- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

George W. Bush has twice served his country loyally. He is doing so now as its 43rd president, and he did so as a member of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

The recent allegations against Mr. Bush regarding his National Guard service are nothing new. And, as has been proven before, they are without merit. The truth is that Mr. Bush performed his Guard duty with honor during a difficult time in our country. Furthermore, he now serves our country with dignity and honor as president and commander-in-chief during an equally difficult time.

For anyone who might question the integrity and honor of service in the National Guard, I call on you to remember that in the days after the terrorist attacks on September 11, it was the brave men and women of the National Guard from many states who patrolled the skies over our nation’s cities. The members of the National Guard are ready to protect this country at a moment’s notice, just as Mr. Bush was trained to do and just as many are doing around the globe today.

CBS News has learned an all-too-painful lesson that is taught to first-year journalism students: The message means nothing if the facts are wrong and the source has no credibility. In our society, either you have credibility or you don’t. Bill Burkett has no credibility.

Mr. Burkett has, in the past, simply made up stories about President Bush and about me. He has claimed that he overheard me calling for the “sanitizing” of George Bush’s Guard records. I can assure you that I never told anyone to cleanse Mr. Bush’s records. My parents taught me early on that credibility and integrity are not to be compromised. I learned that lesson well.

It’s now clear that CBS did not do its homework. If it had, then it would have known that Bill Burkett couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. Mr. Burkett now admits that he lied to the network about the source of the disputed documents. And, instead of owning up to its mistake, the network only added to its troubles by trying to build a defense of its tactics and its now deeply-tarnished credibility. It is unfortunate that CBS did not fully research the documents, particularly in light of the concerns expressed by their own document analysts.

Even its apology is not really an apology, CBS News President Andrew Heyward only says that the network “deeply regrets” having gone with the story. And Dan Rather — a Texan who should know better — simply said he was sorry for “a mistake in judgment.” Not good enough, gentlemen!

It’s curious to me that CBS News appears to be more concerned about its own credibility with its viewers than in correcting the wrongs it has done. Simply put, CBS has a responsibility to verify the facts of a story before it is broadcast, not two weeks after it is questioned.

This whole affair reminds me of the kid whose mother accuses him of sneaking cookies before dinner. He insists he’s innocent and puts up a bold defense until she hands him a mirror and points out the crumbs on his cheeks. Even then, he only says he’s sorry he got caught.

If CBS wants to restore its credibility it needs to go one step further. The network and its anchorman need to recognize the harm created by its sloppy journalism and its arrogant stonewalling and apologize publicly and directly to Mr. Bush.

Now that these accusations have been proven false, once again, hopefully we as Americans can come to appreciate the great loyalty and dedication of President Bush.

Joe M. Allbaugh is president and CEO of the Allbaugh Co. He served as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bush until March 2003 and was chief of staff to then-Gov. Bush.

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