Slate 1, AP 0, USA Today -1

As a campaign press apparently totally unprepared for the task at hand grapples with a story that requires some actual reporting, the saga of “the good, the bad and the ugly” continues. So what’s out there in the way of timelines on President George W. Bush’s National Guard service?

The Good: Slate offers up what they bill as “what we hope is the most comprehensive Bush-National Guard time line available anywhere.” Not only does Slate nail all the dates, but it includes the controversial days for which Bush received service points even though his precise whereabouts remain unconfirmed. Better yet, the time line contextualizes Bush’s service in the National Guard with ongoing events such as the Watergate break-in and the end of the military draft. (Note to readers: Our endorsement of Slate’s timeline does not carry over to the loaded article that appears on the same webpage.)

The Bad: We reported yesterday on the Associated Press timeline. The AP slipped up by reporting that on October 1, 1973 Bush left the National Guard six months shy of his six-year commitment. According to official documentation, Bush left 7 months and 25 days early, or approximately eight months early.

Since the six month number showed up in the AP timeline, it has become harder to get rid of than flies at a picnic; it has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, as well as in countless other papers that carry AP wire stories.

The Ugly: To put it lightly, USA Today’s account is just awful (in contrast to their excellent story on Bush’s National Guard records published today). Two glaring mistakes stand out. The timeline reads, in part, “July 1970-April 1972: Flies military records fairly regularly and gets very good evaluation reports.” (How exactly does one fly a military record, CD wonders.) The second mistake appears when the USA Today writes that Bush was honorably discharged in October 1973 “one year before his six-year commitment is to expire.” As noted already above, the correct number is eight months.

Well, there you have it. Your best bet would be to read the Slate timeline, but ignore the partisan article wrapped around it; and then read USA Today’s article, but use their accompanying timeline to line the bottom of your parrot’s cage.

Thomas Lang

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.