Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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George W. Bush: "They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time."

Bob Novak would be a much better reporter if he weren't so dishonest. Until recently, I hadn't observed his reporting that closely. So I hadn't noticed it. But I don't think there's any way around that conclusion.

Let me illustrate with an example from last night.

Last night on Capital Gang this was Novak's 'outrage of the week' ...

NOVAK: Ben Barnes was one of my favorite Democrats more than 30 years ago. The boy wonder of Texas politics until he was defeated for governor at the age of 34 in 1972. He reappeared this week, when a Texas Bush basher distributed a 45-second video for the Kerry campaign by Barnes, claiming that he, as lieutenant governor of Texas got Bush into the Air National Guard.

But, Ben was not yet lieutenant governor when Bush joined the Guard. This sleazy politics is not the way for my old friend Ben Barnes to get back on the front page.

So, Novak's point is that Barnes <$Ad$>has gotten tripped up in an inconsistency in his story. And thus he's not credible.

The only problem is that Novak knows this is not true. He knows it's not true; but he's trying to fool his listeners into thinking that it is because many aren't familiar with the details of the story, as he is. Again, a dishonest reporter.

Allow me to explain.

The Barnes story isn't a new one. And the relevant dates of it and the office Barnes was serving in at the time have never been questioned. It happened during the time Barnes was Speaker of the House in Texas. In the past, he went to great lengths to avoid discussing. But after being forced to discuss it in a civil suit deposition in 1999, he made a brief public announcement. See this clip from the Houston Chronicle from September 28th 1999 ...

Austin lobbyist Ben Barnes said Monday that as speaker of the Texas House more than 30 years ago, he recommended George W. Bush for a pilot's position in the Texas Air National Guard at the request of a Bush family friend.

But Barnes, in a statement issued by his lawyer, said he was not contacted by a member of the Bush family and had "no knowledge" that either the future governor or his father, former President Bush, who was then a congressman from Houston, knew of his intervention.

In fact, not only has Barnes been consistent and his account not been questioned, even Bush himself and his campaign have accepted Barnes account. All they have insisted on -- though it is quite improbable -- is that they did not know at the time about his actions and were not involved in any way in requesting it.

The president even went so far as to thank Barnes in a personal note for being clear that he had no direct, personal knowledge that the Bush family had contacted the intermediary who contacted him. Consider this clip from a September 27th, 1999 Associated Press story ...

Barnes testified for several hours Monday in a deposition in the case. Afterwards, his lawyer issued a written statement saying Barnes had been contacted by the now-deceased Sidney Adger, a Houston oilman and friend of the elder Bush.

''Mr. Barnes was contacted by Sid Adger and asked to recommend George W. Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard. Barnes called Gen. (James) Rose (Texas Air Guard commander) and did so,'' the statement said.

''Neither Congressman Bush nor any other member of the Bush family asked Barnes' help. Barnes has no knowledge that Governor Bush or President Bush knew of Barnes' recommendation,'' the statement said.

Barnes also said he met in September 1998 with Donald L. Evans, a longtime friend and chief fund-raiser for Governor Bush. Barnes told Evans about Adger's request, and ''Governor Bush wrote Barnes a note thanking him for his candor in acknowledging that Barnes received no call from any member of the Bush family.''

In an interview with The Associated Press, Evans said he met with Barnes on his own initiative, without informing the governor in advance. At the time, he was Bush's gubernatorial campaign chairman and was concerned only about that contest, Evans said.

There's a rich backstory to why the subject came up in that civil suit. But as you can see Barnes went to some lengths not to make trouble for Bush; and they were, well ... thankful on many levels.

In the tape someone took of Barnes at a recent Kerry political event he clearly just misspoke. And it's not hard to understand why since Barnes in fact became Lt. Governor of the state a few months after the events in question. Remember, the guy wasn't giving an official statement. He was talking at a pro-Kerry gathering and didn't even know he was being taped. When I first posted the video a couple days ago, I spoke to several Texas politicos who pointed out to me -- what I hadn't noticed -- that Barnes had misspoken, that he meant when he was Speaker of the House.

