Fox News Reporter Kirian Chetry blurted out what she assumed was common knowledge among the media cognoscenti: that George W. Bush had used cocaine in his past and yet had politically survived the exposure of that (criminal) indiscretion. Her on-air colleagues scrambled to "correct" the record: no, no, no, the cocaine accusations against Bush have never been proven beyond a doubt--so let's quickly shift the conversation away from Bush's drug past and instead bring up, for one more go around, Bill Clinton's admitted marijuana use alongside the recent revelation about Barack Obama's possible cocaine use. Let's blow some smoke in Bill's direction, he never inhaled, ha, ha, ha.
Whew, that was a close one! Fox News surely didn't want to open that door into Bush's creepy closet, and they tried to slam it shut. Maybe the stress of the Iraq War, compounded by the growing abundance of Afghani poppy plants, is triggering memory flashbacks. Whatever the reason, the "cocaine issue" is back in the news--it just won't go away.
What amazes me is that here we are, six years into Bush's presidency, and the press still refuses to treat the longstanding stories about Bush's cocaine use with the severity and scrutiny that such charges surely deserve, given the high level stakes involved. The issue is no longer simply how and why Bush has successfully dodged the topic for his entire political career. The story now should be why the press has treated him with kid gloves for so long.
On one part of this story, Bush's record is perfectly clear: in every political campaign he has ever waged, he has skillfully evaded "the cocaine question," probably in much the same way that he avoided appearing for his drug test while serving in the National Guard. We've seen this character defect of his more recently: namely, all the lies and evasions and slipperiness that have contributed to, and culminated in the calamity that is the Iraq War. But Bush's character defect was there all along to see for anyone who wanted to take a good look at it. The U.S. press corps evidently decided, however, simply to look the other way.
I speak from first hand experience, an insider's vantage, on this particular issue. Several weeks before the 2000 election, I submitted to the Los Angeles Times an op-ed piece about the charges swirling around Bush's alleged cocaine use. The next day the Times Opinion Section editors left lengthy telephone messages on both my home and office message machines: Yes, they wanted this piece very much. Yes, they were going to publish it in the next Monday edition. It was a definite go, not just an acceptance for the "queue." Come Sunday, however, I received another call: It turns out, er, we won't be using it now, not at all. No explanation beyond that. Gads, I thought. That was a dramatic 180-degree turnaround. I've never received a personal call at my home for a rejection. Someone clearly had put the kibosh on the story, overruling or prevailing upon those who once had been very keen about and committed to the piece.
Read it for yourself--I reproduce it below. Jonathan Singer, now with myDD.com, reprised the piece on his own blog in September of 2004, at a time when the cocaine issue had once again become current with the publication of Kitty Kelley's The Family, which included the shocking charge that George W. Bush had used cocaine at Camp David during his father's presidential term, i.e., past George W. Bush's 40th birthday. Did the press (let alone the Justice Department) investigate these allegations as diligently and as tenaciously as they probed into Whitewater or Monica-gate?
In hindsight, knowing what we now know, imagine if the media had given the Bush cocaine issue its due in the fall of 2000. What if our national press editors and media pundits had insisted that Bush give a clear and candid answer to the cocaine issue before the 2000 presidential election? You know what I'm getting at. It doesn't take a leap of brilliance to fill in the blanks. To wit: Our nation would be much better off today if members of the mainstream media had simply done their job on that score, rather than abdicating their vigilance for the sake of decorum. How much responsibility should they bear today for our current state of affairs? You decide--I'd like to hear your responses.
A Tragic Unfolding of Character
John Seery October 2000
Has George W. Bush ever used hard drugs such as cocaine? Even as a scrutinizing campaign season draws soon to a conclusion, the American public still doesn't know Bush's answer to this question. He has groused about, danced around, and heretofore successfully evaded the famous "cocaine question," and shockingly news editors and press pundits have deferred to his annoyance over the matter. Media reporters across the nation, unable to find hard confirmation of earlier allegations about possible drug use in Bush's past, haven't even put the question to candidate Bush for many months. The silence is curious. Yet for many reasons--for one, to avoid another grueling impeachment trial of a sitting U.S. President--the American electorate deserves an unequivocal answer to this question, which indeed holds public, not simply personal ramifications. George W. Bush should step forward before the election and volunteer a simple and clear answer: yes or no.
