intimidating grasp of the issues, they have used every trick, every dollar
of special interest money, every toady in the press, to smear the
vice-president as a liar. The cleverness of that diversionary tactic was
that if it worked it would relieve GW of giving proper answers to the
questions of substance he finds so bewildering.
Now Bush is revealed as a liar on a serious issue of character. And what
happens? The smear artists are shouting "dirty politics".
Given the anti-Gore bias of the mainstream press, last Thursday night's
revelation that Bush was arrested for drunken driving in 1976, when he was
30, may have come too late to affect his lead. The Republican spin machine
has also been adept in damage control. Within 24 hours it had almost managed
to turn the story into "who leaked?" instead of "why didn't he come clean?'
It is true the disclosure came from a Maine Democrat, though not from the
Gore campaign. But the point is that it is true, and the real question is
the character of the candidate who tried to conceal his past.
He did confess to "mistakes" of his youth, but he would never be specific -
hoping the "mistakes" would be thought of as youthful pranks, not serious
crime. It is an offence to apply for any federal office without divulging
an arrest record. Bush not only went to great lengths to cover up his
conviction. He lied about it, too. In a 1998 interview, a Dallas Morning
News reporter asked Bush point-blank if he had ever been arrested other than
for a 1968 fraternity prank and Bush said flatly: "No." The exchange was not
reported at the time; it didn't seem newsworthy. And when Bush was called to
jury service in a drunk-driving trial in Texas, he filled out the jury
questionnaire, but left blank the yes-no entry asking if he had ever been
accused in a civil or criminal case. Then he hastily got himself excused on
the basis that he was the governor of the state.
Imagine if this had been Al Gore! The Wall Street Journal, the most sedulous
of the defamers, would have dispatched ferrets to find out what happened on
the other form-filling occasions when "the liar" had to yield his record.
Now the Journal, you bet, will be part of the great "Smeargate" diversion.
Bush's handlers are saying, with some success, that his ready admission of
the offence, when found out, is another sign of his probity. This sums up
their entire campaign, one of breath-taking arrogance wrapped up in
feel-good bromides. And they have got away with it.
The basic misperception here is to confuse amiability with integrity,
marketable charm with ability. The truth, bluntly, is that Bush is an
irresponsible know-nothing. His instincts are those of the 1930s
isolationist, little America, rather than the America that led the world
in the creation of a new liberal world order. If he is president, say
goodbye to the nuclear test ban, to action on global warming, to peacemaking
Those of you in sodden Britain who might conclude that global warming, for
instance, is a matter of concern should know that Bush, like the Wall Street
Journal, regards it as a leftist scare. Asked what he would do, he responds
that we need more study before ratifying the Kyoto agreement, putting me in
mind of a fire chief who arrives at the blaze to say he will have to study
the origins of the fire before trying to put it out.
On social security, he has never throughout the entire campaign explained
how he can take a trillion dollars and put it into personal accounts for
mainly young workers without saying where the money will come from to secure
the retirement payments for the rest of the ageing workforce. This weekend,
attacking federalism, he did not even seem to realize that social security
is a federal programme. Why hasn't the press blown the whistle? The
economist Paul Krugman in the New York Times, a rare pundit who bothers to
do the sums, writes: "Really big misstatements, it turns out, cannot be
effectively challenged because voters can't believe that a man who seems so
likeable would do that sort of thing."
But he would. The drunken driving arrest is not the only character evidence
from Bush's past that has been suppressed or glossed over. On October 2, the
Center for Public Integrity in Washington and Bill Muntaglio and Nancy
Beiles in Talk magazine revealed that Bush not once but repeatedly missed
the legal deadlines for reporting his insider stock trades when he was a
director and member of the audit committee of a ropey Texas oil company,
Harken Energy. In 1991, three years before he ran for governor, the Wall
Street Journal headlined one instance when Bush sold near the top of the
market before the stock plunged, pocketing nearly $850,000. He was eight
months late in reporting this coup. He claimed he had but that the SEC had
"lost the paperwork". But neither the Journal, or anyone else, has asked
Bush if the SEC "lost the paperwork" when he was derelict on three other
newly-documented insider trades he did not report in the way required by the
The 1991 SEC investigation, criticized for being run by friends of then
President Bush, ended inconclusively. Bush, it was said, could not have
known of the magnitude of Harken's impending loss when he sold out. But the
SEC never interviewed Bush and documents obtained last month under the
Freedom of Information Act clearly show that Bush had more knowledge than he
admitted. At least twice during the month he cashed out, he received memos
showing the company was in financial peril.
The man who claims the presidency on the grounds of probity has asserted: "I
believe in individual accountability and individual responsibility." But the
credulous press and the cerebrally challenged television talk shows have
been too busy pillorying Gore to ask Bush to reconcile rhetoric and action.
"I will do everything I can," he has said, "to defend the power of private
property and private property rights." But he has failed to reconcile that
public testament with his enrichment from the seizure of private land for
his Texas Rangers baseball stadium. Though then a private citizen, he
contrived to use the power of the state to claim eminent domain over 270
acres - most of which was not needed for the stadium. Families who lost
their land so that Bush and his partners could profit from the development
potential are still mad at him for the land-grab and the ordeal of court
hearings they had to initiate before getting a fair price. Maree Fanning,
who lost the family horse farm, told a reporter: "If I saw him today, I'd
say 'Bite my ass'."
Tomorrow too many American voters, deprived of the real story, may kiss it.
Harold Evans is the author of The American Century