Sometimes when someone 'misspeaks' there's something sinister about it. In other cases, it's obvious that the person just misspoke. This is clearly a case of the latter. And Novak knew that in advance.

Like I said, a dishonest reporter.

Here is the article on the Franklin investigation that I discussed earlier. This is a piece my colleagues and I at the Washington Monthly wrote. It discusses how the Franklin investigation relates to the Ghorbanifar back-channel run out of Doug Feith's office from 2001 to 2003.

I haven't yet been able to comment on the breaking news last night that the FBI is investigating whether an employee at the OSD, Larry Franklin, passed classified US government information to Israel. That is because my colleagues and I have a piece coming out on the subject which will, hopefully, be appearing later today in The Washington Monthly.

A few thoughts though about this story.

I'm told the evidence the FBI has on Franklin -- at least on the narrow facts of the case -- is quite strong and involves wire tap information, though why a career DIA analyst like Franklin would allow himself to get tripped up on a phone call mystifies me.

The main focus thus far has been on the highly sensitive and troubling allegation that an ally, Israel, was spying on the United States or the recipient of classified information from a US government official.

However, I strongly suspect that as this story develops the bigger deal will be less the alleged recipient of the information, Israel, than the country that is the subject of the information, Iran.

I don't mean to imply that it's an either/or. It can very much be both. But the reportage thus far has understated the degree to which this is an Iran story -- it grows out of the simmering and unresolved administration battle over policy toward Iran.

There's also a helpful compare and contrast with <$NoAd$>what Ben Barnes says on the tape noted below.

Jim Moore, the co-author of Bush's Brain, whom I also mention below, describes this exchange he had in the 1994 gubernatorial debate with Anne Richards. Moore was on the panel of journalists posing questions. This is from Moore's article in Salon back in July ...

The irony in all of this is that I am largely responsible for reducing access to those records. During the 1994 Texas gubernatorial race between Ann Richards and George W. Bush, I was a panelist on the only televised debate between the two candidates. The question I chose to ask Bush first was about the National Guard. I had lost friends in Vietnam, and many of them had tried to get into the Guard. We were all told that there was a waiting list of up to five years. The Guard was the best method for getting out of combat in Vietnam. You needed connections. George W. Bush had them.

"Mr. Bush," I said. "How did you get into the Guard so easily? One hundred thousand guys our age were on the waiting list, and you say you walked in and signed up to become a pilot. Did your congressman father exercise any influence on your behalf?"

"Not that I know of, Jim," the future president told me. "I certainly didn't ask for any. And I'm sure my father didn't either. They just had an opening for a pilot and I was there at the right time."

More soon ...

You'll want to link through to this one -- it's a video clip of Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the House in Texas, the guy who got President Bush into the Texas Air National Guard.

I'm told the tape is from a recent Kerry rally <$NoAd$>and in it Barnes says the following ...

Let’s talk a minute about John Kerry and George Bush and I know them both. And I’m not name dropping to say I know ‘em both. I got a young man named George W. Bush in the National Guard when I was Lt. Gov. of Texas and I’m not necessarily proud of that. But I did it. And I got a lot of other people into the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do, when you're in office you helped a lot of rich people. And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and 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 that I did was that I helped 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 and I apologize to you as voters of Texas.

Now, I don't know what Ben Barnes looks like. And I do not independently know the provenance of the tape. But I've spoken to two sources who know Barnes. And they tell me that that is Barnes on the tape.

One of those two men is Jim Moore -- co-author of Bush's Brain. Moore told me this afternoon that the clip is from June 8th of this year, at a Kerry rally in Austin. Moore assures me that the tape is legitimate.