Rumors about past drug use have dogged Governor Bush since his first days running for governor, but rumors should be regarded as only rumors until proven otherwise. Yet Bush for years has prolonged the rumor mongering about his alleged drug use by ducking and dodging the issue. He has created a climate of additional suspicion, intrigue, and ambiguity. His evasiveness raises questions about his current, not just about his past character and candor.
Even more troubling, possible use of cocaine raises a question not just about character, but about Bush's legal fitfulness for elected office at all. If he indeed used cocaine, he would have committed a felony. If convicted as a felon, under almost all state constitutions he would lose the right to vote and the right to hold elected office. Surely the American people deserve to know: Are we about to elect a felon, albeit an unconvicted felon, to the Presidency of these United States?
In 1994, when asked about drug use in his campaign for governor of Texas, Bush replied, "What I did as a kid? I don't think it's relevant." But it was and still is relevant, if only because his dismissive response reveals a profound misunderstanding of the severity of the charge. Imagine if he had sidestepped a similar question about other felonies such as armed robbery or rape. Moreover, if the rumors are true, namely that Bush used cocaine in college through the end of his military service at age 26, he certainly wasn't a "kid" at the time but was an adult citizen of this country, especially in the eyes of the law.
About a year ago, during the presidential primaries, 11 out of 12 candidates in both parties denied ever using cocaine. George W. Bush was the sole candidate who refused to answer the question. He quipped, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible." But youthful irresponsibility is not the same as felonious criminality, and most state constitutions observe that distinction quite strictly.
At the time, the press probed for more details. Bush first said that he could pass the kind of background check required of Clinton administration employees, which meant in effect that he had been drug-free for the past seven years. On further prompting, he said that he could pass the kind of background check his father imposed on White House employees, which was interpreted to mean that he has been clean for the past 25 years, since he was 28 years old. A bevy of dubious reports then emerged about "lost weekends in Mexico" and about failed or deliberately skipped military medical exams hinting provocatively at hard drug use.
Bush fended off a media frenzy by saying that he refused to play the game of "gotcha" politics and would answer no more drug-related questions about himself. His parents, George, Sr. and Barbara Bush, both defended their son's "principled" refusal to talk about his "misspent youth," though they admitted that they had never actually asked him about drug use. Apparently the Bush family wanted the media to follow suit, thus abdicating their responsibility to serve as a vigilant fourth estate. Indeed, many media commentators started lamenting gutter journalism, tabloid tactics, and privacy intrusions, as if it were beneath their dignity to inquire further into George W. Bush's most basic track record as a law-abiding citizen, or not.
"Gotcha" politics based on youthful or private indiscretions are regrettable. Many members of the boomer generation indulged in "recreational" drugs in their youth, and maybe we should concentrate instead on their more recent public behavior, policies, and qualifications. But a distinction needs to be drawn between "hard" drug use on the one hand, and marijuana use, heavy drinking, and womanizing on the other--because the former was and still is felonious. Our democracy does not allow felons to participate in most forms of electoral politics, and voters tend not to reward those exhibiting felonious behaviors by electing them to high office. Whereas then-candidate Bill Clinton feebly confronted but nevertheless diffused the issue of his youthful marijuana smoking by claiming that he "never inhaled," George W. Bush cannot effect a similar triangulation by saying that he "sniffed but never snorted" cocaine. Were he to admit such a serious crime, compounded by a calculated cover-up, he would either need to leave office or be forced to leave, just as drug-aided Olympic athletes must return their gold medals even after the competition is over.
George W. Bush has waged his entire presidential campaign on character. He has promised to restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office. No one, even a President, should be above the law, he has told us. He wants the President to be able to serve as a role model for our kids. He wants to be able to speak straight from the heart without needing to appeal to obfuscations such as "no controlling legal authority." But his fuzzy answers and fuzzy memory on the drug question, left unchallenged by a complicit or obsequious national media, belie and potentially sabotage his high-minded aspirations. The American public deserves to know in advance whether he is legally fit to uphold the laws of our land. If he has nothing to hide, then he should exonerate his good name as soon as possible.