Delivering Bad News

George W. Bush is shown during his time in the Texas Air National Guard, 1968-73, in this undated photo. The White House, facing election-year questions about President George W. Bush's military service, released pay records Tuesday that it said supported Bush's assertion that he fulfilled his duty as a member of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. AP

When the government has something it wants to brag about, it is hard to miss. News conferences are called. Backgrounders are arranged. All of it's done at a time designed to attract the most people. It's those other stories, the ones the government is required by law to announce or the ones that it must announce to fulfill some official's previous promise -- those are the ones that get confirmed at less convenient times.

Back in the Vietnam era, the nasty stories, the confirmations of atrocities, for example, had a way of being made public just when a manned space mission was about to launch. Space launches, of course, were big news in those days. The government's view is that the best time to announce bad news, news it doesn't want the public to dwell on, is late on a Friday when it will wind up in the Saturday papers, which have fewer readers than the weekday editions.

A holiday weekend is even better, which brings me to the story of the president's attendance record at those National Guard meetings. To make that an issue after all these years seemed silly to me until the White House released Mr. Bush's military service records late Friday on the eve of Valentine's Day and at the beginning of the President's Day weekend, records that on inspection prove nothing. Then officials topped that story with another one, confirmation that the president would meet with the commission investigating 9/11 intelligence failures.

I am still not sure this Guard thing amounts to very much, but the frantic way the White House has responded and the timing have made me begin to wonder.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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