I placed a call to Barnes' office and left a message with one of his assistants; but the request for comment has not yet been returned.

Here's another question that occurs to me about Olasky's column. Is he saying that John Kerry fibs about his war record because he's a Catholic?

Here's a passage from later in the column ...

My point, having lived through the 1960s-1970s confusion, is that the era was not one of uncommon resolution, at least not of the patriotic variety. I relished my high draft lottery number. George W. Bush played it smart like John Kerry and found a soft gig. He and I took different rotten paths -- he drank heavily, I became a communist -- but both of us could say the same thing: "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible."

The other thing both of us can and do say is that we did not save ourselves: God alone saves sinners (and I can surely add, of whom I was the worst). Being born again, we don't have to justify ourselves. Being saved, we don't have to be saviors.

John Kerry, once-born, has no such spiritual support, nor do most of his top admirers in the heavily secularized Democratic Party. It would be great if he could say: "I was young and vainglorious and often self-absorbed. I exaggerated and lied at times, and since then have thought it necessary not to disavow the fantasies I wove. But I do deserve credit for being there and serving my country in a mixed-up era in which I at times was also mixed-up."

Kerry can't say that because he evidently does not believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He and his handlers portray him as virtually perfect in the past and omniscient in the present. In and of itself, that's also not unusual: it's so hard for a presidential candidate not to get puffed up when laudatory remarks follow him as closely as Secret Service agents. But do we want a president who pretends that he can do no wrong and never has?

So George W. Bush and Olasky are "born again" and John Kerry is "once-born."

Now, what precisely does he mean <$Ad$>by that?

I'm no theologian. But I do know a bit about these things. The phrase 'born again' has a variety of meanings in Christianity -- but two principal ones that I think are in play here.

One is the very general meaning referred to in the New Testament. For instance, in John 3:1-4 when Jesus says (in the King James Version) "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." All Christians embrace this meaning, though they own it in very different ways -- the Reformation being a key dividing point in contrary interpretations.

Then there's a second, more restrictive meaning of the phrase -- one specifically associated with post-Calvinist evangelical Protestantism. (Calvinists believe in something like this too. But if you read Olasky's words, there's little evidence of a belief in limited atonement there.) That's much more what we mean in colloquial American English when we refer to someone as a "born again", i.e., an evangelical.

Let's also note that Olasky's discussion of salvation by faith alone tracks heavily with evangelical polemics against non-evangelical Christianity.

So which is it? Is Olasky referring to meaning A or B?

Clearly, Kerry is a Christian in the outward sense. He was born a Catholic and continues to receive communion. That doesn't tell us anything about the state of Kerry's soul. But then Olasky doesn't know anything about the state of Kerry's soul either. Nor am I familiar with any place where Kerry has stated that he "does not believe that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

So, if Olasky is talking about possibility A, he's either making stuff up or he's gained some insight into the state of Kerry's soul. The only part of what Olasky says that points in this direction is the part where he refers to Kerry's spiritual fate is shared "most of his top admirers in the heavily secularized Democratic Party."

The other possibility is that he's not looking into Kerry's soul but at his denominational status and noting that while he and President Bush have both had evengelical born-again experiences, Kerry is Catholic, and by this more restricted reasoning 'once-born.'

I don't think either of these possibilities puts him in a good light.

I have and will continue to defend Bob Novak's right to refuse to divulge the names of the sources who leaked to him the identity of Valerie Plame. But there's no defending Novak against the charge of being a first class hack.

Today he's got an interview with another Swift Boat fellow questioning the severity and nature of one of John Kerry's war wounds.

And at the end of the piece he writes: "Schachte said he never has been contacted by or talked to anybody in the Bush-Cheney campaign or any Republican organization. He said he has been a political independent who votes for candidates of both parties."

Apparently, he's the kind of independent who gave George W. Bush a thousand bucks in 2000 and in 2004. He's also the new law partner of one of the guys running the Republican National Convention.