George W. Bush has won the endorsements of a host of former top military commanders, moves that upset the same national media that applauded when ex-senior officers supported Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign.
The list of pro-Bush top brass includes two appointed by President Clinton to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one he named as his top commander in the war-jittery Persian Gulf.
The national press has responded critically, raising the issue of a politicized military. All 27 endorsers now are in private life. In 1992, Mr. Clinton, in an apparent political first, organized the public endorsements of 21 retired admirals and generals, including Adm. William Crowe, who had served as Joint Chiefs chairman in the administration of Mr. Clinton’s opponent, President Bush.
Dan Rather, anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” was especially critical of Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s campaign. In a Sept. 25 broadcast, he linked the Bush endorsements to what he saw as a growing politicization of the active duty military.
An on-air reporter then says: “There’s no law against it, but the sight of so many admirals and generals throwing their prestige behind the candidate causes concern among other retired officers.”
CBS News, however, took a different approach when retired Adm. Crowe and 20 other former admirals and generals announced support for Bill Clinton in 1992. A review of CBS broadcast transcripts during that campaign reveals no segment questioning the propriety of ex-officers reinforcing a presidential candidate.
CBS used Adm. Crowe on at least two broadcasts to rebut criticism of Mr. Clinton avoiding military service during the Vietnam War.
In 1994, Mr. Clinton appointed Adm. Crowe to the Foreign Service’s most prestigious post U.S. ambassador to Britain.
“Every time someone questioned Clinton’s military record, the networks would go find a veteran to vouch for Clinton’s capabilities to be commander in chief,” said Tim Graham, who accused the media of liberal bias in his book, “Pattern of Deception,” on the 1992 campaign. “Now, CBS has suggested some sort of an authoritarian junta surrounding George W. Bush. I think this kind of reporting implies retired military officers don’t have the right to be citizens.”
Mr. Graham said such coverage follows a pattern.
“When the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Clinton [in 1996], it was a big deal on the networks,” he said. “When the FOP endorsed Bush [this year], zero.”
Pique over a relatively few ex-officers officially backing Bush has also emerged in articles in The Washington Post and New York Times.
A Times story quoted an unnamed Gore aide as saying: “This is the kind of thing you see in the Third World all these generals lining up behind the politicians.”
The Post ran an op-ed column by Richard Kronh, former chief Air Force historian, who slammed the Bush endorsements.
“When senior retired military people endorse a presidential candidate … it marks a major step toward politicizing the American military,” he wrote.
In October 1992, an editorial in The Post took a different approach toward Mr. Clinton’s ex-military supporters. The editorial reprinted the names of the most prominent. It called the list “pretty impressive” and “intended to counter changes by the Bush campaign that Mr. Clinton was not fit to be commander in chief.”
The George W. Bush campaign views the hubbub as another example of a “double standard” the news media employs when covering Mr. Bush and Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore.
“We have two opponents,” said a Bush campaign worker, who asked not to be named. “Al Gore and the news media.”
The campaign has released the names of 27 retired admirals and generals who joined a coalition of veterans supporting the governor’s presidential candidacy. The list includes seven former Joint Chiefs of Staff members, two of whom Marine Corps Gen. Charles Krulak and Navy Adm. Jay Johnson were appointed by President Clinton.
The lineup also contains two women, retired Marine Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter and Air Force Brig. Gen. Sue Turner. Another backer, Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, served as Mr. Clinton’s Central Command chief, overseeing Persian Gulf security.
Those who back Mr. Bush are rebutting the criticism.
Gen. Mutter, the Marine Corps’ first female three-star general, said she decided to support Mr. Bush “because I believe he’s got the background and experience and the right value system to lead our country in the future.”
She said she was “not necessarily happy with some of the things that did happen in the current administration… . I was most concerned about the moral leadership or lack thereof that has been demonstrated.”
Gen. Mutter, who retired in January 1999, said senior personnel should keep political leanings private while on active duty to avoid influencing subordinates.
“But once you leave active duty you have very little influence over active-duty people,” Gen. Mutter said. “I have to give up some of my rights while in uniform. I should no longer have to give those up now.”
Gen. Krulak, now an executive with a Wilmington, Del.-based banking-services corporation, penned a letter to the editor in The Post.
“To suggest that, having officially taken off our uniforms for the last time, we somehow are not entitled to the same right to enjoy full and active participation in the selection of our elected officials as other citizens of this great land is an insult to our service,” Gen. Krulak wrote.