Blogging the presidency: pros and cons

Some reflections on blogging, journalism, and my last post. A common cry of bloggers is that journalists don’t touch investigations with lots of hard work, uncertain payoff, and that are politically sensitive. A complaint from many liberal bloggers was that the press parroted GOP criticisms of Kerry’s war record while staying silent on George W. Bush’s service—spotty attendance and all—in the Reserves. When CBS went after the story in a big way, I cheered—until one of the memos proved a forgery. Then I fumed. Once Big Media was burned, I figured, they wouldn’t touch the story again and it would die down—even though the rest of the allegations about Bush’s record were provable.

Thankfully, this is where bloggers come in. Paul Lukasiak, aka The AWOL Project, has been collecting information and going after Bush’s Reserve record using regulations, publicly available documents, and hard work to uncover the meaning behind the codes. This is a thankless job that few journalists would touch, especially after CBS’s embarrassment; but bloggers have continued to chase the story and are turning up some valuable findings.

So what’s the problem? I think there’s a danger that a lot of us spend a lot of energy on issues like this one precisely because they’re bloggable and lend themselves to being addressed by individuals with time on their hands, rather than looking at less personal issues about the president like his health care policies and education strategies. The problem, which the Kerry campaign appears fortunately to have identified, is that health care and education are two of the three hot-button issues for voters this election. So where are all the health care bloggers? That’s something I’d like to be reading about.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the AWOL Project is doing great work, and it’s a kind of work I’ve done in the past as well (see “Hunting for the Halliburton Contract” and “How to Spend $2 Billion”). But we need to get the blogosphere past the point where we focus on one or two issues at the expense of others that might be equally valuable to explore.

PTI 961: What really happened to our absentee president

The Mystery of PTI 961 takes an obscure code on George W. Bush’s discharge papers and gives it meaning from DOD regulations: “when an ‘action is reported by the 9xx PTIs’ it represents a ‘loss to the Air Force strength.’  In other words, despite the fact that Bush had almost eight months left on his six year Military Service Obligation at the time, Texas Air National Guard officers were signaling that Bush was essentially worthless to the Air Force, and should not even be retained in the ‘Ready Reserves’ for call up in the event of a national emergency.” The rest of the document is a close reading of the president’s file and the relevant regulations, concluding that Bush was discharged under Rule 8 in Chapter 12 of the Air Reserve Forces Personnel Manual AFM 35-3: that is, he was “unqualified for service.”

This isn’t a surprising finding, since he hadn’t done his flight hours and had refused to take a physical. But it is striking because it is one of the few places where Bush’s records show what is common knowledge among all but his most ardent supporters: that he was mustered out of the Air Reserves because he was unfit for duty.

Thanks to Hooblogger The Rittenhouse Review for the link.