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Too Late to Spin
american politics journal

Marty Heldt

Tuesday, June 27, 2000 (AmpolNS) --

There are so many spinners, spokesmen and paid consultants aggressively spamming the political coverage these days that a news junkie soon learns to ferret out statements that just don't ring true.

This week, though, the Bush campaign let loose with a "good one," explaining the reason that George W. Bush failed to appear for Guard duty and was grounded for a missed drug screening: "He knew the suspension would have to take place."

That is the excuse Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett gave the Sunday Times of London in an interview last week concerning Bush's failure to report for a then-newly-instituted Air Force drug screen.

Bartlett stated that Bush knew as soon as he left Houston that the Air Force wouldn't get his new status processed and that he would be suspended from flying.

In the past the Bush campaign had stated that Bush was grounded because Bush was in Alabama while his physician was in Houston.

Neither answer sounds quite right.

Bush was supposed to be at an Air Force base, and this drug screen physical was a general order that applied to many other men at that time. It is unfathomable that there were no qualified physicians in Alabama at that time.

Bush's most recent answer is troubling.

Bush left Texas to work on William Blount's Alabama campaign for U.S. Senate in late May of 1972. The drug screening physical that Bush missed was in August of 1972.

This statement tars the service as being so tardy that it would take them most of the summer just to process the orders for a physical. I don't think that many will buy Bush's argument.

Bob Stein, a political science professor with an office in the James Baker III building at Houston's Rice University, said the Guard story will become an issue only if Bush changes his story.

''It is just not an issue," Stein continued, "unless the very act of asking the question forces the candidate to deceive or to lie.''

Well, Mr. Stein, Bush's "new" reason for being grounded strikes many as both -- and the AWOL story has just become an issue.


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