Thursday, September 02, 2004

Who Is Ben Barnes?

I Bet Most Of You Don't Know.

But you can be forgiven such ignorance, for there are reasons why our country's voters are the worst-informed and least participatory in the industrialized world.  It is also the same reason that this administration, certifiably the worst one in our nation's history, currently has a 50-50 chance of being allowed to remain in power come the November 2nd presidential election.

But first - Who is Bob Barnes?

Ben Barnes to Break Silence on "60 Minutes"
The Republican campaign gets ready for shock waves, as the former Texas official who says he pulled strings to get George W. Bush into the Air National Guard finally goes public.

By Eric Boehlert

Sept. 1, 2004 | The campaign battle over Vietnam War records is still raging, but President Bush may soon be the one answering uncomfortable questions about his past service.  Ben Barnes, the former lieutenant governor of Texas, will finally break his silence and talk to the press about what role he played in helping Bush get a coveted slot in the Texas Air National Guard in 1968.
Sources say Barnes has already sat down for a "60 Minutes" interview that will air next week.  A "60 Minutes" spokesperson declined to comment, saying the program does not discuss reports that are in progress.

Barnes made headlines last week when his videotaped comments that he was "very ashamed" of getting Bush into the National Guard began circulating on the Web.  He said the remorse was prompted by a recent visit to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, where he saw the names of thousands of other young men who did not enjoy the connections of the Bush family.  Barnes made his comments in May and the video was posted on a pro-Kerry Web site in June, but word of it only began to spread widely last Friday.

Over the weekend, the national press, which for weeks has been amplifying factually challenged allegations against John Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, gave Barnes' stunning remarks only cursory coverage.  The Washington Post, for instance, ran a brief wire story on Saturday, the same day it printed yet another exhaustive piece about allegations surrounding Kerry's war past.  In a subsequent online chat, the Post reporter covering the Swift boat story suggested Barnes' comments didn't qualify as "fresh information," and consequently he wasn't interested in "simply regurgitating old controversies."  The New York Times ran a brief item on Barnes' statements deep inside its Saturday news section, next to yet another lengthy profile of Kerry's longtime Swift boat nemesis, John O'Neill.

With Barnes now being featured in a sit-down interview with "60 Minutes," the highly rated CBS news magazine, reporters may finally be forced to address the consistent curiosities of Bush's National Guard record.  Such as why, after nearly a decade of sifting through military records, neither Bush nor his team of longtime advisors can piece together a coherent explanation for his whereabouts, particularly after April 1972 when Bush inexplicably stopped flying and moved to Alabama, failed to take his physical exam, was grounded by his superiors, and by all accounts failed to show up for weekend training for months at a time.  Bush received an honorable discharge in 1973 in order to attend Harvard Business School.  Bush supporters insist the honorable discharge proves his service was above reproach.  But military legal experts note honorable discharges, particularly in the early '70s as the Vietnam War was winding down, do not indicate unblemished military records.

Rather than offering insight into Bush's so-called missing year, Barnes has firsthand knowledge of how Bush was able to get into the Guard.  During the Vietnam War, Guard members were rarely called up for duty in Vietnam, making it a top choice among those seeking to avoid serving in wartorn Southeast Asia.  (On his Air Force pilot application, when asked about an overseas assignment, Bush checked "do not volunteer.") In fact, Bush's Guard unit was known as the Champagne Unit, because among its members were sons of prominent Texas politicians and businessmen.

Throughout his political career Bush has adamantly denied that he got a Guard pilot spot through preferential treatment.  That, despite the fact Bush was jumped ahead of a nationwide waiting list of 100,000 Guard applicants, while achieving the lowest possible passing grade on his pilot aptitude test for would-be fliers, and listing "none" as his background qualifications.

Barnes, once a rising star in Texas politics, insists strings were pulled on Bush's behalf, and he helped pull them.  Speaking to Kerry supporters in Austin, Texas, in May, he said, "I got a young man named George W. Bush into the Texas National Guard ...  I got a lot of other people in the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do when you're in office, and you help a lot of rich people."  Recalling a recent visit to the Vietnam Memorial, Barnes added, "I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam, and I became more ashamed of myself than I have ever been, because it was the worst thing I ever did, was help a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get into the National Guard.
And I'm very sorry about that, and I'm very ashamed."

That story is entirely consistent with the statement Barnes made five years ago, when he revealed that in 1968 he made the phone call to the head of the Texas Air National Guard at the request of the late Sidney Adger, a Houston oil man and longtime Bush family friend.  At the time, neither Bush nor his campaign directly denied the story.  Bush simply stressed that neither he nor his father had made a call on his behalf, and he was unaware of any other such string pulling.

"Ben Barnes is a key to this election because he knows firsthand what happened in 1968," says Paul Alexander, director of "Brothers in Arms," a new pro-Kerry documentary about the Democratic candidate's Vietnam experience.  Alexander has also written extensively about Bush's past.  "Barnes is an eyewitness."

Barnes is a Kerry supporter, and the White House last week tried to depict him as a longtime partisan.  But the fact is, Barnes for years resisted any attempt to get dragged into a political debate about Bush's war record.  It was only under threat of legal action back in 1999 -- and only after efforts to assert "executive privilege" failed -- that Barnes came forward with his statement about helping Bush.  (And even then, Barnes issued it through his attorney, refusing to answer press questions.)  The lawsuit was brought by a disgruntled Texas lottery executive who charged that his former company, which Barnes lobbied for, was able to keep a lucrative Texas state contract in exchange for Barnes' remaining silent about helping Bush get into the Guard.  The case was later settled out of court, with the executive receiving $300,000.

In 1998 Barnes even met privately with Bush's then-campaign manager and current commerce secretary, Donald Evans, in order to give him a heads up about the unfolding Guard story.  Bush himself sent Barnes a note thanking him "for his candor" on the matter.

Whether Bush still appreciates Barnes' "candor" next week remains to be seen.

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Now the "Reason Why" Americans Don't Know Who Barnes Is. . .

Even the Media Hates the Media
By Joshuah Bearman, LA Weekly
Posted on August 30, 2004, Printed on September 2, 2004

It took no more than thirty seconds inside the Time Warner Official Media Welcome party Saturday night to be reminded why our country’s voters are the worst-informed and least participatory in the industrialized world.

Out on the streets around Madison Square Garden you can pick the press from the delegates without seeing their credentials just by the way they walk.  The press always try to look important.  They hurry.  Or manage to look hurried even while standing still.  The print people are mostly schleps, and the television world loves to get all dressed up for no good reason.  Everyone wants to feel like they’re going somewhere, spatially and professionally.  And when they get where they think they ought to be going, they want to know everyone in the room.  Which is why the multiple levels and bridges of the shopping complex where the party was held were brimming with people dropping their salmon tartar cones and wiping flan-covered fingers on their pants to shake Larry King’s hand and you couldn’t take one sip from the Margaritas that looked like they were poured the day before without hearing someone say, “Ohhhh...  Mr. Blitzer...  I’m [insert name here] from [insert network here].”

This doesn’t mean there aren’t many journalists I admire and whose abilities I can never hope to match; but as a whole, the media seem far more interested in careers than truth.  And for a group that’s supposed to be relating a whole lot of complex ideas about the world, they sure do seem parochial.

I know, I know – the poor journalists are easy targets.  Don’t they suffer enough humiliation at the hands of a ruthless right-wing libel machine that’s pushed on a slow defensive slide towards irrelevance?  Yes, they have in fact suffered at the hands of a ruthless right-wing libel machine – only adding to my annoyance.  Because they don’t fight back.  They get beaten up for supposed bias, but the real problem is the worn shield of false objectivity they feebly raise as their sole resistance.  Wandering with the crowds past the strategically scattered hors d’oeuvres tables and the strange display of a woman in what seemed to be an immobile dress conically shaped out of magazines, I kept wanting to run into Michael Dobbs and demand to know why the nut graf in his Washington Post investigation into Kerry’s military record would include the line “both sides have withheld information from the public record and provided an incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, picture of what took place.”

Such a statement may be technically accurate, but that statement alone fails to represent the accompanying context and scale and intent.  One set of claims, on the Swift Boat side, are vicious fabrications made by people with a vendetta and are being exploited by the cruelest knee cappers to rule politics since the days of hand-bills and the pamphleteering assassins of the nineteenth century.

Whatever paperwork discrepancies exist between Kerry’s paperwork and diaries and so on are not commensurate with the Swift Vets’ flat-out intentional and politically motivated falsehoods.
Contrary to the dogma of J-schools across the country, there are not always two sides to a story.
Balance is often necessary and indispensable, but there are times when the media might have to, um, mediate a bunch of information and make a judgment.  And in those instances, presenting contrasting information as if it’s equally important is, in fact, the false representation – more false than saying, “I’ve gathered a lot of material and vetted it all, and here’s my assessment.”

Just because you can always find a counter quote, or an “expert” who will say that evolution is a disputed science, or some guy who will tell you that Kerry didn’t go to Cambodia doesn’t mean you should repeat it.  Here’s a new principle they might add to the J-School dogma: don’t quote people who are lying just to have “both sides” represented.  And here’s a tip: don’t source with fringe nuts.  That’s not objectivity; it’s retarded.  If you want to saunter around the Time Warner Center looking so satisfied with yourselves as the guardians of information, then the least you could do is live up to your role.  Don’t be afraid of judgment.  It’s all you have left.

All this torment over the state of our news is probably why the scene wasn’t fun.  It certainly wasn't as much fun as the DNC media party, and that was a pretty lame party, even with the chocolate fountain and the ferris wheel.  I did run into some Air America folks, and had a nice conversation with an editor at the foreign desk of NBC, who shared my grievances about the people swirling past us.  But in general, the feeling in the place was weird, so I left for the Sleeping With The Enemy Party at the Tank.  That's where young progressives and Republicans were purposely invited to the same place and asked to co-mingle to see if any of them could find some common ground, if you catch my meaning.

On the way out I missed a surprise photo op with Bloomberg, and, sadly, never got to see Don King, leaving me wondering, as I always have: Is that guy even real?

© 2004 Independent Media Institute.  All rights reserved.
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At 8/27/2006 11:05 PM, Blogger SPI Guy said...

I was wondering if anyone actually knows how to contact Ben Barnes. I did printing for his 1st campaigns back in the 60s and would like to touch base with him again.

Larry Bartley
Brownwood, Texas


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